Sand Mining and Net Fishing – What’s going on Mele?

Mele Village is the biggest village in Vanuatu. Situated on the outskirts of the capital of Port Vila, it has been the center of controversy over the past couple of years after a proposed fishing plant was set to operate in July 2016 with full government backing.

The Blacksands fishing plant is believed to be the biggest of its kind in the Pacific and is jointly owned by the Sino Van Fisheries Ltd and the Vanuatu Government. There are many people who oppose the fish processing plant and although some of their fears are unfounded there does appear to be some legitimate concerns.

Here are some of the main reasons why people don’t want the Blacksands fishing plant.

  • Fishing trawlers are a threat to Hideaway Island, which is a marine sanctuary.
  • An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIS) has yet to be conducted despite a government agreement to do so in 2008. Who knows how the fishing plant could affect the environment and marine life?
  • Foreign fishing vessels will be in competition with local fishermen whose only income source is fishing.
  • Mele area is a tourist playground with several resorts, restaurants and attractions such as Cascades Waterfall, Zipline, Wet ‘n’ Wild Wild Adventure Park and the stunning Blacksands Beach itself. The fishing plant may greatly impact the tourism industry.
  • The proximity of the fishing plant to residential areas could attract sharks.
  • The smell of the Sino-Van sewage pond could reach residential areas as the sewage pond is situated less than 50 meters away from Tagabe river.
  • Long-liners could drag their anchors across the international Internet cable and destroy the gateway from Vanuatu to the rest of the world.
  • Church leaders from the Assemblies of God (AOG) believe the social impacts of the fish processing plant will bring prostitution, increase marijuana use and the introduction of new drugs and diseases.

It is frightening to think of how the Blacksands fishing plant could negatively impact the area. However if the relevant authorities ensure that statutory requirements are upheld such as waste management, occupational health and safety, shipping regulations, etc, then the fishing plant could positively benefit Vanuatu by creating employment and increasing revenue generation.

In the meantime, instead of worrying about how foreign companies could potentially destroy our beautiful Mele, perhaps we need to take a look at how we are creating ecological damage to the area ourselves.

Sand mining

Sand mining is a daily occurrence at Mele Bay. Bags of sand are being removed by the truckloads and it’s causing severe degradation to the river bend as well as eroding Devil’s Point Road. In the following pictures, you can see that so much sand has been mined, that even the roots of trees are beginning to show. How long until this tree falls?

sandminingmele

Sand is a key component for mixing concrete but it is important to note that black sand in particular is quite rare and the unsustainable removal of it is causing irreversible damage to the environment.

sandminingvanuatu

Net Fishing

Another issue that needs to be addressed is the netting of fish at Mele Bay. Overfishing can lead to the complete depletion of species and this has an overall negative effect on our entire marine ecosystem. Although fishing is a source of income for many families, it needs to be done sustainably.

netfishingmele

Although not confirmed, it appears that this type of net fishing is mid water trawling, which is not as bad as bottom trawling which completely destroys habitats, but it is still indiscriminate and captures any species in its path. The unintended catch, or by-catch, is thrown back to the sea either dead or dying.

netfishingvanuatu

What is the solution?

People are stealing sand because they need to mix concrete for their houses. People are netting fish because it’s their source of income and mouths need to be fed. Vanuatu’s population is steadily increasing and the depletion of our natural resources is reflecting this.

Who should be responsible for monitoring the mining of sand and netting of fish at Mele? The chiefs of Mele? The government? Perhaps awareness campaigns regarding sustainable fishing should be implemented in schools and communities and an alternative to sand mining needs to be provided.

netfishingblacksands

Environmental destruction caused by humans is a global problem and its effects are becoming increasingly visible in our tiny Pacific nation. If we don’t start protecting our environment now, our children will be the one to feel the consequences.

Sustainability is the key and our collective effort is crucial to balance the harmful effects of this human activity on our environment. The first step is to acknowledge that these practices are occurring. Now that we are recognizing how vulnerable Mele is, we can start placing restraints on sand mining and net fishing before we completely degrade the area. But who will drive the change? The people? The chiefs? The government? It’s time for Vanuatu to unite and start protecting our land and sea – if not for us, then for our children.


The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are by the editor of Sista, Yasmine Bjornum.

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