Several villages located along the banks of the Sigatoka River on Fiji’s Coral Coast have expressed concerns regarding the impact of past dredging activities on the river’s ecosystem.

They report that the dredging, which occurred over two years and was intended for flood mitigation, may have impacted marine habitats and altered the riverbed.

The No Levu – a group of seven  villages (Laselase, Nayawa, Sigatoka, Yavulo, Nasama, Vunavutu and Kulukulu) located along its banks from Sigatoka Town downriver towards the rivermouth at the world-famous sand dunes lost their feeding grounds when the dredging contractor from China removed gravel and sand from the riverbed and dumped it along the banks, destroying marine habitats, which used to be a source of living for the thousands who’ve lived there for generations.

Instead of deepening the river, it has become shallower. Towards the river mouth, there are now new sandbanks.

At times, during low tide, people can cross to either side.

Lanieta Burasia, a representative of the tikina (district) o Nasigatoka, voiced concerns about the potential intentions behind the dredging. She highlighted that a mining company, Magma Mines, has been exploring for black sands iron magnetite at the river mouth since 2007.

She said they had written to the Office of the Prime Minister, when Voreqe Bainimarama was in office, to object against the works.

‘’We, the people of the tikina o Nasigatoka (vanua o Jubaniwai) petitioned peacefully and earnestly for the complete and permanent removal of Dome Gold Mines, incorporating Magma Mines, from our village and ancestral lands,” she said. She added that since 2007,  the company failed to clearly indicate to landowners of its actual intentions of utilising the dredging of the Sigatoka River and its river mouth.

Dr Raijeli Taga, the permanent secretary of Fiji’s Ministry of Mineral Resources, clarified that the river dredging and mineral exploration were separate activities. She stated that the dredging was a government project for flood mitigation, while Magma Mines’ exploration for black sands iron magnetite is a separate venture. Dr Taga emphasised that any potential mining activity is subject to Magma Mines meeting the necessary requirements, including an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

Dome Gold Mines Limited, an Australian company financially and technically supporting Magma Mines, reported on their website that the total mineral resources at Sigatoka are 189.3 million tonnes, as stated in a market release on 05 November 2020.

The Ministry of Mineral Resources will thoroughly review the EIA and consider all factors before making any decisions regarding potential mining activity.

This is part one of the three-part series of articles by the author as part of the Earth Journalism Network (EJN) grant through the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA).

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