[Coral-List] Majuro reef mining (RMI), urgent

Dean Jacobson atolldino at yahoo.com
Wed May 18 00:07:32 EDT 2011


I am writing to solicit support for an attempt I am making to save a reef adjacent to the Majuro International Airport.

When I first arrived in the Marshall Islands, I naively thought the reef would last a long, long time, ("forever") with changes occurring so slowly as to be difficult to document. My work documenting coral disease changed my view radically.  More recently I have documented the wholesale destruction of 100% coral cover reefs at our local airport, funded by the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).  A second round of reef mining is about to begin, as part of a $50 million runway extension project, of dubious necessity.  (Sadly, this project is destroying one of two remaining picnic sites on the atoll; the remaining on is prohibitively far from the "downtown" population center).  The contractor (Pacific International Inc., PII) was previously able to suction-dredge the reef adjacent (for logistical convenience and financial savings), obtaining fill for the land reclamation needed for a FAA-mandated Fire station and road relocation, because the
 environmental review process excluded considerations of the source of fill (!).  This giant loophole, of course, excluded the largest environmental impact of them all.

The new project, just getting started, will construct a massive reclamation/revetment on the lagoon reef flat next to a picnic area, filling in several previously mined borrow pits near shore that are full of coral (I am hoping to relocate the staghorn Acropora).  19 barge loads of rock from Nauru are needed for the revetment (seawall).  Once the initial reef-edge cause way is built, PII will start drag-line mining for fill.

The source of this fill can be seen on youtube: search for my "airport reef" video.

This drag-lining will destroy a perfectly wonderful reef (admittedly it has low diversity, 99% Porites rus, but it hosts thousands of fish and inverts).  The dropoff is steep and 100% coral covered, as you can see in the video, with a steep sand slope starting below 20 meters.
The only viable alternative for a source of fill is to mine the lagoon at a much more shallow, depositional area several km to the west, where very little coral is present.  I am lobbying for this admittedly imperfect alternative (the lesser of two weevils). Deeper lagoon mining from a barge would be even better, but more expensive.

This time I finally got around to getting the FAA contact person's email, just before he made a site visit here.  He kindly, at short notice, invited me to a meeting.  Ron viewed the video, and was sympathetic with my desire to protect the reef. (I should add that sadly, no one else on Majuro is actively opposing the proposed dragline mining; most locals believe that coral is dead rock, and that PII will get their way what ever it takes). 

Ron also expressed the position that since the RMI is a sovereign nation, the FAA cannot intervene here.  (Yet it has repeatedly intervened, mandating several airport upgrading projects... this latest $50 million project has a questionable cost-benefit ratio).

If you are so moved, please email Ron, (Ron.V.Simpson at faa.gov) supporting the protection of this lagoon reef, even if it should increase the costs to the contractor and time-frame of the project.  The point to be made is that the capacity for the Marshallese bureaucracy to protect the environment is very weak, (for example, sharking fining continues unabated) and it is especially weak in the face of such an aggressive and destructive corporation as PII, which has a long history of mismanagement of coastal resources.  Since it is a US mandate, and money, that is driving this project, it is the US's responsibility to see that valuable natural resources are not unnecessarily destroyed.

I have submitted an article to this effect to the local paper; since the PII CEO made a previous attempt to have me fired from the college when I merely snorkeled at their suction dredging site, this time they should really go after me!

Dean Jacobson
College of the Marshall Islands

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