Marshall Islands lists near-pristine atoll

24/08/2012

The government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands has designated an exceptional atoll that is part of that country's Ralik Chain, and lies some 390 kilometres southwest of the capital city Majuro. As summarized by Ramsar's Nessrine Alzahlawi, Namdrik Atoll (1,119 hectares, 05°37'00N 168°06'30"E) consists of two wooded islands with an extensive reef flat lying between them. A subterranean Ghyben-Herzberg water lens lies underneath the islands, replenished by rainfall, which provides a precious supply of freshwater. The site is unique because of its large size and also because, unlike many other coral atolls in the region, there are no navigable passes into the central lagoon. The atoll is also unusual because it supports a rich mangrove forest that is home to some 150 species of fish, including the endangered Napoleon or Humphead Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus). It also supports breeding populations of the critically endangered Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate) and endangered Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas).

The wetland provides many resources for local people including canoe-building supplies, ornaments, beauty aids, medicines, ceremonial supplies, and material for maintaining attractive homesteads. The intertidal ponds are used for curing wood and other plant material to make traditional handicrafts and clothing.Being relatively isolated, the atoll is in a near pristine condition and has supported traditional, sustainable human development for the past 3,000 years. However, current unsustainable harvesting practices are placing considerable pressure on the atoll's unique biodiversity. An integrated conservation management plan has been developed with the community.

The preparatory work for the designation of Namdrik Atoll, the Convention's 2050th Ramsar Site and Marshall Islands' second, benefitted from a project supported jointly by the Ramsar Small Grants Fund, the Namdrik Atoll Local government, and the Marshall Islands Environment Protection Authority.

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