[Coral-List] Majuro airport dredging2

Dean Jacobson atolldino at yahoo.com
Mon Jun 13 00:18:07 EDT 2011

Dear Listers
Earlier I requested lobbying help in an attempt to save a coral reef in the Marshall Islands that is about to be dredged to produce fill in order to extend, at FAA's request and funding, the runway of our international airport.  I just posted a few satellite and underwater photos of this site on Flickr (username: atolldino).  Thanks to those who emailed the FAA representative.  The good news is that the issue is getting attention from NOAA and the Coral Reef Task Force.

Since my earlier post I have surveyed the reef, assembling a nearly continuous photographic mosaic from 250 photographs.  This vividly demonstrates how much of this fringing reef has 100% coral cover.  At the same time I fortuitously observed the massive group-spawning of Ctenochaetus striatus (our most common surgeonfish, 1000-2000 fish in the spag) and again encountered a school of over 1500 mackerel (just like one, at the same site, I had previously videotaped). A spectacular spawning video, "airport spawning" (once you get beyond the first minute) is now posted with my "airport reef" video on Youtube.  I also encountered dogtooth tuna on two out of three visits.  This is a special reef, as I have not seen such massive fish congregations anywhere else in the southern lagoon (and I am familiar with dozens of sites).  Given that this is the only lagoon site where I have found large orange seafans, it appear that locally strong currents may explain the
 profusion of life.  

Any ideas out there of how to move this along, how to light some fires, on the list would be most welcome.  I cannot believe that such a short-sided coral mining operation might be allowed to proceed.  

I am trying to make the point that, within the context of Majuro lagoon's south shore, this is actually one of the best reefs we have left... most of the others were destroyed by COTS in 2004-06 and now have very low coral cover (Halimeda has covered the dead coral, preventing coral recruitment).  However, it is difficult to get my fellow islanders interested... they appear not to understand the connection between reef fish and living coral.  I submitted a bunch of awareness material for this weeks local paper.  Coral abuse is a widespread problem, of course.

To make matters worse, the contractor, PII, has a lot of economic and political clout, and they may make life unpleasant for me (as I noted before, when I snorkeled at the airport fire station ("ARFF") site, when they were suction dredging another 100% cover reef, they attempted to have me fired from CMI... When this suction dredging for the ARFF site occurred, outside the EIA process and unregulated by EPA, I vowed never to
allow it to be repeated.  But here we are again! 

I am giving FAA the benefit of the doubt, that they do intend to be environmentally sensitive.  I understand that some of what happens on far away atolls is out of their control, but I hope FAA will refrain from putting pressure on whoever is controlling the purse strings of this project (I was told it is Leo A. Daly) so that there is time to find a less destructive source of fill.

Dean Jacobson, Ph.D.
College of the Marshall Islands

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