[Coral-List] statement to the RMI on coral mining

Dean Jacobson atolldino at yahoo.com
Tue Feb 21 01:27:35 EST 2012

 Recently David Wheeler and others have kindly mobilized some friends to protest the on-going threat of new reef mining in Majuro lagoon (which has not yet started) using the tourism angle, and I just learned this week that the new RMI administration (a minister, at least) seeks a "cordial" meeting with me.  This inspired me to write the following, a statement I intend to read at this meeting, and any suggestions about content or tone are most welcome.

 Last week I spoke with the All-Island Committee of the Coral Reef Task Force, a brief conversation which gave me the impression that I am taking the correct approach.  I have lately received some supportive emails from established researchers, and as a newbie of only ten years I am most grateful.

Dean Jacobson

(A statement written to the RMI government)

I am grateful for this opportunity to meet with you.  For almost ten years I have devoted
myself, in a way few can comprehend or appreciate, to understanding and
documenting what is happening to coral on Majuro, and how it compares to atolls like Rongelap and Arno.  I have
swum at least 100 reef sites on Majuro, 30 on Arno, 20 on Rongelap, and a
further 75 sites on 7 other atolls in the RMI.   I have written articles for the local newspaper,
bearing witness to the dire trouble our local coral are in.  My warnings have been largely ignored.
I have noticed, with sadness and alarm, how ignorant the
Marshallese are of the nature and value of coral.  Coral are widely considered to be rock, not living animals. Thousands of disposable diapers and other fecal waste is dumped into the sea (not into the lagoon, which has healthier coral), ending up on the ocean-side coral. These same reefs are littered
with cloth scraps that smother the coral.  Pigs are held in pens at the very edge of the high tide line, a most questionable practice.  Septic tank waste, from pits that are never pumped out, no doubt leak through fractures in the bedrock onto the reef.  Nearly everywhere on Majuro, coral is dying, slowly or rapidly, mostly
due to nutrient loading and associated disease.   In most of these places it is not growing back, due to
an excess of seaweed.  
It may be hard to understand the geologic history of these
atolls, but the fact is without healthy coral reefs there would be no islands
here at all, just open sea.  There
would be no Marshallese people, no culture, no Marshallese language.  There would be
almost no fish (over 90% of them require living coral for either food or
shelter), and on existing island with no coral, waves would hit the shore with greater destructive force.  The Marshallese are, if anyone is,
people of the reef, people made from coral.  Yet you kill your coral. How can this be?  This is particularly perplexing in
light of attempts by some Marshallese to highlight the threat of rising sea
levels to their low, vulnerable atolls.  Environmental responsibility and respectability goes both ways.
In America it was the native tribes, who had lived for over
ten thousand years without destroying the ecosystems that sustained them, who
asked these sort of questions of the white men who came to steal their
land.  So, this is a bit ironic, to
say the least.
It is important to understand that coral reefs are extremely
fragile, and that they are disappearing around the world.  Yet they are one of the greatest sources
of beauty (no other ecosystem can match their colors and patterns) and
biodiversity on Earth.  These reefs
require clean water and a rich, undepleted fish community.  They cannot long survive water
pollution, they become diseased,  and they cannot tolerate over-fishing, for the fish are
needed to eat the algae.  The fish
themselves can live very long lives, over 30 years, and some of them must be
given places where they can live safe from hunting, so they can grow big, and
produce enormous amounts of high quality eggs..
FAA understands coral reefs even less than Pacific Islanders
do, they care only for aircraft and asphalt.  Understanding this, and the fact that coral reefs needed
increased protection, in 1998 President Bill Clinton wisely signed an executive
order requiring federal agencies, including the FAA, to do everything they
could to avoid damaging coral reefs (by pollution, sedimentation, or direct
mechanical damage), to pursue alternatives to such damage.  This was not done in 2008, with the
ARFF project at the Majuro airport.  When I saw the rampant, wanton mining of the impressive reef next to
what is now the Fire Station, I vowed never to allow this to happen again.  This was a deep, profound, serious vow
on my part.  It changed me.  I knew that the dredging was wrong (an email I sent to USEPA Region 9 got no response),  The next time, with the 2011 RSA project, I went directly to FAA,
and sought the support of fellow coral scientists.   I knew that
with enough publicity and accurate images of the “picnic area” reef, the next
one scheduled for destruction, that quite possibly I could stop this
craziness.  For it is crazy, it is
suicidal to kill one’s mother, Mother Coral.  This is just a small example, a microcosm, of what is
happening across the globe.  We
must all stand up for nature, protect the ecosystem that allows our own peoples
and cultures to exist… that is if we value our children and grandchildren more
than our bank account.
Last year some people on Majuro ridiculed me for comparing
coral destruction with lethal attacks on minorities in a letter to the editor
of our local paper, for comparing an environmental issue with civil
rights.  Well, people of African
decent had a voice in the US, and people like Martin Luther King used it to
great effect to advance the cause of justice, to shame the whites into making
laws more fair and honest.  But
coral cannot speak for themselves.  Who will speak for them, and the rest of creation, to advance the cause
of eco-justice?  I understand that
a few Majuro reefs don’t amount to a “hill of beans” compared to the global
situation, or even the enormous RMI reef network, but it is an emblematic, important
conflict none the less.  When will
the destruction of such ecosystems, this global assault upon the natural world,
be seen for the crime, the insanity that it actually is?

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