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Environmental Concerns

Paul Ralifo (27 January 1999)

I have never been to Rotuma for a while but I am sure that an effort could be made to help maintain the cleanliness of the environment on the island!

Reading the posted messages, I don't believe that a centralised rubbish collecting system is practical. The best way to help is to make people know how important it is to keep Rotuma clean and beautiful. It's all we have got on this planet. Teaching the people how to carefully dispose of their rubbish and making that message get through to them will help a great deal! Throwing rubbish into the sea is a practice that our people need to shake off.

The village health inspection system seemed to do the trick before.

And how do we get this to the people? Through schools and village meetings! I think we have a lot of educated people on the island who can voice this up!

Sefo Avaiki (24 January 2007)

The environmental problems on the island begin with educating landowners on the misuse and abuse of the land. The concept of inherited land ownership and usage as per the older understanding has to be redefined. By that I mean, in the inherited land ownership very little or nothing has been done to regulate and implement environmentally friendly by-laws. Personally, I find that some of the biggest offenders of land abuse are the inherited landowners and this is not restricted to any specific region.

Regarding Rotuma, the said is obvious with the existing eyesore, i.e. oil tanks on the Fapufa mountainside. Such construction was made possible because of non-existent regulatory bylaws whereby landowners collectively agreed to the erection of the tanks. Not only is it a disgusting site, it also takes away from the natural beauty of the landscape. Most importantly, it is potentially an environmental problem.

The same can be said with the six existing landfills which may have been initiated out of necessity. Short term solutions for an existing problem has unintentionally created a long term potential disaster. Without education and monitoring of refuse disposed at these sites, I suspect that environmental hazardous wastes may have already been dumped. The sorting and categorizing of the waste that is in the dumps now is the initial step to coming up with a positive long term solution, however, the primary concern is to educate, inform and develop systems that will encourage communities to participate in composting and also utilize the effective three "R's" of the waste and recycling industry; reduce, reuse and recycle.

The idea that what I do on my land is my business cannot and must not be entertained. We Rotumans must realize that what is dumped into the soil, if hazardous, will in time seep through and destroy either our marine livelihood or worse yet our drinking water. So, we need to understand that as caretakers, guardians of our ancestors' gifts, it is our moral obligation to leave the land healthy and pollutant free for our descendants.

I am collecting material pertinent to the three "R's" and I will send them at the earliest possible opportunity. I am honoured to be involved with LRI and will assist in anyway I can, in the hope that our people will be encouraged to participate in keeping Rotuma beautiful and hazardous free.

I am very pleased that LäjeRotuma Initiative is getting involved with workable solutions to clean up the environment, eliminate unnecessary and excessive dumping at it's infancy.

Pasirio Kitione (25 January 2007)

George Bennett's (1831) account of the planting of one tree to replace another is proof of the practical understanding of nature and life by the elders. Come to think of it all the big big hifau trees in parts of the island – Malha'a, Noatau, Motusa, Itu'muta did not just grow up some 50 years ago. These trees were left alone out of respect for nature and appreciation of its usefulness. I know there are many other trees in parts of the island but I recollect some big shades that have come to pass in Malha'a – Farta and Vagrua in Else'e, close to Fanmutia at Pephaua, Solsesei and Muaghoi in Elsio.

I have yet to come across a Dilo tree that can match in size the ones at Uanheta in Elsio or where the old RCA boat yard used to be at Noatau anywhere else outside Rotuma. To grow to that huge size must take a hundred plus years. Is it due to the fact the hifau is not straight up and tall but branches out and is hard in nature thus its uses have been limited to the ‘umefe, foa and the kuruag ‘ai? With the comments about the environment and initiatives to preserve it (its goodness and beauty) – Laje Rotuma Initiative, we must understand that our elders did not dump plastic, tin, glass and used engine oil. Our generation today did.

Generating awareness on how to sort and dispose off rubbish would be important topics at ho'aga and itu'u level. The experience of dumping at sea (it always washes back up) or at the rouag mofa at the back where its out of sight (for a short while) I am sure is a familiar one. The group that currently promotes educational programmes on preservation and sustainable practises must be supported by our world community (no not the UN, the Rotumans everywhere). Funding and monetary assistance can be directed to their account – if it can be clarified and enabled for others to channel assistance to it easily from anywhere in the world. For those who have been involved in the assistance programmes thank you, to the ones like this writer – I say lets do something now.        

George Bennett. (1831). The island of Rotuma. Retrieved January 25, 2007 from
The following discussion was extracted from postings on the Message Board beginning in March 1998.

Rocky John Peters (4 March 1998)

I was born in Fiji and live abroad. I recently took my first trip to Rotuma and found the island beautiful; it is like a paradise. The only drawback is the lack of cleanness, which creates lots of problems with flies. People on the island need to be educated to take responsibility for the environment.

I read the past messages from people abroad concerning the oil tanks at Motusa. I've been at the tank site location and the engineering planning was excellent, as it was for the new fueling station in Motusa. Rotuma will never run out of kerosene, oil and gasoline.

Anonymous [Teenager] (4 March 1998)

I agree that the people in Rotuma have to make an extra effort to improve the cleanliness of the island. It is not that they aren't educated; it's because they aren't taking the extra effort to be more environmentally aware of a clean surrounding. Not suprisingly since laziness is a natural habit of the human race. Most definitely, there should be a new and better approach by the Department of Health, the chiefs, or whoever, towards the improvement of the environment. But then, let's not forget that the flies can also come about due to the abundance of rotten fruits or food in general.

Anonymous [Motusa boy] (4 March 1998)

I have always advocated a central rubbish collection system so that there is some control. Lobby your Council of Chiefs. Maybe all you overseas Rotumans can start a collection/fundraising for a rubbish truck for Rotuma.

Anonymous [Half Caste] (4 March 1998)

If there was a central place for rubbish who would take it there? (Even Sydney can't decide on a location for a second airport, so I don't think a central location would be a quick solution!) The best thing is to educate people to depose of their rubbish properly. One thing I think should be done is that a shop (the post shop?) should hire out or sell deposable batteries! I know that money is not plentiful in Rotuma but if they don't have disposable batteries they should at least sell alkiline batteries, not those batteries from China that last half an hour. A big mistake is that everyone (including my relatives) seems to believe that throwing rubbish into the sea is okay.

Anonymous [Teenager] (5 March 1998)

I hate to say this but a rubbish truck isn't going to guarantee a clean environment because it's a community and personal/family effort. The rubbish wouldn't pile up in the first place had there been sensible, careful, or better actions in disposing it. A way to look at it is either items are biodegradable or not. Hopefully the Dept. of Health or a governmental expert will come up with a new and better approach!

Anonymous [Motusa Boy] (10 March 1998)

Get real! People on Rotuma have just enough to feed themselves. How can they afford the"green friendly" stuff. The third world need trucks and holes to hide the garbage until you can come up with the "new and better approach."

Anonymous [Home Girl] (5 March 1998)

Before I comment on the subject I would like to say that its fine for us to circulate these comments among us, but we need to implement our ideas, too. I think we should try to inform our people on how important it is to keep our island clean. It's not that they are not aware of the desirability of having clean surroundings. A clean environment creates an open mind and a healthy body, because without a clean environment the body does not function well. I suggest that we discuss this topic some more and some day try and approach our chiefs and the Department of Health. We need to look into forming an organizition and some day implementing it in Rotuma, but only if they want our suggestions. We talk among ourselves and try to help them, but its totally up to them to help themselves.

Anonymous [Teenager] (5 March 1998)

I didn't mean that they are not aware of having a clean surrounding. What I meant was that they aren't making the "extra effort" to be "more" environmentally aware of a clean surrounding.There's a difference in meaning. And yes, I agree that if you, Home Girl, Motusa Boy, or whoever can pass on these postings to our people on the island then that will be perfect.

Anonymous [Motusa Boy] (9 March 1998)

I agree with your comments, Home Girl, but it is not up to them alone . It is not as if they do not understand pollution. Our people do not have the resources to implement the changes. The Fiji government and the council do not have the resources. That is why I say we need to help them. We must take the initiative to start the ball rolling. I have no doubts that if, on your next trip to Rotuma over Xmas, you put it to your chief that your community is willing to donate a garbage truck, or funds, or whatever, the offer will be received with open arms. This can be made a project in conjunction with the govt/council and perhaps one of the donor countries, say Australia. It can be done, but the initiative I believe must come from the Rotumans overseas because they have the "surplus' incomes.

Sefo Avaiki
Nanaimo, Canada (14 March 1998)

Rubbish and the environment is the primary issue we Rotumans living outside of Rotuma should be concerned about. Decades of careless discarding of refuse and abuse will eventually take it's toll on the land if we do not begin implementing sensible solutions towards this obvious problem. Glass, tins and other debris polluting our beaches and "fa' ri" should be cleaned-up.

Today, evidence of a worse culprit has drifted onto our shores, .i.e., oil tanks. There was an article on the News Page in January regarding the cleaning of oil tanks in Rotuma. When negotiations were done to install these potential disasters, the oil company should have been made to sign an agreement to ship their tanks to Fiji, Australia, or N.Z. for cleaning. The writer of the oil tank article suggested the oil companies do an independent environmental impact study on the oil issue. Though I would agree to the study, I firmly believe that it should be done by an independent company, although financed by the oil company; and it should be done now before things get worse. I have seen what an oil spill does to the ecosystem and wild life and I cringe when I read what they were doing with the tanks in Rotuma. That company should be levied a hefty fine for failure to implement environmentally friendly work habits in Rotuma. I'll bet you that kind of practice cannot be done in Australia or N.Z. I know that if it was done in Canada they would have paid severely.

Rusty metal, including tin cans, should be collected in containers and shipped to Fiji for recycling or reuse. I am sure the increase in motor vehicles has added to the waste metal problems in our villages. Glass can be ground into finer particles and mixed with cement for use. New and improved composting technologies can be introduced and participation encouraged through education. Teach the children and parents about the simple things that could be done to help. Cardboard, newspaper and other recyclable materials can be collected and shipped to Fiji. Whatever is left hopefully can be incinerated.

Rotuma cannot afford to centralize rubbish collection. Encouraging households to participate in composting would be a better alternative. The lack of land in Rotuma should always be a primary issue when looking for solutions to solving our rubbish problem. Educating our people on how to RECYCLE, REUSE, REDUCE AND COMPOST will surely help.

I am involved in the waste/rubbish management business and am willing to discuss this issue with anyone. Well I've said my piece, so you can shoot me now, 1,2,3..ooops wait a minute: Say this prayer first before you FIRE: LORD, PLEASE DO TO ME, WHAT I WOULD LIKE TO DO TO THE AUTHOR OF THIS PIECE..AMEN....Now Fire!

Monifa Fiu
Suva, Fiji ( May 2012)

Rotuma for tomorrow (from a forthcoming article in Mai Life magazine)

A two-day sail can cause one to pace the boat in desperation as the inter-island vessel inches closer and closer to the island until at last it gets close enough to count the individual coconut trees growing along the coast. The island's beauty is arresting and it suddenly becomes evident why we need to mobilise our island community to manage our natural resources well. This has always been the goal of LäjeRotuma; tumultuous in its planning and vision but with the purest of intentions. Ten years into our adventure, we hope that the travel situation will ease or that the island challenges we strive to overcome are abated. The LäjeRotuma Initiative aims to enhance the community's understanding of their environment to enable them to manage Rotuma's natural resources for today and tomorrow. Our work as practitioners, educators and role as daughters and sons of our island home, involves much more than simply exploring our heritage and creating awareness on island ecology in the spirit of volunteerism. The world is changing and Rotuma, a remote island economy is linked to the world via improved communications. The demands for infrastructural development etched in national planning processes and the changing lifestyle is effecting social change at an accelerating pace. There are immediate needs to frame a comprehensive baseline of the island's natural resources which are fundamental to ensuring food security on the island in the face of developmental needs and in the midst of frequent extreme events of high temperature, drought and heavy rainfall. The conduct of community-based biophysical surveys of birdlife, transect walks up the undulating hills right down to the surrounding reefs help improve understanding of the island's environment.

Rotuma's geographical isolation creates ecological and anthropological intrigue about the people's origins and present culture, as well as the extent of biological diversity which is still largely unknown. The 43 square kilometer oceanic island is experiencing a continuous shift in the value and use of natural resources which accelerates the erosion of Rotuman knowledge and practices. Creating a culture of biodiversity conservation through organised field surveys, community sessions and eco-camps enables LäjeRotuma volunteers to engage the island community in topical issues important to its economic growth while also protecting the integrity of the community.

Therefore, there is urgency to institute a measure of protection and management of the island landscape, inclusive of its surrounding reefs and islets - possibly 12 miles of near-shore marine habitat that is important for our people and our way of life - a plight shared by most Pacific peoples on islands that host a small resource base and an equally poor land management system. However, there are ongoing regional initiatives addressing this lack and regional cooperation is enhancing the coping mechanisms of Pacific island peoples. This is one of a series of articles sharing an in-depth knowledge of what Rotuma is as a physical entity and about her people's aspirations for a sustainable community that moves beyond subsistence with an ability for making choices.

For Rotuma today, plans for infrastructure development and the exponential rate of resources utilization are imminent. Like any other island community, Rotuma faces enormous challenges as their social, economic and finite environmental resources are reduced and destroyed.

Concerted efforts towards building a resilient Rotuma for tomorrow becomes a primary goal in a process led by LäjeRotuma, and promoted via the elders and youth of Rotuma to create a culture of biodiversity conservation as an integral part of Rotuman history - recognizing that traditional practices cannot be separated from its ethical, aesthetic values, or from its socio-economic reality.

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