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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (October 31, 2001 - Marianas Variety/PINA Nius Online)---Northern Marianas Washington Representative Juan Babauta yesterday announced the award of $100,000 by the U.S. government for monitoring and managing the territory’s coral reefs.

Funding for coral reef protection has been one of Babauta's top environmental goals in Washington and funding has been on the increase over the past several years.

"The coral reefs that protect our islands' coasts -- and in the case of Saipan create a lagoon -- are our greatest resource," Babauta said.

"Especially in the case of the Saipan Lagoon, which creates a harbor and a giant recreational area for tourism, coral reefs are essential to our economy," he said.

"Our tourism base depends on the quality of our beaches and waters. Coral reefs play a vital role in the health of these resources," he said.

"Yet our reefs, like reefs throughout the world, are in danger of dying from a variety of environmental impacts. Some, such as global warming, are not easy for us in the CNMI to do anything about.

"But we can do much to reduce run-off of silt and pesticides and human waste -- all of which are slowly killing our once-healthy coral reefs," Babauta said.

The grant of $100,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will continue the work already begun in the Northern Marianas to monitor the conditions of the reefs. It will feed that information into the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Monitoring Program, he added.

"Surveys of Rota, Tinian and Saipan reefs done in previous years will be updated -- and new surveys of the northern islands will be undertaken," Babauta said.

"All of this information will give us a better understanding of the condition of our reefs and the animal life the reefs support.

"And this understanding will give us a greater ability and incentive to manage our offshore activities in a way that preserves and protects the irreplaceable coral reefs that surround us," he added.

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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