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June 3, 2021

Fiji’s Hidden Fragility

Written by Kylie Barton

In recent years here at Island Spirit we have expanded our eco-tourism across the globe, but we will never forget our humble beginnings in our beloved Fiji. Recently it has come to light that there is a new plague threatening this beautiful land, black sand mining.

As we are already so painfully aware, climate change is already starting to hit some of the world’s island nations hard. As a result, Fiji’s coastline and intricate eco-systems are already very vulnerable to coastal erosion, flooding, and coral bleaching. All of this has escalated somewhat in the past few years, despite the brief respite provided to the natural environment by COVID, and now Fijians are facing this new challenge.

We have seen before how the Chinese have had a dramatic impact on the Fijian isles, and their biodiversity, and now Chinese firm Amex Resources are mining black sand at the Ba River Delta, and have been for the last two years. Australian companies are starting similar projects around the islands and one of these is next to Sigatoka Sand Hills National Park which soon hopes to reach World Heritage status. Again, we see our beautiful Fiji being pillaged of her resources to the detriment of her health.

So, what is black sand?

The black material contains magnetite which is a type of iron ore which holds great value. It can be used in jewellery, cosmetics, and also to stabilise concrete or steel products. The mining of the substance can lead to a number of different geohazards such as land subsidence which can increase the likelihood of flooding or typhoon damage. There needs to be on the ground geological surveys alongside any mining, but for black sand mining these surveys are often expensive, and difficult to conduct. Black sand mining is also prevalent in the Philippines where it often happens illegally. Here is has been subject to much challenge in court, and therefore one must wonder if this is why the shift to Fijian shores?

Why is it bad?

Many environmentalist groups in the region are calling for all mining to be stopped, as they argue that the local people have not been properly or appropriately informed about the long lasting environmental impacts. Without the informed consent of the communities which such projects will affect, the projects are a 21st century version of colonialism. Such consultations should happen before the commencement of any projects that may damage the land of the local people, and in this case this has not happened in an open, honest and accessible way.

It is said that the local fisherman are already seeing negative impacts in the quantity of crabs and fish in the area. As this trade is the main source of income for many local people, it is no wonder their level of concern and confusion is rising. Natural resources that have already been taken in this process are irreplaceable and therefore will already have a long lasting affect on the eco-system and the delicate balance needed in the environment. Local people rely on this balance to survive and thrive, and in a post-COVID world this is now truer than ever.

Why does it matter?

Every country and community in the world has been forced to re-think how things are done since the pandemic. Fiji is no different. For a long time Fiji has been an epicentre of people-focussed eco-conscious initiatives such as those here at Island Spirit, and now it seems much of this positive progress is being undone by foreign companies. All countries need to re-evaluate how to ‘build back better’ and look at how to develop within the constraints of the ecosystem. Fiji has already experienced many cyclones, episodes of coastal flooding, and other natural disasters in the past year, and so mining in this manner seems nonsensical and not in the interest of the environment or local people.

As an eco-tourism provider, our priority is always the local people and protecting their natural environment and resources. We seek to work with communities to enable and empower them to develop in sustainable, eco-conscious, responsible ways to ensure that the beauty of the land they call home is around for many more generations of both local, and foreign visitors to cherish and enjoy.

Fiji’s healthy reef systems. Island Spirit.