Fiji – Climate Change, COP23 and Sustainable Practices – A Firsthand Experience ( Part 1 of a Series)

COP 23 trash cleanup

Teaching children to clean rubbish provides lifelong experience to prevent the creation of litter.

I love Fiji!!!!   As a people the life and community mindset of people is a step away from the major concerns of the world.  “Bula”, the common greeting which is often responded with “Bula Bula” or “Bula Vinaca”;  is hard to express without a smile on your face.  In fact, in 2014 Fiji was determined to be the Happiest Place on Earth. Climate change is a daily and real life issue for many who live among Fiji’s 300 islands.  Here, in 2016 Hurricane Winston had a real life impact for many.  Homes, food sources and shorelines experienced catastrophic changes, changes that impact the daily life of villagers. In continued response to Winston as well as addressing the concerns for immediate and long term impacts of climate change and in support of their hosting COP23 in Bonn, Germany; Fiji engaged in a week long direct community engagement program the week of September 22-29, 2017.

In the town of , Levuka, Eastern Division, Fiji; I was blessed to find myself in the midst of an amazing group of people who were hosting a series of meetings in different villages on this island.  This was the Western Division meeting and there were several different meetings throughout the community.  Leveuka, a World Heritage Site, was one of 6 community sites throughout the country.

Members of this team included staff from Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Ministry of Fisheries,d Ministry of Taukei Affairs, Offices of the Provincial Administrator, Corrections and more.   This community had been working together for 4 or 5 days when I arrived on Tuesday night.  They opened the event with a parade on Friday, as can been seen in the local Fiji Sun article.  My two day adventure with this team consisted of meeting in the morning at the community meeting room, located just across the street from the village police compound.  We would load up and travel to a neighboring village. At the village, members of the community would meet with members of the team.  This happened in several segments.

mangrove planting cop 23

Children in Draiba, Fiji participate in replanting important mangroves which were destroyed by  Cyclone Winston in Feb, 2016

The first of these was the formal Kava Ceremony which is cultural to the South Pacific Islands.  During the Kava Ceremony, a cup of Kava grog is presented to the elders and leaders of the meeting.  While this occurs, these people have a chance to speak to the meeting at large.  Then, members of the working team would have opportunities to present key aspects of their programs and key important details of the Ministry’s working programs.  These programs focus on the realities of climate change and the ways that members of the village have responsibilities to take action both individually and collectively to help protect their families and to prepare for the continued changes that their village will experience as the conditions of the local climate continue to change.

Focusing on surviving the conditions of climate change is important to Fiji.  Simply looking at it’s makeup of over 300 islands allows for an easy understanding of why.  Under traditional and preparedness conditions, each island – even each village, should be self sustaining.  This means that food production, water cleanliness and storage; as well as secure housing and protection from water shortages are all responsibilities of the local government.  Through the COP23 program relationships, village elders are able to address concerns about the future needs of the villages and to build relationships with the employees from various agencies who will have the responsibility to address the needs.  Some of the needs addressed include: adequate long term planning for food resources, protecting against erosion, infrastructure to keep clean water available, and ensuring that adequate mangrove protections exist.

This leads directly to the secondary part of each day’s programming, hands on mitigation!!!!  It’s in this time-frame that members of the team, working together with the members of the loImage may contain: 1 person, sitting, child, outdoor and naturecal village community – get their hands dirty doing the work to prevent or mitigate against the impacts of Global Climate Change.  This time presented opportunities to learn how to set up nurseries to plant coconut fields and mangroves, protect against erosion by planting deep root grasses, cleaning up litter to protect the water supply as well as fisheries, and planting climate change resistant crops.

cop 23 coconut planting

Ministry of Agriculture representative, Irene Singh (left) explains the importance of planting traditional Fijian Coconut Trees as  Provincial Administrator Ropait Rakadi (right) and members of the community participate in planting a new field of trees.

Through these important hands on activities, both young and old were able to take some active role in supporting their village.  Recent events, especially recovering from the impacts from Cyclone Winston, bring understanding and urgency to active preparations and rebuilding efforts.  This practice aligns with the time tested phrase, “It takes a Village”, which well look at further in my next article.

Image may contain: 5 people, grass, outdoor and natureImage may contain: 1 person, sitting, child, outdoor and nature

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Littering and pesticides damage your food and drinking water

To top off my journey of the islands known as Samoa, I was blessed to have a chance to speak to about 40 Robert Lewis Stevenson College (years 10-12) students about the work and passions of being a water protector and environmental scientist. 

The presentation started by showing how much rubbish I gathered just walking on the sidewalk of the campus. Really just a handful of bottle caps and a few pieces of plastic. These students were quite sharp when I asked how long does plastic last in the environment. “500 years!!”

The majority of these young minds wish to be doctors and scientists.  Big goals indeed! So I figured this would a good platform to explain for them the methods of animal and human toxic contamination from plastics discarded into the environment.

My presentation began with explaining how plastics are made from the same oil we harvest to make gasoline, kerosene and jet fuel; adding chemicals in the same way one might bake a cake.

We then carried through to how these pieces of plastic break down leaking chemicals into the water as the sun beats down on them. The most known toxic chemical is BPA which impacts both humans and fish because it acts like estrogen in our bodies.  For spawning fish, high quantities of BPA in the water can cause a minimum amount of male fish to be born.

The chain of contamination goes even further than just leaking chemicals from the plastic into the water on land and the ocean.  As plastics are leaching chemicals into the water, they are also collecting these chemicals on their surface. These tiny plastics also begin to grow alge, which causes fish to eat them.  As the fish eat these tiny plastics, often less than 5mm in size, the chemicals on their surface are absorbed into the fish.  As small fish get eaten by bigger fish, or grow into big fish themselves; a process called bioaccumulation occurs.  This means that larger quantities of toxins will be found in the food we eat.  We see this already in salmon found in Washington State, USA.
In addition to contamination from plastics, other forms of human consumption are adding toxicity into our food and water.  Medicines like antibiotics and birth control join chemicals like pesticides from farming; niccotine and formaldehyde from discarded cigarette filters and a whole host of items that pass through drinking water systems.  While many of these are part of life in large urban areas, much of the contamination is preventable.  

One of the most important ways to prevent this from happening is by cleaning up the rubbish polluting the Earth and by keeping trash in it’s place. Without managing the way we eat and consume ; chemicals from plastics, medicines and poisons will continue to spread through our water and  food supply.  In just a few generations we’ll have made this planet into a wasteland as seen in science fiction, including the popular Pixar movie –Wall-E.

But much of this is preventable, by doing your part you can become part of the change this and future generations need to have a beautiful healthy planet. Learn to shop and eat organic foods, practice sustainable consumption, avoid plastic bottled water and always tell your friends to clean it up when they litter and pollute the Earth.