Six villages on the island of Qamea in Fiji have said no to a proposed multi-million dollar project which would require the traditional owners to give up their fishing grounds.
The area in contention is the coastal area southwest off Qamea where a company called the World Wave Project intends to remove two football fields of reef and ensure that the villagers who survive on the fish stock from these areas give up their traditional birth rights to fish in the area.
The project itself has raised many eyebrows.
The company on its website says the project will allow bigger surf and make the area known as a surfing destination.
The area is currently a tourist destination with its unspoiled natural beauty offering one of the best diving sites in the Pacific.
The company along with the consultants hired to make an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the project made a presentation to the traditional owners of the area two weeks ago.
According to the consultants there would be minimum impact, however once the area is declared a surf zone, the villages would need to give up their traditional fishing grounds.
Tempers had flared during the presentation as none of the traditional owners agreed to removing two and half hectares of the reef and their fishing rights.
The Traditional Head of the Yavusa (Tribe) Korovatu from Naivivi Village in Qamea, Iosefo Tikoisolomone said one of the proposed sites for the surf waves was where villagers fished and gathered seafood for their daily consumption.
He said taking away the reef would mean taking away their survival.
“Where the development will take place it’s a small area and that’s where we fish from. The consultation is putting across an image that this project will go ahead. You are trying this development on our source of livelihood. Everyone sitting here doesn’t want this development,” he said at the consultation.
Local media, FBC News also reported that traditional fishing right owners in the Wainikeli and Bouma district out-right rejected the project which proposes to create new high quality surf waves by breaking and reshaping reefs near Qamea.
Fiji’s Department of Environment permanent secretary Joshua Wycliffe, said the company is required to do its assessments and consultations.
He said the consultations were being done by the company and not by the environment department.
He said the Department would carry out its own EIA once applications were received, and they would not be allowing anything to go ahead if the environment was going to be put at risk.
Kocoma, which has a population of about 550, is the largest of six villages on the island of Qamea. The others are Dreketi, Togo, Naiviivi, Vatusogosogo, and Waibulu.
The islanders are noted for a particular delicacy called paileve, which is fermented in a pit. Also famous is the migration of “lairo” or red land crabs, which occurs near the full moon in November.
Michael Lucas, a representative of the company present during the consultations is yet to answer any questions.
In 2012, there was an attempt to make artificial reefs near Qamea to create more waves but that project backfired when the materials used for the reef started floating.