LäjeRotuma Initiative

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Evening Sessions -- A summary of ideas and concerns raised in the communities (Feb-Mar 2002)

Noa'tau District

Why the kama (rough coral) overgrowth? Is it the dumping of cans and other rubbish on the beaches over the years that caused it?

LäjeRotuma's response: It has yet to be determined what species of coral is forming the kama. It seems fast growing. The team is here on a fact-finding mission and time is needed to verify details. Irresponsible dumping of non-biodegradable items to the beach front doesn't help the problem.

Who does LäjeRotuma represent? Is it the Council? Government? Or some NGO?

LäjeRotuma's response: None of the above. This initiative was undertaken by young Rotumans living away from home who hope to contribute to and enhance the island residents' understanding of their island environment.

How will survey of the kama be done?

LäjeRotuma's response: The scientific survey of the kama is still in planning. The purpose of this first trip, and a few more to come this year, is to gather information from the community about their own resource knowledge; this, combined with baseline data collected, will inform the scientific phase of the project that is planned for 2003.

The crown of thorns (COTS) was mentioned.

LäjeRotuma's response: COTS is a reef killer. We asked if people saw this organism quite often when out fishing. We warned those attending the meeting not to cut them up because of their ability to regenerate; it doesn't help reduce the numbers. We were told that the COTS size is quite large and tht they are usually found on the outer barrier reef.

We were also told that octopus is rarely found on the reef now.

The LäjeRotuma Team

Malhaha District

The first signs of kama occurred after Hurricane Bebe. The dumping of rusting cans on the beach was also a suspect (it seems that some view kama as something 'dead, yet alive'; the majority suggested that the rust in cans causes kama to grow).

What about the fish? Shouldn't LäjeRotuma study fish, because that is what we eat.

LäjeRotuma's response: LäjeRotuma isn't here to study just the coral. In fact, the team is here initially to train youth leaders to assist LäjeRotuma with its activities within their own communities. Its mission is to gather information from the community along with baseline data, which in combination will be used to develop a plan for the study of the coral reefs. Kama is a significant part of the study, but the whole island-associated-reef ecosystem will be included.

Do you consider safety? Will LäjeRotuma be diving in Rotuma?

LäjeRotuma's response: Yes, it is the first priority. We hope that in time there would be some diving done to really assess the depths. Issues such as a recompression chamber, tanking, and costs have yet to be addressed.

What does the coral eat? How do they live?

LäjeRotuma's response: The coral feeds at night and is usually inactive during the day. The hard structure which we see houses the coral polyp. When it feeds the tentacles retract out of the skeleton to filter food from the water.

The coral reef off Noa'tau
Lopta, Oinafa District

Theories contributing to kama:

  • Dumping of metals, empty tin cans in the sea, instead of proper burial;
  • Improper and overuse of pesticides;
  • Destructive fishing methods (Poison--fuah niukin ta) which kills indiscriminately and may affect the fisher; it may even prove fatal

An elder hoped that LäjeRotuma would assist in the removal of COTS by funding a removal project. However, it was noted that COTS removal would tip the natural balance of the ecosystem.

An elder also mentioned the carpet-like growth that makes the kama slippery to walk on. He also mentioned that this growth could block the coral polyps from feeding.

Pepjei District

The team did a reef walk and noticed the kama covered most of the reef. A seawall (170m) has been built to slow longshore erosion. Very low diversity on the reef.

Suggested causes:

  • Kama grew fast due to warmer oceans; Fuah niukin ta fishing methods are destructive; the sea level has risen;
  • Dumping rubbish on the foreshore;
  • The strength of pesticides: Grammoxone, Roundup, Robust, E80 & Sting; do these chemicals suit the Rotuma island ecosystem (which is only 44 sq.km)?
  • Why are some fish poisonous during certain times and other times not?
  • Overgrowth of algae.


  • Erosion of the longshore; is it because the sea level has risen?
  • Growth of kama at a fast rate; it appears to be adapted to quick growth; other coral species cannot keep up with the competition and die out.
  • Whether to dynamite fishing holes to create an environment to which fish might return. This will need an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before such dynamiting is done.
  • Kaukamete are no longer found in fishing spots. These are fish nurseries that support most reef fish. They are shaped like boulder coral and open up to release young fish (interesting!)
  • The possibility that overuse of pesticides is contaminating the water table.
A Workshop

Juju District

Issues raised:

  • How does the coral live?
  • Note that in the Rotuman language, laje refers to the Acropora (branching) species, mofu refers to a cluster of coral (may include many species), puga refers to brain coral.
  • What is kama? Should we pull it out to prevent it from spreading?
  • Who does LäjeRotuma represent? Government? Council?
  • There's a time when the corals go white and the water becomes murky. Then it returns to its brownish color after sometime. What is the cause of this murkiness?
  • The white coral is alive, in contrast to the description of bleached coral as dead by LäjeRotuma!!!
  • Is the use of herbicides harmful?
  • Does kama have anything to do with freshwater outlets (vaitoka)?
  • Is the dumping of cans, which eventually rust, on the foreshore a cause of the kama outgrowth?
  • Sua tutu'u is a type of net fishing that becomes destructive when it damages the coral in order to provoke the fish (tutu'u) to rush into the net. This species feeds on the algae that grows at the base of the branching Acropora coral species. LäjeRotuma learnt that there are two types of net-fishing. One, usually carried out by the mapigas, is thoughtful and patient insofar as they wait till the tide is coming in. The tutu'u float to the surface of the water and lessen the damage done to the coral when the fishers drive the fish to the net. The more destructive method involves the fishers disturbing the fish whilst they are still hiding, usually at the base of the branching corals.
  • Upturning boulders on the reef can be destructive. When fishing on the reef more thought must be taken as there are very tiny living animals that live in the sea.
  • It is very rare to find octopus nowadays.
Motusa, Itu'ti'u District

Why does the kama grow so fast? Should we remove it by dynamiting?

LäjeRotuma's response: Kama is a fast growing coral species that regenerates when broken up, thus adding to the already plentiful kama in the area. There must be an assessment study of the whole coral reef before any decision involving dynamiting takes place.

There was clarification of laje being the Acropora branching species, mofu the patch/ cluster of corals living in an area, puga the brain type of coral; fu ta is used in reference to the reef as a whole. (Note the limited use of the Rotuman language in the team's description of its theoretical knowledge).

A male student (F5) suggested that the herbicides used up at the plantations seeps through the soil and moves downstream to the coastline, eventually entering the sea and killing the coral!

LäjeRotuma's response: There is need for an assessment of herbicides in use on the island. There is the water table and the soil type to consider before we can understand what causes the overgrowth of kama or the overall sorry condition of the reefs.

One man expressed the belief that coral builds islands, so the extensive growth of kama is indeed a good thing because it builds the land. An example he gave was the isthmus in Motusa. Many years ago the two ends of the island were separated, but over time sand accumulated over the dead coral and eventually a strip of land developed where the village hall is situated! Of course, the inshore fishing is affected but the overgrowth of kama also has brought the fishing ground closer to the barrier reef, which is much nearer now. So there is now an alternative to deep-sea fishing at a closer distance than before.

Students asked : How are islands formed? What type of island is Rotuma?

Note: Itu'muta and Malhaha Districts were not visited by the team due to lack of coordination with its representatives.

LäjeRotuma looks forward to the next Youth Outreach Program Trip.


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