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MAJURO, Marshall Islands (August 24, 2001 – Marshall Islands Journal)---Rongelap’s local council has passed a resolution banning food gathering on Ailingnae Atoll as a first step in the possible development of the atoll into a national park area.

The food-gathering ban was approved by the council because this uninhabited atoll is a major breeding site for turtles.

Ailingnae is a neighbor atoll to Rongelap, coming under the Rongelap Atoll local government’s jurisdiction.

At the request of Rongelap leadership, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to send a team to conduct a complete environmental survey of Ailingnae in the early part of 2002, according to city manager John Fysh.

The ultimate aim is to apply for listing as a World Heritage site that would provide the impetus for establishing the atoll as a park operated by Rongelap islanders, he said, adding that the Fish and Wildlife survey is expected to assist with the World Heritage application.

This, in turn, would open up possibilities for developing so-called "eco-tourism" tours on Ailingnae. Rongelap leaders, however, are very concerned about poaching of fish, turtles and other marine life by Asian fishermen in the area.

"When we go to Rongelap, we see fishing floats washing up onto the beach. Many of them are new floats," he said, so they know that fishing vessels are in the vicinity. Sometimes people can see the vessels near the islands, although more often they just pick up the chatter of vessels on their radios, which confirms they are nearby, he added.

Some high-tech camera monitoring systems have gone into place in U.S. national parks, and Fysh is hopeful that these can be employed in the future to help guard the marine resources at Rongelap, Ailingnae and Rongerik against illegally fishing foreign vessels.

The Marshall Islands Journal, Box 14, Majuro, Marshall Islands 96960 E-mail:  Subscriptions (weekly): 1 year US $87.00; international $213.00 (air mail).

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