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.

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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 surges 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.

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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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Pollution in American Samoa, a look at the Nu’uuli Mangroves

Recently I had the opportunity to sit in on a planning meeting between the Environmental Protection Agency of American Samoa, Department of Marine Wildlife and the American Samoa Power Authority.  This meeting was to discuss the implementation and roll-out of a new mitigation program that would include data collection to help assist in evaluating the types and sources of pollution on the coastlines of American Samoa.  Within 3 weeks, I found this article written in the local newspaper, the American Samoa News about a group of roughly 25 individuals who collected 160 bags of waste during a cleanup of the Pala Lagoon on the opposite side of the Nu’uuli Mangroves.

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A picturesque scene from the Nu’uuli mangroves.  Unfortunately, everything isn’t a beautiful as it seems.

With this in mind, I accepted an invite to take a short tour of a section of the Mangroves, a section that stretches out into the Lagoon and is one of the areas proposed to be mitigated by the EPA.  What we found was heartbreaking.

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A look inland shows large swaths of pollution across the mangroves and inland island.

As I toured the mangroves, I had a conversation with Dennis Ahoia, a local business owner and family member tied to one of the pieces of land designated as part of the Nu’uuli Mangroves.   This part of the island is uninhabited, yet the area is full of rubbish, and most of it is fairly new. After a short boat ride across the bay, Dennis lead me through the mangroves, most of which are completely undeveloped.  He showed me sections where decades ago, walls and foundations were buried from when families used to live here.

As he used his machete to clear a pathway he explained to me his families involvement in cleaning up a portion of the land.  His astonishment at the quantity of pollution was evident.  “Several years ago we were cleaning up a portion of this land, and a small fire spread across the mangroves, it burned for several days and while it was unfortunate, it burned all the trash.  So all of this, all of this is new.”

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Styrofoam food containers, single use beverage containers and other signs of human consumption are mixed with natural organic plant material at the  Mangroves shoreline.

What amazed me the most is that there are significant barriers at the waters edge that should in theory capture and limit the spread of rubbish in this area.  Large portions of debris can be found up to 50 feet inland from the shoreline.  According to Ahoia, much of this pollution comes directly from the Village of Nu’uuli and the multiple streams that discharge into the bay. His disheartened amazement at the quantities of pollution is evident throughout our entire walk.  “Where does all this come from?”, he asks shaking his head.  “People don’t take care of their garbage and it ends up here.”  It appears that this debris then floats with the currents until it comes to the shoreline where wind and varying tides carry it inland.

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Nu’uuli Mangroves – 10 -30 feet inland, you can see the waterline

Managing this pollution is a multi step process that begins with personal responsibility.  Putting trash in its place and not littering are the first solutions to preventing this type of pollution to occur.  Secondary measures are to avoid purchasing items that are common pollutants like Styrofoam take out containers.  Requesting your local business purchase environmentally responsible packaging and traveling with personal beverage containers are additional measures to preventing the problem.

Additionally,  active mitigation – or cleaning up these type of areas is also important.  Forming a group of friends and family members, faith based community, or other group that gathers regularly is a great way to make an impact on pollution in your local area.  By taking people out to clean up existing trash, we spread awareness and educate people about the impact litter makes.  This blog on tips to running a successful community cleanup can be a great place to start you on starting your own cleanup group.   If you are interested in helping clean up American Samoa please contact the EPA  by email :info@epa.as.gov  or call them directly at 684.633.2304