No proper EIA done at Wainisavulevu: Experts

The dying vegetation and dried up lake at Wainisavulevu in Naitasiri. Picture: SUPPLIED

ENVIRONMENT experts claim Energy Fiji Ltd did not properly assess the environmental impact of raising the Wainisavulevu Weir when it began work to raise it by eight metres in 2012.

The result, they say, is severe damage to an area identified by international agencies as nationally significant for the Fiji environment.

They say even if work is started to repair the damage, it will take decades. Reports published in the 1980s by the World Wildlife Fund and included in Fiji’s State of the Environment Report and National Environment Strategy in the early 1990s, identified the Wainisavulevu area in the Nadrau Plateau as a “Site of National Significance”.

NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (NFMV) director Nunia Moko said the area was now categorised as one of Fiji’s key biodiversity areas — important for birds, forest life and ecosystem services. “It is a special area in terms of its formation as a plateau.

Geologically the formation is different, the vegetation and species are unique. An area only becomes a key biodiversity area if it’s known to have species or communities which are internationally significant. “From a biodiversity perspective, you may not find that kind of habitat or species anywhere else within Viti Levu, or Fiji or anywhere else in the world,” said Mrs Moko.

“This is important internationally because under the Convention of Biological Diversity to which Fiji is a signatory, one of Fiji’s obligations is that species of significance and their habitats are maintained and looked after.”

NFMV freshwater ecologist Bindiya Rashni claimed some freshwater fish and animal species may have been lost when the weir level was raised.

She said this was difficult to measure as there had been no proper study of the ecology of the area before the work began in 2012. Conservationist and NFMV trustee Dr Dick Watling claimed there had been no national consultation done when EFL was doing the environment impact assessment (EIA) for the weir raising project.

As a result there was no recognition of the ecological and conservation significance of the site. Dr Watling said this meant the EIA was approved without a proper process.

“Now we understand what the impacts are. The EIA grossly underestimated them. If we remove the weir or reduce the weir to an acceptable level, I think over time it will re-establish itself, but it will not be a few years, but decades,” said Dr Watling.

Mrs Moko said that the raised weir was destroying in a short time a system that had taken millions of years to form.

“Viti Levu is around 40 million years old. We are fragmenting it, so as for recovery, we don’t know. This is happening in a cloud forest system where things decompose very slowly because of the conditions. We don’t know how we can recover after that.

“I think we fail to appreciate the formation of this system. They were here long before human beings, or before we arrived, and their continued existence is crucial to our sustenance,” said Mrs Moko.

Questions on the claims were sent to EFL chief executive officer Hasmukh Patel, Climate Change Minister Aiyaz Saiyed-Khaiyum, Agriculture Minister and Climate Champion Inia Seruiratu and the Office of the Prime Minister last week.

No answers had been received when this edition went to press last night.

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