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The Marshall Islands
Price, A.R.G.; Maragos, J.E. (2000). The Marshall Islands, in: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 2. Regional chapters: The Indian Ocean to The Pacific. pp. 773-789
In: Sheppard, C.R.C. (Ed.) (2000). Seas at the millennium: an environmental evaluation: 2. Regional chapters: The Indian Ocean to The Pacific. Pergamon: Amsterdam. ISBN 0-08-043207-7. XXI, 920 pp., more

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Document type: Review


Authors  Top 
  • Price, A.R.G.
  • Maragos, J.E.

    The Republic of the Marshall Islands {RMI) is a low-lying atoll nation within Micronesia, comprising a western {Ralik) chain of 16 atolls and three small islands, and an eastern {Ratak) chain of 13 atolls and two small islands. Wake is included in this chapter as it is geologically, climatically, and oceanographically a part of the Marshall Islands, although separate politically. Like other coral islands, the Marshall islands are influenced by episodic events, such as damage from typhoons {e.g. 'Paka' in 1997), ENSOs, crown-of-thorns starfish infestations, and coral bleaching. The 1998 El Nifto was severe, bringing extensive droughts and causing much suffering. Threats posed by climatic changes and impending sea level rise are taken very seriously by the RMI, particularly as mean island height is only 2 m above sea level. Land area of the islands is small {180 km2), in contrast to the marine environment and vast EEZ {1.2 million km2). Coral reefs are the most important and biologically diverse ecosystem, providing a dynamic and unstable environment, yet underpinning the country's physical and economic existence. On Bikini atoll alone, some 250 species of corals have been recorded, mostly due to the collections there since the 1950s. This represents more than half the number known for the entire Pacific or Indian Oceans. Of the marine flora, algae are moderately speciose {238 species), whereas seagrasses and mangroves {four species) are uncommon and of low diversity. Among species of importance to conservation are endemics {e.g. the Wake rail, which went extinct in 1945) and 'threatened' species including five sea turtle species. The human population of the Marshall Islands may reach around 70,000 by the year 2000. Tourism is increasing and may expand further, but is constrained by freshwater availability, remoteness, heavy wave action, and other factors, especially in the northern Marsha11s. Coastal uses and pressing environmental concerns include: earth-moving and dredging, particularly in association with military activities {e.g. on Kwajalein atoll) as well as civilian land expansion and seawall and causeway construction {e.g. Ebeye Island and Majuro Atoll); severe droughts and water problems; hazardous wastes, in particular radionuclides on Bikini and Eniwetak from nuclear tests conducted between 1946 and 1958, resulting in increased leukaemia rates which have hindered permanent resettlement of Bikini; and limited consideration of environmental or cross-sectoral issues in development planning. Resource use problems include over-harvesting in some areas, in particular of giant clams, coconut crabs and turtles. Some fish {e.g. big-eye tuna) are possibly being fished close to their maximum sustainable yield throughout their range, because of high demand in Asian markets. Appreciable national and international environmental legislation is now in place. However, implementation of regulations, enforcement of compliance and monitoring remain major constraints. A number of environmental measures for the Marshall Islands were identified in the 1992 National Environmental Management Strategy. Progress has been made, although many activities have yet to be implemented.

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