[Coral-List] Majuro Coral Mining

Zoe Richards Zoe.Richards at museum.wa.gov.au
Wed Mar 19 00:31:57 EDT 2014

Dear coral-list,

To further the discussion about Majuro Atoll and plight of Dean Jacobson, since first meeting Dean in 2002 we have known him to be passionately involved in coral reef monitoring and conservation initiatives in the Marshall Islands, including teaching students hands-on marine science at the College of the Marshall Islands.  As Dean has highlighted over the last decade and we have personally observed, Majuro Atoll is challenged by multifaceted social and environmental problems that are, like elsewhere, bound in a history of foreign administrations.

Small low-lying islands have challenges derived from their lack of space, leading to difficulties disposing of solid waste (e.g. Majuro has the highest load of sunken debris recorded from any coral reef ecosystem).  Similarly, the choice of building materials is very limited, and reef mining is the locally preferred method.  It is clear that dredging and mining a reef kills resident organisms, and most likely influences wave attenuation and shoreline stability, however we are not aware of any studies that quantify these effects at Majuro.

Compared to other places on the planet, many of Majuro's outer reefs are still in extremely good shape, sporting high coral cover, diversity and fish communities.  Yet, Majuro lagoon is degraded and this is very evident when its status is compared with lagoons of the outer Marshall Island atolls.  There have been numerous disease outbreaks and bleaching events in Majuro which Dean has meticulously monitored via time lapse photography. Other impacts include fishing and aquarium collecting.  In a country where a productive and healthy reef is a source of food and even income, and an intact reef matrix is an insurance factor against ever more frequent storm events that inundate the low-lying land, it seems incredible that an international entity can still facilitate the destruction of their lifeline.  Regardless of local politics, sound developmental practises must be undertaken.

We are not wanting to engage in a ill-informed debate about RMI politics or local cultural practice, all we can validate is that the reef area that Dean has been fighting over is/ was, as he says, an intact reef that was among the better of Majuro lagoonal reefs.  Compared to the diverse and pristine outer atolls, the coral reef community at Majuro is stressed which makes it even more important to protect the remaining reefs.

If importing building materials is not a feasible option, and mining lagoonal material is the best local option, this must proceed with appropriate environmental management controls.  So far, no evidence has been presented to suggest an impact assessment has been undertaken which leads us to question what was the rationale behind the choice of this reef for mining purposes?  It appears in this instance, that this reef was chosen as it is the closest and cheapest option.  More generally, this situation begs the questions: Should there be international standards to ensure the trade-offs between developmental cost and local environmental losses are acceptable? And, does the expert opinion of reef scientists have any role in informing the decision-making process?

The RMI is a fascinating part of the world for a myriad of environmental and social reasons and the outer atolls are among the few places where intact reefs can be observed. Thankyou Dean for helping to record the changes that have occurred in Majuro and for being a vocal advocate for reef conservation in a part of the world that is often overlooked.   We are interested to hear other coral-listers opinions regarding what can be done to curtail unregulated coastal development.

For anyone interested in learning more about the coral reefs of the Marshall Islands or the evidence to support the statements we make above, there are many publications relating to taxonomy, ecology, nuclear history, macro-debris, conservation planning, and rare species that can be found online or we can provide if you would like to contact us separately.

Zoe Richards and Maria Beger

Dr Zoe Richards
Research Scientist |Hard Corals |Department of Aquatic Zoology
Western Australian Museum
49 Kew St| Welshpool| WA| 6106
Email | zoe.richards at museum.wa.gov.au<mailto:zoe.richards at museum.wa.gov.au>

Dr Maria Beger
Research Fellow
Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions
University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia
Email m.beger at uq.edu.au<mailto:m.beger at uq.edu.au>

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