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AUCKLAND, New Zealand (November 4, 1998 - AFP)---Rising sea-levels in the Pacific are eroding burial grounds and sacred places, the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) said Wednesday.

The Samoa-based inter-government agency said cultural and spiritually important sites in the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati were "crumbling" into the ocean.

"Second World War graves on Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands are slowly being eroded by wind and surf, which breaches the sea walls and strews debris over the headstones," the agency said.

"In Niue and Palau, where the dead lie in caves near the ocean, people are now discussing moving their ancestors further inland because of the threat from the rising ocean."

The agency said on many atolls people were radically changing agricultural practices because rising sea levels were seeping into the soil making it too salty to grow staple crops such as taro, pulaka and yams.

In Tuvalu, farmers used to dig pits in the sandy soil, fill them with compost and plant their root crops.

Now increasingly brackish water is poisoning taro planted in pits in low-lying areas.

Some farmers have relocated their plantations to higher land, but there is only limited land available in this nation of atolls. Others are growing taro in tin containers.

Rising sea levels have already swamped some motu (small islets) in the Pacific.

In Kiribati, the motu of Tebua Tarawa which used to be a landmark for fishermen has now gone.

In Tuvalu, the motu of Tepuka Savilivili has lost its coconut trees and its sand-banks and the ocean is slowly moving up its remaining rock.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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