IN any over-populated city or town, industrial development is usually the major cause of polluted oceans which threatens coral reefs and kills marine life.
A survey done by the University of the South Pacific’s Institute of Applied Science indicated that reefs in main urban centres such as Suva, Lautoka and Levuka are prone to such threats because of their population.
The three ports have also been surveyed for coastal pollution with Suva harbour being the most studied but not many surveys were done in other parts of the country, said the institute’s manager environment unit Bale Tamata.
“For Levuka, it was the PAFCO (Pacific Fishing Company) cannery.
“I did an overview of water pollution in 1992.
“I gathered all the data which was collected for Levuka, Lautoka and Suva ports and did a review of the data,” she said.
“The main conclusion was that the urban centres had a significance to coastal pollution and they needed to be addressed.”
Ms Tamata said when addressing issues such as coastal pollution everything including tides and currents should be taken into account but they had not been considered at first in the case of Levuka which is home to Fiji’s only cannery.
Before the extension of the waste water outfall, all raw fish organic waste was carelessly dumped into the sea and, as a result, corals in nearby reefs died.
“The water quality was very poor and turbid. The waste coming out of the factory was raw organic waste from fish which were gutted there and just washed off the bench,” Ms Tamata said.
“Such waste is a very good source of nutrients so, apart from high turbidity, there were very high levels of nitrate and phosphate from the breakdown of the organic waste.
“Nitrate and phosphate kill coral and is food for algae or brown seaweed called sargassum which smothers or suffocates coral.”
She said people in the area were concerned about the effects of the waste because they saw coral dying so a survey was done.
The Australian government funded the water outfall which extended way out to the passage in the reef.
Ms Tamata said the IAS did some water quality monitoring to see if the extension brought any improvement.
“It did and we had to measure clarity (clearness) of the water before and after the extension. We found clarity of the water and just when we finished the monitoring we could see live coral coming back not too far from the wharf.”
Australia’s kind initiative did improve the water quality but it created a problem elsewhere.
The waste water was being taken down with the drift following the current so the reef was being degraded and in its place was this brown algae that is called sargassum which affected the reef, Ms Tamata said. “So in that reef passage, they have coral on one side and sargassum on the other side and to avoid that we needed to take the tides and currents into account before we dump waste into coastal waters.”
Dr Tamata said the surveys of the three ports was done about the mid-80s and 90s and more surveys still need to be carried out.
Laucala Bay and the Suva harbour lagoon have been identified as one of the most overfished and polluted reefs in the South Pacific.
USP researchers and students have done various studies in the two areas which is the most studied and documented, according to the Fisheries resource assessment report on Suva harbour compiled by Aisea Batibasaga, Nanise Kuridrani and William Saladrau.
Suva harbour has been continuously degraded for the past 30 years from factories and industries, oil, chemicals, heavy metals, residential effluent and coral harvesting and overfishing.
Ms Tamata said waste from chemicals and heavy metals from industrial areas and factories that manufacture paints or batteries are found in the area so it was not advisable to collect shellfish or clams.
“We have done researches and our studies have found high level of metal in shellfish in urban areas especially in Lami and Walu Bay.
“For fish, the metals accumulate in the fat tissues and it builds up.
“So the more fish we eat is a risk for us.”
And because of the increase in unemployment, clams, other bi-valves, shellfish and fish from those areas including Vatuwaqa would be a source of food so the problem of waste should be addressed.
The Fisheries report also included waste water and sewage disposal discharged from septic tanks and sewerage systems.
Because of high rainfall in the Suva area, they are leaked on to the ground and nearby creeks ending up in the marine environment.
And the average fecal coliform concentration generally exceeds internationally acceptable standards in most Suva creeks.
Results of a study by the USP indicated that the general water quality in Suva Harbour is a concern.
Reports from locals who fish in the area say that fish caught in the area had a distinctly oily and kerosene flavour because some industries discharge their waste directly to the sea, the report revealed.
Sand mining for the manufacturing of cement by Fiji Industries in Lami still continues from the time it started at Laucala Bay reef in 1962.
It damages coral reefs because it increased the turbidity of the water and blocks out the sunlight for photosynthesis in the zooxanthalle or algae that thrive on coral.
Also, there were so much non-biodegradable pollution such as plastic and bottles thrown into the sea, creeks and mangrove swamps.
And then there are the rusting ships in the bay which could poison marine life in surrounding waters.
Overfishing and use of destructive methods of fishing such as scuba gear added to the problems.
Ms Tamata said plastic choked turtles and smothered coral or suffocate them because coral polyps are animals.
Plastic, Ms Tamata said, was not bio-degradable and it was better to use shopping bags when one goes shopping or better, use bio-degradable plastic bags.
But the Fisheries ministry report highlighted that Fiji has a very poor record in the area of legislation enforcement for the ocean.
Ms Tamata concluded that even though we were moving to address the waste problems there should be more drastic measures taken to control pollution discarded into the ocean.
Only then will we see a change.
Alumeci Nakeke is an ocean science reporter with SeaWeb, a non-government organisation that helps the media promote and protect a healthy ocean.