ENVIRONMENTAL CONGRESS IN HONOLULU LOOKS AT PRESERVING PACIFIC

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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai'i (June 8, 2000 - PIDP/ CPIS)--- Kosrae may be a paradise with flowing waterfalls, lush green mountains and clear blue oceans. But if the island's population of about 7,000 people takes this beauty for granted, it may be lost forever, said Simpson Abraham, director of the Kosrae Island Resource Management Program.

"Pressure on our natural resources is greater now than it has ever been," Abraham said. "We've invested so much to minimize and relieve these pressures."

Abraham was one of several environmental officials from the Pacific Island region who spoke at the 9th Pacific Congress on Science and Technology (PACON) in Waikiki this week.

He said Kosrae, a state within the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), is being bombarded by external and internal pressures that threaten to rob the island of its natural resources.

Coral reefs are integral in sustaining marine life and protecting the island from erosion, he said. However, he added, about 75 percent of the island's costal areas are undergoing erosion, partly due to human development such as land and sand mining.

"Our airport in Kosrae is actually built on what used to be very good fishing grounds," he said.

One of the biggest challenges facing Kosrae in the near future will be developing a way to balance the island's growing tourism industry and foreign investment while creating a sustainable ecosystem.

"Tourism is not bad, but if we don't control tourism and foreign investors, it'll be just another impact to our island," he said.

Abraham noted that a number of foreign investors began pumping money into a tuna cannery facility. But when the investors realized that there was a lack of supply for the project, the investors left the island, leaving behind a facility that has never been completed.

"If they feel it's not worth it, they will leave," he said.

Other elements threatening the region include the use of advanced fishing technology that enables greater harvesting of fish and other marine life, Abraham added.

He is also concerned about less money coming into the FSM from the United States under the Compact of Free Association agreement, which is currently being renegotiated by the U.S. and FSM. He said less money could mean that more residents will turn to subsistence and traditional fishing practices, which he said is often times unsustainable to the environment.

"We're crossing our fingers hoping Uncle Sam can prolong assistance to (Micronesia)," he added.

He said one of the solutions is better education for residents in developing a sustainable environment. The Kosrae government has recently launched a campaign to increase awareness of environmental protection on the island. The campaign includes a media program consisting of newsletters, posters, community outreach, and education within schools. The program also involves workshops and training for environmental officials.

One of the issues threatening FSM's marine life is illegal fishing and sewage discharges from fishermen on fishing boats.

Andy Tafileichig of the Yap Marine Resources Management Division noted that some traditional methods of fishing can help to preserve the environment. He said the traditional method of kite fishing is still regarded as an effective technique that also serves as a tool to manage the marine resources in the smaller atolls.

The technique involves a breadfruit leaf carved into a kite shape, hard wood carved into a fishhook, and coconut fibers weaved into a fishing line. The four-foot kite is flown just above the water's surface, attracting certain types of reef fish into a lure made out of decorated colorful hibiscus fiber.

"It is cost effective because everything else is made from local artifacts," he said. "It represents good management and conservation of marine resources compared to motorized vessels, net and spear fishing that causes potential threats to the marine environment."

Still, despite all the threats on FSM's environment, the region is still one of the most preserved islands in the Pacific, said Asher Edward of the College of Micronesia.

Edward said the islands in Micronesia have strong traditional systems that have operated for generations. He said traditional practices, which help to preserve the region's natural resources, are still alive and well in Pohnpei, another FSM state.

"Comparing the South Pacific islands colonized by other countries such as Britain and France with the same number of years as the U.S. in the Caroline Islands, Micronesia is far less developed," he said.

"Many projects have been introduced but failed to reach completion," he added. He noted the islands slow-going lifestyle, limited natural resources and lack of interest in development are the main reasons.

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