Environmentalists and local villagers on a Fijian resort island – are aghast at a monumental Chinese hotel development, which has ripped out part of a reef, dumped waste, blocked other landowners, and disturbed traditional fishing grounds – before gaining legal approvals.

The resort would be Fiji’s largest, and is set to include the Pacific nation’s first casino.

A tourism expert has warned the desecration on Malolo Island could become an international example of ‘what not to do’ in sustainable tourism development.

In what is being described as a “gangbuster” approach, the Chinese developer Freesoul Real Estate Development is accused of running roughshod over Fijian environmental law, permits, the environment, and the island locals.

Minister for Waterways, Dr Mahendra Reddy says the Department’s involvement with FREDL’s Malolo Island project began on June 15, 2017, when the company lodged their environmental impact assessment (EIA) screening application with the intent to build a new resort.

He adds, Initially, the proposed resort was to include overwater villas, restaurants, a club and a casino, as well as beachfront units, ridge units, a kindergarten, a spa, and back-of-house facilities.

Meanwhile, after conducting their required EIA, the number of accommodation units permitted by the Department was reduced from the initially-planned 351 to 102, and the decision was made not to permit a casino.

Dr Reddy says the Department has also been in continuous communication with both the Fiji Hotel Tourism Association and various hoteliers in the Malolo region to gain their input to the proposed development.

The Chinese developers did purchase a lease of part of the site through two local clans in early 2018. But the majority of island residents do not want the developer to destroy their ancestral fishing grounds and are now taking legal action to take back their land and the foreshore around it.

An elder from the nearby Solevu Village Jonetani Nayate said the people of his village were very upset. as raw sewage is going into the mangroves [from camps set up for site workers]. Because of the sewage and the channel they dug, it is all spoilt.

As a condition of the approval, the company was given a number of very stringent conditions to fulfill before works were begin on site, and all foreshore development works were not permitted. Meanwhile, it is clear that these conditions have been breached.

Among the complaints of serious environmental damage already perpetrated by Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) are:

– illegal reclamation of foreshore and beach access

– dredging and smashing of an estimated 5000 square metres of reef to build a boat channel on a beach it did not even have rights over

– subsequent illegal dumping of dead reef on protected sea grass

– destabilisation of hillsides after stripping of vegetation

– silt/raw sewage and rubbish dumped into protected seaside mangroves

– a fuel tank stored on foreshore reclamation

– trucks and excavators driving over the reef at low tides.

Dr Reddy clarifies, the Department is working closely with the Office of the Director Public Prosecutions to see that Freesoul Real Estate Development (Fiji) Pte Ltd is prosecuted on the offences and environmental damage they have incurred on the island of Malolo.

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