Japanese mining magnate Nittetsu-Nippon has set its sights on the
copper-rich hills of Fiji, endangering the ecologically fragile Waisoi
Valley and the Coral Coast. Because the ore contains such low-grade (only
.5%) copper, the proposed Namosi mine would be among the biggest producers
of crushed rock among copper mines worldwide.
The operation, to be located at the head of two major rivers, would
dump100,000 tons of tailings, equal to the weight of 1 million people, into
the waters of the Navua Delta every day. The large open pits would
eventually flood after the copper is extracted, forming toxic lakes from
the contaminated aquifer.
An alternative dumping site for the tailings is the Beqa Lagoon, which
French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau called the "soft coral capital of
the world." Sea life thrives in its deep upwelling, and it is one of the
most seismically active areas in the world. The instability of the area
makes submarine tailings disposal (STD) the dumping of mine waste into
bodies of water - a significant threat to the ecosystem.
The proposal pits Nittetsu-Nippon against some forty small villages
populated by indigenous people of the region. Approval of the mine depends
in large part on the approval of landowners in the provinces, the Great
Council of Chiefs, and especially the district of Namosi. The Fiji
government also has a say in the decision.
The Fiji Tourism Forum, who has a vested economic interest in protecting
these areas, has formed an "Environment Sub-Committee" to educate local
communities about the impacts a mine of such scale will have on the
environment traditional lifestyles.
"The (awareness) program aims to educate, hence empower, the communities to
understand the forms and characters of development, and how they will be
affected, should a mega machine of mine works be allowed into a small,
ecologically fragile small island," said Kalaveti Batibasaga, a key member
of the committee.
The mine's operations would bring 10,000 more people to the region, an
increase in population that is sure to impact these traditional
communities. In addition, although indigenous leaders in the provinces have
sold logging, fishing, and mining rights to outside corporations in the
past, rarely have the communities benefited from the jobs these operations
The four provinces that will be affected by the mine, Namosi, Serua,
Nadroga, and Rewa, are the main draw for Fiji's tourism industry, bringing
in the lion's share of the country's tourism revenue and employment. The
Coral Coast and Waisoi Valley are known worldwide for their majestic
landscapes, rich biodiversity, and pristine waters.
If the Namosi mine is approved, Nittetsu-Nippon plans to use the Waisoi and
surrounding valleys for waste storage. The Waisoi is a high volcanic
valley, with relatively inaccessible rivers, ridges, and cloud forest,
which has allowed indigenous species to evolve in isolation for thousands
The mine could put several rare and endangered species of plants and
animals at risk. The area is home to unique species, including a plant in
the Magnoliales order, with extremely primitive leaves, fruit and flowers
which offers vital clues about how flowering plants evolved. Also unique to
the area are the rare birds and animals of the Sovi Basin, the largest
undisturbed lowland forest remaining in Fiji, and two newly discovered
species of earthworm that are bright blue.
- 183 Environment