Posted on October 18, 2021

Qamea, Fiji

Why choose Fiji and specifically Qamea?

Like most of the South Pacific Islands, the long period ground swells come from the southwest, so the southern coasts are where the most surf breaks area and the left-handers are offshore in the tradewinds. The wind climate is divided into 2 seasons, with relatively strong tradewinds from the southeast quarter from May through to October (dry season), and lighter winds often from the northern quarter from October to May; this is the wet season when all the breaks around Fiji work. The dry season provides the occasional light and northerly quarter window, and coincides with winter for NZ and Australia (where 85% of tourists come from)

Fiji, and the Qamea area in particular, was selected to the pilot site for the WWP due to high number of ‘almost’ surfing breaks in the area, Fiji’s Surf Decree to become an international surfing destination, the opportunity to potentially improve the marine environment and create protected areas, and the social and economic need for more development in northern Fiji.  It is a win-win project, since the lease is temporary (only during construction), and once complete the new breaks are open to everyone to utilise and owned by the Fiji government.

The project assists with the creation of more MPAs (marine protected areas) through the Fiji Surf Decree (Regulation of Surfing Areas Act, 2010).  If an area is (or becomes) a surfbreak, the Surf Decree basically provides MPA status (Part 3, 7a) “The person shall not carry out any other activity, including fishing, at any surfing area, other than surfing or engaging in any water sport.”, 7b) cannot cause damage (i.e., moorings are required rather than anchors), 7c) must keep clean from debris, pollution or contamination, etc.  The breaks are also open access to everyone to promote the purpose of the Act (Surf Decree) Part 1, 3: to promote Fiji as a premier surf travel destination; To liberalise access to any surfing area by all persons, including tourists, hotels and business engaged in providing and promoting surfing or any water sport.

The breaks are also open access to everyone to promote the purpose of the Act (Surf Decree) Part 1, 3: to promote Fiji as a premier surf travel destination; To liberalise access to any surfing area by all persons, including tourists, hotels and business engaged in providing and promoting surfing or any water sport.


Maqai is located in northeastern Fiji on the southwestern tip of Qamea Island. It is accessed by a 1 hour flight from Nadi or Suva to Matei airport in Taveuni, where you are picked up and taken to the landing (20 minutes) and a short boat trip (15 minutes) to Maqai Eco Resort (www.maqai.com).   

How many reefs and what area of seabed will be impacted?

Re-shaping is proposed in the shallow areas of the reef, and following the outcomes of the independent ecological investigations, the sites that have been selected have very little marine life.  The project first identified eleven potential sites based on location and exposure to waves.  Following more detailed investigations (e.g., considering the long-term wind and wave climate, multiple instrument deployments to measure waves, currents and water levels), drone surveys, numerical modelling, etc.), these were narrowed to 5 potential sites.  The outcome of the ecological investigations narrowed this down to 2 sites (P02 and P07).

The areas at the two sites currently being considered for surf break development are ~1.125 ha (150×75 m) at P07 (all shallower than 2.0 m below low tide) and ~1.5 ha (150*100) at P02 (all shallower than 4.0 m below low tide).

P02 is described as “dead coral” on the shallow areas, 5-30% live coral between 5 m and 10 m deep, and <1% live coral at 10 m deep. All sculpting being considered is less than 4 m below low tide (“dead coral” zone).

P07 is described as “dead coral” at 3 m deep, 10% live coral at 5 m deep, and rock and 50% live coral at 10 m deep. Any sculpting being considered is less than 2 m below low tide (“dead coral” zone).

P02 and P07 do not have high structural complexity, have low diversity and very low coral cover.

What volume of material will be added/removed?

Specific sites have different requirements. We know that, at a minimum, natural surf breaks generally require 10’s of thousands cubic metres of material.  Some sites may need much less material, added and/or removed, to produce surfable waves as it could be a process of filling in gaps or removing small sections that inhibit wave breaking.  Less than a 0.05% of a reef structure is typically removed.

Where will the material be removed from? 

Removal of seabed material is limited to hard substrates such as rock, coral or limestone reef. While this material is removed to create a surfable wave, it will remain in the area and be put to use in a way that benefits local ecology and/or coastal processes, and could be used to improve or create another “almost surf break” nearby.  

How much of marine life will be removed in the construction of this project?

The aim is to disturb as little marine life as possible, however, an important part of the investigations has focused on identifying suitable sites that are of relatively low ecological value; an important aim of the project is sustainable development. 

The two sites are classified ‘dead coral’ in the shallow areas where the proposed works would take place; coral cover is often relatively low in the shallow parts of reefs that are exposed to high wave action, and the coral bleaching events in this part of Fiji since 2016 may also be part of the reason that these areas are mostly devoid of marine life.  Even so, as part of the Terms of Reference for the project, in the areas of reef that are planned to be reshaped living organisms must be transplanted.

How can the project improve marine habitat?

There is great potential that after deepening these areas by 0.5-1.5 m the combination of removing algal growth (i.e., presenting a clean face for coral larvae to attach) and being deeper and not exposed on the lowest tides (i.e., they will be less likely to be bleached during summer months) will result in improvement of the local reef habitat; we are working with a world-leading coral settlement expert in Townsville to look at this, and it will also be part of the monitoring plan; the ecological assessment indicates that natural recovery will occur relatively quickly (noting that at present there are few live species in the areas of interest).  Using the material removed to create new hard reef habitat in deeper areas (it is around 30-40 m deep on the silty seabed) also has potential, although site selection would be important.

What sort of work will be involved and what sort of machinery will be used?

The equipment that will be utilised is still being investigated by the various construction experts.  Works will be small scale, as the areas that require deepening and shaping are around 150×75 m and 150×100 m, with the depth of rock removal mostly between 0.5-1.5 m (i.e., a skim off the outside edge) and in waters between 0 and 4 m below low tide.  Rock densities samples have been analysed so that the construction experts can consider techniques, and manual methods such as a digger on a barge, and cracking compounds that expand in drilled holes to the correct depth and pattern are looking promising.

Techniques such as large-scale cutter-suction dredging and blasting are not being considered due to the potential impacts on the surrounding environment and the need for controlled shaping. Small areas of a few 10’s of square meters would be worked on at a time to reduce the potential for creating large quantities of fine suspended material and various other construction environmental management measures would also be applied.

What is the duration of the project?

At present, it is expected that construction would take around 6 months for the 2 sites including all the down time (at least 50% of the time).  As previously noted, small equipment and small areas of work space would gradually reshape the shallow reef edge in order to both ensure the designed shape is developed and to minimise the construction footprint and any associated disturbances.

Will new marine reserves be created?

The project assists with the creation of more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) through the Fiji Surf Decree (Regulation of Surfing Areas Act, 2010). Fiji is currently lagging with MPA distribution in comparison to other South Pacific Island nations (e.g., Tonga now has >30% of its marine area protected and we are currently working towards further expansion of SMAs (small village managed area) throughout the archipelago).

If an area is (or becomes) a surfbreak, the Surf Decree basically provides MPA status (Part 3, 7a) “The person shall not carry out any other activity, including fishing, at any surfing area, other than surfing or engaging in any water sport.”, 7b) cannot cause damage (i.e., moorings are required rather than anchors), 7c) must keep clean from debris, pollution or contamination, etc.

Is this project experimental and untested?

Controlled removal of rock and coral is undertaken all around the world, including in Fiji. Removing dead reef to change ‘almost’ breaks into surfable breaks is novel, although there are a number of successful surfing reefs that have been built on the seabed around the world. Recently, new inland surfing facilities have proven the same surf engineering approach. While wave engineering was experimental 10-20 years ago, it is now a known discipline with known and proven methods.

This project’s approach is not haphazard and is being underpinned by advanced measurement and modelling approaches used in the industry. Detailed studies are underway or completed that include high resolution bathymetry surveys of the sites, side-scan sonar of the sites, multiple instrument deployments (waves, currents and water levels), drone surveys, global datasets (e.g., 40-years of wave and wind climate data for the area), calibrated state-of-the-art numerical modelling and physical modelling. The result is a reef profile with known wave quality known before construction begins. These investigations will be incorporated into the EIA, and will be independently peer-reviewed.

Will this project have long term negative impact on the marine environment?

This has no long term negative impacts on the marine environment.  Like other living systems it is well documented that the benthos (the community of organisms that live on, in, or near the bottom of a sea) will be recolonised by a range of organisms.

There are 2 main kinds of ecological impact: area ‘pulse’ impacts and ‘press’ impacts:

  • A pulse impact is an acute, one-off event such as a large vessel grounding on a reef and mechanically damaging the encrusting organisms, a 1 in 100 year rainfall event that causes a coastal landslide to cover the nearshore reef with terrestrial sediment for a few months until it is washed away (as happened at Qamea in 2017), or at a larger scale where a tropical cyclone that decimates both terrestrial and marine habitat in a matter. Once these pulse impacts pass, the reefs begin to recover to their former state. The rule of thumb is that the more exposed to waves and currents a reef is, the quicker recovery will occur when compared to sheltered areas.
  • A ‘press’ impact is a permanent change that causes chronic impacts that in some cases slowly get worse. These include:
    •  ocean warming and acidification;
    •  reclamation of large areas of intertidal and shallow subtidal habitat;
    •  an outfall permanently changing water quality and the surrounding benthic environment;
    •  a marine farm permanently changing the photic zone (depth of light penetration) and slowly modifying the benthos (due to light attenuation, organic material settling, etc.);

A press impact changes an area for as long as it is present and in general is permanent.
Removal of reef material falls into the category of a pulse impact. As concluded by the marine ecologist’s investigations, the reef at P02 and P07 will regenerate relatively quickly, as has been evidenced with other sites in the past; noting both have existing low % coral cover. Rather than being irreversible and gone forever, regeneration is a natural process that is evident in the area following TC Winston the eye of which passed only 20 km south of Qamea Island 20 February 2016.

Furthermore, the dead coral at the locations being considered in many cases have algae growing on its surface due to the recent bleaching, and are now in a seaweed phase that can persist for years to decades. By removing sections of dead and algae-covered reef there is the potential for accelerating the change back to a coral phase. This would be determined in the monitoring associated with the environmental management plan. We believe that over time this project will be net positive as it relates to the living reef in the area.
If this project cannot be undertaken sustainably, then it will not be undertaken.

Will this project create bigger waves endangering the villages and coastline?

While focussing of wave energy can create bigger waves, wave energy cannot be increased through slight changes to the shape of a reef, especially those being proposed. As has been demonstrated in other locations, focussing wave energy to create bigger waves actually results in coastal protection, as the larger waves break further offshore a create a wider beach inshore (known as salient), since diffusion (and radiation stress) builds bars further offshore. Submerged detached breakwaters and the multipurpose reefs (MPRs) in Australia and other parts of the world achieve coastal protection in a similar manner.

The waves are generated by winds, often thousands of kilometres away. Waves arrive to the shoreline with an amount of energy predetermined long before the waves break. The wave breaking patterns will change slightly where reefs are modified to create surf breaks, although these changes are offshore and do not change the amount of wave energy, while processes such as refraction can help to lessen wave energy reaching the shore by redirecting it more onto the reef (i.e., reduce erosion, which multipurpose reefs have also been designed to achieve).

Concerns with respect to coastal protection are also associated with site selection. P02 is some 1.4 km offshore of the closest land, which also has a 120 m shallow fringing reef flat, and the relatively small proposed modifications will have no impact on coastal processes. The inshore edge of the proposed modifications at P07 is >400 m from the nearest land/coast, which as a shallow horizontal reef platform all the way to the coast and so will have no measurable impacts on coastal processes. Wave transmission across reef flats is well documented (through field investigations and numerical modelling) to be restricted to 0.55 of the water depth (i.e., with 1 m of water on the reef flat, the largest waves that can reach the beach are 0.55 m), that is it is the depth of water, not the offshore wave height that determines the height of waves at the beach.

Small changes to of the reef will also have no measurable impact/effect on storm surge. Storm surge is the temporal elevation of water associated with inclement weather and is mostly due to low barometric pressure, with the water level rising with decreasing pressure (e.g., when a tropical cyclone or depression is close by), often assisted by strong onshore winds.

What are the benefits to local people?

There are a number of potential economic benefits from the project for the vanua. The positive benefits include:

  •  More visitors to the area as a result of surf breaks that are designed to be surfable during the trade wind conditions (a relatively rare thing in Fiji) to ensure surf tourism can occur all year;
  •  More visitors will result in more employment opportunities;
  •  Demand for accommodation and services will result in royalties from additional tourism leases (which are
    expected due to increased turn-over and occupation of existing resorts and tourism ventures and the development of new resorts and tourism ventures, should the project gain approval and result in new surf breaks);
  •  As part of the pilot project, WWP has pledged an education fund for the local villages.
    Fiji is a country that is >40% dependent on tourism and has suffered significantly with border closures; the WWP has the potential to stimulate tourism in the north (where economic development is greatly needed) with the attraction of new quality surfing breaks.

The long-term positive impact of this world leading project will have on Fiji tourism is very exciting.  Studies estimate annual surf tourism expenditure ranges between US$31.5 to US$64.9 billion USD pre COVID and Fiji is in a strong position lead the world in this tourism segment.    

How will any relocation of live coral be managed?

Similar to mangrove reforestation, in order to relocate coral, you have to put them in similar viable habitat, not in areas where there are no corals, since there are underlying causes behind the lack of living coral in a given location. The surfaces being considered for this project lack abundant living coral and are therefore not the locations relocated coral would thrive in.

However, transplantation of live corals and other sessile marine organisms at the sites is being planned for viable coral habitats nearby. This is covered in of the Terms of Reference of the EIA. In addition, unlike the coral reefs appended to the initial consultation presentation on pages 15-17, at sites P02 and P07, there are large areas where the low numbers of corals at these sites can be relocated to; this would be impractical at the different sites like those shown on pages 15- 17.