After the success of the pilot litter booms at river mouths in Apia, the Ministry of Natural Resources (M.N.R.E) is planning to install more.
Two booms were installed prior to the Small Island Developing States (S.I.D.S) conference in September 2014 by M.N.R.E in partnership with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (S.P.R.E.P).
In the last year, it is safe to estimate that the booms in Vaisigano and Mulivai Rivers prevented over one-thousand kilograms of litter from entering the ocean.
Speaking to the Samoa Observer, Malaki Iakopo, A.C.E.O of the Water Resources Division of M.N.R.E explained that the booms have been greatly beneficial on many fronts including marine health and tourism.
“The boom has a lot of benefits in terms of water quality and it also stops all the waste getting into the inshore reefs and the inshore resources because it does a lot of damage to the turtles, the fish, the reefs. Also it has a lot of impact on our tourism especially when it’s in town. Because this doesn’t really happen in the other rivers in the communities, it happens in the urban rivers.”
Iakopo explained that S.P.R.E.P offered assistance to partner with the Water Resources Division of M.N.R.E on a project that would benefit the community. The litter boom project was decided upon and S.P.R.E.P’s assistance extended to providing the essential funding.
“Their help was two folds, the first was to provide us with financial support to procure and set up the trash booms and the second one was to hire some of the ladies from Fiji. They came and did weaving classes for the woman here. So we take the rubbish from the booms, like the trash bags, the plastics and the cans. They chop it up into pieces and then they weave bags and small purses, things that you can sell at the markets.”
While the booms are now managed by the Water Resources Division, S.P.R.E.P has continued to offer guidance where possible.
“They are still helping us identify areas of improvement. They had an expert fly in last year and we went over how we can improve on data collection,” said Malaki Iakopo.
Anthony Talouli, Pollution advisor at S.P.R.E.P hailed the project as a success.
“Overall the project is quite a success. Initially we were worried about continuation but M.N.R.E have really taken it on board and embedded it into their water monitoring plans. They have also gained high level support and produced a paper to cabinet.”
The management at present of the booms involves them being cleaned twice a week. The rubbish is then segregated and weighed in its different types. Afterwards the rubbish is taken to Tafaigata Sanitary Landfill Facility.
The ongoing collections are funded by the government and in the words of Iakopo, the “time-intensive” bi-weekly collections are managed by the Water Resource Division of M.N.R.E.
From the segregation it is clear to see that the vast amount of rubbish flowing down the river is plastic while there are smaller amounts of other wastes; eighty-six percent plastic, five percent paper, three percent textile or fabric, three percent rubber and two percent metal.
Malaki Iakopo was confident that headway has been made and the amount of dumping has been curbed.
“We’ve seen a decline in rubbish that is going into the river. But there is still rubbish being dumped, but the extent of it is much less now.”
It appears that the rubbish collected from Vaisigano is often about twice the volume collected from Mulivai. However this does not directly correspond with the amount entering the rivers for two reasons.
The first, as Iakopo explained, is from time to time the booms have to be removed due to weather concerns.
“When it’s really heavy rainfall and we’re worried that it might get washed off, we close it down. So we just remove it, put it up on land.”
The second reason is that sometime the booms have been left untied. This is an issue that has had to be addressed with residents along the rivers.
“In the beginning, the community had to be consulted. They were saying that when we pull a boom across, it obstructs with their canoes. So when they go to fishing or come back from fishing normally they just open the boom and let it go to and fro. So what happens is that all the rubbish that has been trapped there will just flow back in.
“So we did a lot of consultation with them and asked them to please assist. So what they did is some families would just dump their canoes before the boom and some families will open it and close it back up again,” said Iakopo.
For these two reasons it is difficult to discern whether or not there has been any change in the amount dumped into the rivers. It is also impossible to do an annual comparison with the data made available until June 2014 and without another year of monitoring.
However it is clear that large quantities of rubbish is being prevented from entering the ocean. From January until June last year, 617.6 kilograms of rubbish was trapped.
While they serve an invaluable function of marine protection, Talouli highlighted how the data has also been an instrumental tool in community consultations which address the source of the problem.
When having community consultations and environmental education, “having the data and visual representations has been an eye opener,” he said.
It was community engagement and consultation that revealed some of those dumping rubbish into the river did not have access to waste collections, he explained. Since then, forty rubbish cans have been installed upriver and are regularly collected.
Since the initial instalment of the booms, additions upstream have been made to provide additional information, Iakopo explained.
“Instead of having one boom at the end we’ve compartmentalised the river so we know which families are the ones dumping the most rubbish into the river so we can do more consultation with them. What we’ve found is that it’s the downstream portion that is dumping the most in whereas the upstream portion because they are much further away from the river they don’t have easy access because of the steep slopes so they dump less rubbish.”
Other than the lack of waste collection services that have been addressed, habit was another reason that Iakopo outlined had been cited in consultations.
“Most of this is new because of our culture in the past most of our plants were woven from coconut leaves and things. What would happen in the olden day, because it’s biodegradable, people would just leave it at the back of your house and then it would decompose. But with the plastic plates and plastic cups and everything that is plastic now people are just used to that so we are trying to put out awareness that these are not biodegradable.”
Since the success of the two pilot booms as both an environmental protection and information gathering tool, preparations are underway for the installation of two more.
Gasegase and Fuluasou Rivers are the ones soon to be fitted at the mouth with booms.
“There is already team that has been tasked with implementing them into the other two rivers. April this year. For the start we will try the end first and get some baseline information and then we will do the compartmentalisation to see which areas are most problematic, said Malaki Iakopo.
The new projects will be funded by the Water and Sanitation Sector of M.N.R.E.