Who pays for reef damage?

Pictured here is the 360 degree view of the pipe which are circled in yellow showing the areas of the reef that was heavily scoured by the pipe as it came over. Circled in red is the tree that the pipe dragged with it. Picture: SUPPLIED/Reef Explorer Fiji

LARGE metal pipes stuck on the Haravi reef off of the Nadroga coast have now been removed from the area, local resource owners and scientists confirm.
The work to remove a 120m metal pipe, which drifted onto the reef a few days after TC Keni passed, finished this week following arduous joint effort between the China Railway First Group and owners of the area’s customary fisheries, the people of the tikina (district) Korolevu-i-wai.
Not before the reef suffered extensive damage which begs the question of reparation.
Dr Victor Bonito, a Nadroga-based marine biologist who was part of a meeting between CRFG and local elders at the completion of the recovery effort, sent his team to the site after the incident.
“From what our team has been able to see by snorkelling at the site and through aerial imagery, damage was done to the reef both when the pipe came onto the reef as well as during the five weeks or so that it remained on the reef as the wind and tides moved the free end of the pipe around daily,” Dr Bonito said.
“As the pipe dragged and moved across the reef, it scoured areas turning the hard reef substrate and living corals it came into contact with into rubble (including some very large, old coral colonies).”
Dr Bonito runs a conservation organisation called Reef Explorer Fiji in Votua, some 11km from Namada, the village closest to Haravi reef.
The scientists found large coral heads and many smaller coral colonies, which were dislodged when the pipes hit Haravi.
He said the tree that the 120m metal pipes were tied to was itself dragged across the reef and while doing so “scoured and broke the reef substrate and living corals in its path”.
While conducting an aerial survey via drone on Haravi, Reef Explorer Fiji staff could see the path made by the pipes and the tree even several weeks later.
Dr Bonito said the damage would continue to have long-term negative impacts on the health of the surrounding reef area.
“The rubble created by impact with the pipe will continue to move around on the reef during times of rough seas causing further damage to remaining corals on the reef, as well as inhibiting recovery of the coral community on the reef.
“As the edge of the channel was badly scoured and worn down where the pipe swung across it for about five week, it’s possible the damage done in this area will affect the water flow back to the channel.
“If it was worn down enough, this will effectively create a ‘spillway’ allowing the water to drain to the channel faster during low tides; during very low tides the water level on the adjacent reef flat could very well drop lower than it normally does already causing further loss of coral and stress to marine organisms in this reef area.”
Reef Explorer Fiji promotes the management, conservation, and sustainable development of the area’s natural resources. Part of that work includes growing coral in the area’s reef systems.
Since the first major development on the coastline of the Nadroga province more than 30 years ago, the indigenous resource owners of the area have paid attention to the physical and social impact of the industry.
Home to some of the country’s biggest tourist properties and ventures, Nadroga and its people have been the subject of many conservation economics ventures in the past 15-20 years.
One such popular program is the Marine Protected Area mechanism of maintaining fish stock.
Luke Tabuhakia, the district representative of Korolevu-i-wai, is also the district’s environment committee chairman.
He said the Haravi reef was a regular MPA site, open for fishing at special occasions.
“Keitou dau vakamareqeta na neitou Qoliqoli. Na neimami yau bula e ka talei vei keimami na kai Nadroga. Keitou dau vakatabua vakalevu, keitou dau tea lesu na lase me rawa ni bulabula tiko ga na neitou qoliqoli e na vuku ni veisau ni draki sa tara tiko na vuravura. (Our tikina customary fishing grounds are precious to us. Our resources are precious to us, we constantly have taboos and we plant coral to address climate change),” Mr Tabuhakia said.
“E sa tolu na yabaki na noqu mai liutaka tiko na komiti ni yaubula ni neitou tikina. Na cakau o ya e dau vakamareqeti vei keitou. E tiko e dua na mataqali ika, na Kahala e kilai talega na Senikawakawa edau veivakani vei keimami na baravi taucoko oqo e na veiyabaki. Keitou sa sega ni raica rawa na yabaki qo. Dodonu me dau veivakani tu vei keimami me yacova na vula o Jiulai. (For the past three years since I have been the chairman of the Qoliqoli committee, we have looked forward to specific times of the year when a particular species of fish called the Senikawakawa or Kahala is abundant in this area and is abundant around here until July. This time, we simply cannot find it anymore.”
Calling on CRFG to be more responsible, Mr Tabuhakia said he hoped this incident would serve as a lesson to foreign companies.
“Keimami marautaka vakalevu na veivakatorocaketaki ni matanitu, ia me kua ni ra mai vakacacana mada e liu na neimami yaubula e solia na Kalou. (We appreciate the development that Government provides to us. But these developers, when they come to work here, they must not damage our existing God-given resources,” Mr Tabuhakia said.
The metal pipes were part of other metal debris owned by CRFG on the Sigatoka River bank and the river mouth.
“As we speak, all the pipes have been removed from the reef,” CRFG officials confirmed, adding they were working with the local community to ensure staff would clear other metal debris from the river area.
The company had offered Fiji Times Online site inspection, which has since been postponed indefinitely.
Meanwhile, local resource owners have continued to engage conservation scientists in the area in meetings held with the CRFG to clear environmental concerns.
“What we were not able to assess yet is the damage that was done on the seaward side of the reef (that is, outside the breakers). The outside of the reef has much more coral cover than the inside of the reef,” Dr Bonito said.
“The pipe most likely damaged both the reef structure and coral community as it came over the reef crest on 13th April. It’s also possible that some pieces of the pipe broke off and are still on the outer reef.
“While these are just our observations, further studies are needed to ascertain the full impact the dredging pipe had on the reef. These studies need to be done promptly while the full impact of the damage is clearly visible.”