By Dean Jacobson, PhD
The construction of an airport extension in the Marshall Islands (RMI), required and funded by US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), is about to result in the destruction of a thriving coral reef.

The project, at the west end of the Imata Kabua International Airport on Majuro atoll, home to over 25,000 people, i s also destroying one of the last picnic and recreation areas on the crowded atoll.  The footprint of the extension does not include living coral, but the contractor, Pacific International Inc (PII) plans to build a long access ramp in order to drag line-dredge the adjacent coral reef to obtain the enormous amount of fill needed for the land reclamation.  This coral reef has an unusual abundance of fish compared to most other lagoon reefs, including a spawning site where thousands of surgeonfish gather each month.

The project, designed to increase the margin of safely during episodes of emergency aircraft landing, could be completed by obtaining fill away from coral reefs, i.e. by dredging from a barge, but this alternative was not considered by a flawed EIA nor required by FAA.  Yet an FAA official on a site visit, Ron Simpson, was quoted as saying “The FAA is environmentally sensitive”.  Further, PII has a history of pressuring the RMI government to do its bidding, and has again done so, apparently causing a letter to be sent on 17 June from the acting president to the local EPA office instructing it to disregard efforts to protect this reef.  The campaign to protect the reef is being lead by Dr. Dean Jacobson, a coral ecologist who has taught at the College of the Marshall Islands since 2001 and is monitoring coral disease on Majuro.

Several barge-loads of revetment rock imported from Nauru are already on site, off- loaded via a ramp built across the reef flat.  The relocation of a massive 200 ton crane onto the reef flat is expected soon, upon approval by FAA.  Dredging of the coral reef may begin within weeks.  This would be the second episode of coral mining since 2008, when PII used a suction dredger to mine the coral reef adjacent to the Fire Station site, another FAA-funded project.  In this case the reef mining proceeded without EIA or public comment; the EIA did not incorporate the issue of where the fill would come from for the fire station reclamation.  When Dr. Jacobson visited the site to take underwater photographs, PII attempted to have the instructor fired from his college.  Previously, PII had seized control of the EPA board of directors, and subsequently fired the coastal conservation officer, Andrew “Finn” Finlay, who was working to reform coastal dredging policy.

Videos of this airport reef are posted on Youtube: airport reef & airport spawning.  Photographs are posted on Flickr in the account of “atolldino”.  High resolution images are available on request:

Dogtooth tuna at the airport reef, next to the new access ramp

Photomosaic of reef drop-off opposite the access ramp, within the proposed mining zone.

Suction dredge mining of a coral reef by PII in 2008 for the FAA-funded ARFF (Airport Fire Station) project

Article courtesy of
Image courtesy of think4photop  

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