Aussie Surfers Fight Chinese Developers in Fiji

Woody Jack and Nav Fox locked out of their own land. Image via 60 Minutes Australia

Angourie surfers Nav Fox and Woody Jack have got a fight on their hands.  The pair, along with local Fijian, Jonah Joseva had a dream of building three modest, eco-friendly cabins on a small slice of Fijian paradise called Malolo Island.  A short boat ride from the pristine reef passes of Cloudbreak and Restaurants, the Aussie surfers dream was starting to take shape… until a Chinese development firm moved onto their land, destroyed their beach and wrecked the thriving reef adjacent to their property.

The developers, who owned the block next door, had no access to their land – so they decided to take the law into their own hands and took ‘ownership’ of a property that wasn’t theirs. What happened next is nothing short of unbelievable, the boys were literally locked out of their own land by the Chinese developers.

Jack and Fox survey the land with Fijian lease partner, Jonah Joseva

With no regard for the law, the people or the environment – the destruction continued.

“Once the environment damage happened, it went away from just our land to a major environmental catastrophe.” said land owner, Woody Jack. “That’s when we went, Ok, we’ve got to do the right thing here.”

Nav Fox agreed. “We thought it was important to draw a line in the sand and say, hang on, this is a little bigger that just us right now.”

We need to look after the earth and do the right thing, and get these guys to abide by the rules the Fijian government have put in place.”

 

The channel the developer made to get access to the land. Image by Hayden Hull

The story quickly garnered interest from media outlets from around the world – this from Kiwi media platform, newsroom.co.nz – who produced a three part feature on the debacle.

Newsroom’s investigations editor Melanie Reid has been pursuing the environmental desecration of a Fijian island by a Chinese developer, Freesoul Real Estate, since late last year.

Last week Reid, Newsroom co-editor Mark Jennings and cameraman Hayden Aull, visited the island of Malolo to seek answers from neighbours and Freesoul. The trio was arrested by police in Suva and detained overnight in the Totogo police station before being released on the direction of Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama who later met them and spoke out against Freesoul’s actions.

A day later Freesoul’s environmental permits for the resort were revoked, likely leading to the end of its development plans.

The Newsroom investigation of how this company trampled villagers and neigbouring leaseholders’ rights and defied court and government orders to keep working on its 350-bure resort will screen soon on newsroom.co.nz.

Watch the three part series trailer here.

Despite injunctions and ‘stop work’ orders against the developer, Freesoul, the work (and devastation) continued.  While threats and intimidation tactics were used by those occupying the duo’s land, they are not prepared to roll over.  Their fight has recently caught the eye of Channel 9’s, 60 Minutes, who aired a full feature on the situation last Sunday night. Watch the full episode here, or the Extra Minutes version here.

After much lobbying, the developers have indeed stopped work on the development, but the fight is far from over.  There are fears that Freesoul are just waiting for the media dust storm to settle, then it’s business as usual.  For Fox and Jack, it’s quite the opposite.  They continue to employ the services of renowned lawyer, Ken Chambers, who has likened the case to a classic David and Goliath battle.

Unauthorised damage done to the mangrove swamps on the property. Image: Hayden Hull

Chambers said Freesoul’s lawyer indicated it would concede to the injunctive relief his clients are seeking.

“The interesting point that comes out now is that the cost of rectifying the damage that’s been done. The big question is whether the Chinese Government will put its hand in its pocket.” Says Chambers.

According to the newsroom.co.nz report, 20 out 50 environmental impact conditions were breached.

From their website:

On January 31 this year, an inspection team from the Department of Environment visited the development site and found 20 of the 55 conditions had been breached. Fourteen of the breaches were considered serious as they had a direct impact on the surrounding environment.

They included the influx of sedimentation into the waterways with no silt traps; the impact to the seagrass and coral reef ecosystem from barge anchorage and offloading activity; the impact to iguana for the clearance of tropical dry forest; and the pollution to the environment of poor management of waste.

The inspectors strongly recommended that the EIA approval be cancelled and that Freesoul be compelled to dismantle all structures built at the site. They also recommended that Freesoul be made to restore and rehabilitate the site to its original state.

For Nav and Woody, they’ve had to put their hands in their own pockets to fight a fight that should never have been. But as Woody Jack said, “When do you stop doing the right thing?”

A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help the trio fight the good fight – sometimes doing the right thing doesn’t come cheap. If you want to support the cause, go here to help!

 

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