Letter to Ron Simpson, Federal Aviation Authority, regarding planned destruction of last prime reefs in Majuro (RMI) for airport landfill

Ron Simpson
Federal Aviation Authority

Dear Mr. Simpson,
The ongoing and planned destruction of some of the last prime reefs in Majuro, Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) for airport landfill is totally unnecessary! 1) Huge amounts of lagoon sand could easily be used. 2) Destroying the only shore protection on an island already regularly flooded by episodic events driven by global sea level rise amounts to suicidal behavior, which should not be sanctioned or paid for by FAA or US government agencies (see below). It is incredible is that better options and the long-term impacts are being ignored.

Far more sensible alternatives exist in sourcing the material and in mitigating the inevitable environmental damages that this project will cause. There are vast amounts of sand in the bottom of the lagoon nearby that could easily be suctioned up and pumped, with no need for destroying the coral reefs that protect the shorelines of an island where hundreds of people are flooded out of their houses at King Tides every year. Because reef flat excavation was done in the past is no excuse because people were ignorant of the impacts of global sea level rise, now between 3-4 millimeters per year, and certain to accelerate dramatically in the coming years. Damage previously done to the reef by previous land-based scoop dredging for airport landfill has greatly increased erosion and flooding risks and urgently needs to be mitigated.

FAA is legally bound under the Coral Reef Protection Act (Executive Order 13089), which explicitly requires all US government agencies, including the FAA, to avoid activities damaging reefs, to mitigate such damages, and applies to all US waters including US associated states like RMI.

Executive Order 13089

Coral Reef Conservation Act 2000

HR 738

Dean Jacobson is a real hero, standing up alone against the most powerful forces in the country to protect the irreplaceable coral reefs of Majuro from those irresponsible short-sighted persons who want to destroy them for immediate profit and who don’t care about future generations. I wish to fully back his many letters to you, and appeal to FAA to insist on responsible sourcing of landfill for the airport and mitigation for all damages already caused in the past and to happen in the future.

I speak from long personal experience of RMI reefs. My grandfather and father began photographing and doing research on Marshall Islands reefs in the mid 1940s. I filmed reef all around Majuro in 1997 and was shocked at the low coral cover and prevalence of disease on most. This site is one of the best remaining. In the last 5 years I have done numerous projects on RMI coral reef restoration. We get corals to grow much faster than normal, more resistant to environmental stresses including high temperatures, and grow back severely eroding beaches by growing back the coral reefs in front of them. This means that we can protect the islands from sea level rise, using their own untapped energy from the sun, winds, waves, and tidal currents. Not only can we mitigate the damages caused by ongoing and past unsound reef destruction practices, but we can actually grow building materials out of sea water so that reefs can be spared to provide biodiversity, fisheries, and shore protection. Doing so is not a luxury activity for RMI, it is literally a matter of life and death. For more on these alternatives and photographs of actual results in the Marshall Islands please see:

ARNO Project Report

We stand ready to assist Dean Jacobson’s efforts and those of the responsible RMI authorities, including RMI EPA, to save these priceless and irreplaceable reefs, and to grow back what has already been lost. We support mitigation projects of all kinds, which will work if the water never gets hot or polluted. If they do so, only Biorock will work. Furthermore Biorock is able to grow the reef flat upward at a rate equal to or greater than sea level rise. The areas that are now being devastated are some of the best reefs left in Majuro. It is criminal that they are being destroyed, and unconscionable that FAA and other responsible agencies have not put a stop to it!

Sincerely yours,
Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
President, Global Coral Reef Alliance