Environment

Australian surfers win David v Goliath battle against Chinese company in Fiji

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After a legal struggle described as a David versus Goliath battle, two Australian surfers have helped halt a Chinese development accused of causing extensive environmental damage to a tropical island.

In 2015, Navrin Fox and Woody Jack bought a 99-year lease on an acre of land on Fijis Malolo Island with plans to turn the site into a small eco-friendly resort or Airbnb.

Navrin Fox and Woody Jack on one of many trips to Fiji

Navrin Fox and Woody Jack on one of many trips to FijiCredit:Navrin Fox

"We just had a crazy dream when we saw the land and thought that looks awesome," Mr Fox said.

However, in late 2017 a Chinese developer leased the neighbouring piece of land and proceeded to trespass on their property, to cut down a third of the propertys trees and to dump construction equipment onto the property.

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"We had a natural rainforest until they came along and cut half our trees down without us knowing," Mr Fox said. "I just felt disbelief. It was a horrible feeling inside."

Worse was to come when the company, Freesoul Real Estate, which intended to build a large resort on the site, brought in excavators to rip up the reef off the shoreline from Mr Fox's beach.

Trashing paradise: Freesoul's development work on Malolo Island.

Trashing paradise: Freesoul's development work on Malolo Island. Credit:Navrin Fox

"They had no permits to do what they have done to the reef, and no permits to dump the reef onto our beach," he said.

Mr Fox said he was then assaulted by a Chinese Freesoul employee as he tried to access his own land.

The surfer only suffered cuts and bruises but was worried the fight could have escalated.

"I was concerned when he picked up an iron bar and decided to walk over," he said.

Freesoul has been accused of damaging the reef on Malolo Island.

Freesoul has been accused of damaging the reef on Malolo Island. Credit:Navrin Fox

Despite the Australians taking legal action and numerous court injunctions, the developer did not stop work, Kenneth Chambers, lawyer for the pair, said.

"They [Mr Fox and Mr Jack] have put their life's savings into this and ended up next to a monster," Dr Chambers said.

Malolo Island in Fiji.

Malolo Island in Fiji.

The country's environmental laws are adequate, the lawyer said, but enforcement is an issue.

"There have not been many prosecutions in the 14 years since new legislation has been enacted even though it is a very good law," he said.

The lawyer labelled the case a "David and Goliath battle", saying there was enough evidence to link Freesoul to Chinas One Belt and Road initiative.

Freesoul's Chinese-language website says it signed an agreement with the state-run Shanghai Media Group in 2017 to explore the "highly promising" Fiji tourism market as part of the Belt and Road policy, New Zealand investigative journalism website Newsroom has reported.

However, Chinas ambassador to Fiji, Qian Bo, has diRead More – Source