Na Turaga na Tui Ono;
Turaga na Tui Vatoa;
Honourable Cabinet Ministers;
Teachers, Parents, Guardians and School Children;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good morning to you all.
Today marks an important step forward in my Government’s efforts to keep all Fijians safe from the terrible potential effects of climate change—particularly sea-level rise. This new hybrid seawall that we are commissioning today represents more than just an attempt to keep the ocean from encroaching on the lands that are so important to this Village—although it certainly is that. It also represents hope to the residents of so many villages in Fiji that need protection—particularly on the outer islands.
To build this seawall, the Ministry of Waterways and Environment used an ingenious combination of human-made and nature-based solutions to provide protection that is more effective and less expensive than a concrete wall. The wall is made of boulders that were acquired nearby, which reduced construction costs, and the mangroves planted in front of the wall and vetiver planted behind the wall provide extra protection for their ability to absorb and contain tidal flows.
The mangroves are the first line of defense, as they have always been in Fiji, and the vetiver is the last line.
The mangroves will calm the action of the waves, but the mangrove eco-system will also be an important local source of food. Mangroves take carbon out of the air, protect coral reefs by holding in soil, and are home to shellfish and other marine life. The vetiver forms a strong hedge. Its deep roots hold in the soil, and it can thrive even in soil that has been inundated by seawater.
Our need to protect coastal communities is urgent, and so we will continue to pursue nature-based solutions—either alone or in combination with man-made structures. This is the way we will pick up the pace to reach more communities more quickly—and with solutions that have multiple benefits. It may be enough to simply keep the sea from encroaching, but is it not better to do that and also pull carbon from the air and restore the natural eco-systems that God has given us and that our ancestors cared for?
This project was completed in just four (4) months, and I am pleased to note that it arose from a Talanoa that the people of Viro held with the Minister for Waterways and Environment. The people spoke, and Government responded quickly and with the right solution. Since 2014, we have undertaken eight (8) coastal protection projects at a cost of more than Five Million Dollars. In the process, we protected more than 2,000 metres of vulnerable coastal areas. But those projects were primarily conventional reinforced concrete seawalls. This project is different, and with reduced costs and greater efficiency of these hybrid projects that use nature-based solutions, we will be able to do more with less.
It is a simple fact that it costs more than twice as much to build a seawall in the outer islands than on the mainland—so we have to innovate. We have to be creative. And we have to look to nature to help us adapt to the new forces of nature that human-kind has unleashed.
Viro Village Hybrid Seawall is first of its type implemented by the Ministry of Waterways and Environment, and it is now a model that we will continue to use in the coming months and years—especially in the maritime islands.
I congratulate the people of Viro and the Ministry of Waterways and Environment for working together to produce this marvelous solution to an extremely vexing problem. We must adapt to climate change, but we know that the best way to adapt to nature and protect ourselves from its most destructive forces isn’t always to simply erect massive structures. Rather if we use the forces of nature itself to protect us, we can co-exist and remain secure even with nature’s most destructive forces.
It is my pleasure to wish the people of Viro a happy and secure future behind the three (3) layers of protection provided by nature’s solutions and human ingenuity.