Qamea Wave Project

Qamea, Fiji

Why choose Fiji and specifically Qamea?

Fiji is a popular tourist destination with a number of world class and internationally recognised surf breaks, such as Cloudbreak. Much of Fiji’s coastline is exposed to favourable wind and swell conditions for surfing, but only a fraction of the seabed causes waves to break conducive to surfing.  The surf potential combined with the strong legal protection framework for surf breaks and the marine environment made Fiji the strongest candidate for our first project. 

Fiji is exposed to long period swell from the Southern Ocean. The wind climate is divided into 2 seasons, with relatively strong trade winds from the southeast from May through to October (dry season), and lighter winds, often from the north from October throughMay; this is the wet season. 

Qamea Island is located in northeastern Fiji, a 1 hour flight from Nadi to Matei airport on Taveuni, followed by a 20 minute boat ride. The existing surf breaks and surf break potential of Qamea are relatively well known to the project team having surfed the region for the past 10 years. The Qamea area does not have any true dry season tradewind surfing options, with most of the area’s surf breaks requiring the light variable winds of the wet season. Providing a surfing option in the dry season will promote more annual consistency in visitor number, which in turn provides knock-on benefits to the local economy.     

Fiji introduced the Surf Decree Act in 2010 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
  • promote Fiji as a premier surf travel destination;.

The project assists with the protection of more MPA’s (marine protected areas) through the Fiji Surf Decree (Regulation of Surfing Areas Act, 2010).  If an area is (or becomes) a surf break, the Surf Decree basically provides MPA status (Part 3, 7a) “The person shall not carry out any other activity, including fishing (other that artisanal fishing by local landowners), 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.   

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, physical modelling, etc.), and taking on board feedback from community engagement, these were narrowed to five potential sites.  The outcome of the ecological investigations narrowed this down to two sites (P02 and P07). 

The areas at the two sites currently being considered 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).  Total volume of removed material is less than 0.05% of the reef structure.

P02 is described as “dead coral” in 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.

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.  A key component of the investigations has focused on identifying suitable sites that are of relatively low ecological value and the overarching vision is to undertake all activities sustainably. 

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, which will be utilised by creating coral gardens to support coral restoration.

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), being deeper and not exposed on the lowest tides (i.e., they will be less likely to be bleached during summer months), and increasing viable surface area will result in significant improvement of the local reef habitat.

The team is 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 and coral gardens in deeper areas (it is around 30-40 m deep on the silty seabed) also has potential, although site selection would be important. This part of the project is currently being worked on and more information will be provided as it becomes available. 

How is the work completed and what sort of machinery will be used?

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 relatively thin layer the outside edge) and in waters between 0 and 4 m below low tide.  

Rock density samples have been analysed so that the construction experts can consider techniques, and manual methods such as a digger on a barge as well as self-contained cracking devices that expand in drilled holes to the correct depth and pattern are being considered. The equipment that will be utilised is still being finalized by construction experts. Techniques NOT being considered include cutter-suction dredging or blasting. These techniques would impact the surrounding environment and do not meet the needs of 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 weather driven down time (assumed to be at least 50% of the total project duration).

Who will own the new surf breaks and will new marine reserves be created?

Once complete the new surf breaks are freely accessible to everyone and owned by the Fijian Government.  The new surf breaks will be regulated under the Fiji Surf Decree (Regulation of Surfing Areas Act, 2010), and as a result, assist Fiji in creating more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). 

Will new marine reserves be created?

The project assists with the creation of more marine protected/managed areas 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 provides protection of the local marine environment (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 inactive substrate 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. 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 proven methods.

This project is 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. In addition, the WWP has exclusive access to a database of >50 high-quality surf breaks (bathymetries, breaking intensities, peel angles from aerial imagery, etc., etc.) that includes some of the world’s best breaks in Indonesia, Australia, Hawaii, Fiji, California and New Zealand; this invaluable dataset is utilised in the design processing and benchmarking designs for specific sites.  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.

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

This project has no long term negative impacts on the marine environment, with an important aspect of the project being to enhance the local marine ecology.  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 after short term impact

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. 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.)

Relocation of reef material falls into the category of a pulse impact and is short lived.

As concluded by the independent 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 that both sites have existing low percentage coral cover. 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. Over time this project will be net positive as it relates to the living reef in the area.

As stated earlier, our project’s mission is to create new surf breaks that will have a net gain for the marine environment.

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

While focusing 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 at P02 and P07.  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 and 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 at 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 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. Additional funds will also go to the villages based on the Fisheries Impact Assessment (FIA) and the temporary leases of the sites (during construction).
  • Fiji’s economy  is over 40% dependent on tourism and has suffered significantly with border closures.  The WWP project 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 to 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, including potential new habitat created by the material removed from the reef top. This is covered in the Terms of Reference of the EIA.

Relocation of any live coral will be included in the Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP).  This will include:

  • • Mapping the ecology of the of the site prior to any works;
  • • Identification of nearby areas suitable for coral relocation;
  • • Staged relocation will likely be carried out during construction; small areas or reef would be worked on each available working day, a few 10’s of square meters at a time;
  • • Where material removed is placed on the seabed to create new habitat; transplanted coral can also be used to help seed these new areas. 
  • • Environmental monitoring during construction will be a significant part of the CEMP, and will continue after construction is completed.