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FIJI: Japanese Mine Wants to Dump 100,000 Tons of Waste Daily

Drillbits and Tailings (Project Underground)
June 30th, 2001

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 generated.

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 of years.

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.

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