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    Sunday, October 20, 2019-8:18:46A.M.






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House OKs bills to protect coral reefs, nigas plant

THE House of Representatives on Monday passed measures to ban the harvesting of nigas plant and the importation of sunscreen containing oxybenszone and octinoxate.

All the 18 members present voted yes to House Bill 21-24 and H.B. 21-28 both of which now go to the Senate.

Reps. Marco Peter and Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero were absent.

Authored by Rep. Antonio Borja, H.B. 21-24 would restrict the harvesting, cutting, removing and mutilating of the nigas plant, scientifically known as Pemphis acidula.

Nigas is a bush or shrub found in coastal areas and help prevent erosion. Borja said the plant is difficult to propagate but is being overharvested.

His bill would authorize the Department of Lands and Natural Resources to conserve, protect, develop and manage the plant, including the conservation of nigas plant resources, and at the same time produce continuous yields of nigas plant “for the use and benefit of people of the CNMI.”

The measure imposes the following penalties:

a) First offense: Imprisonment up to one year and a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

(b) Second offense: imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

(c) Third or subsequent offense: imprisonment of up 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Click to enlarge
Rep. Ivan Blanco takes notes while Rota Rep. Donald Manglona reads a bill during a break from the House session on Monday.  Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

Rep. Ivan A. Blanco introduced H.B. 21-28, which aims to “preserve marine ecosystems including coral reefs by prohibiting the importation of sunscreen containing oxybenszone and octinoxate in the CNMI.”

The bill states that oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit; and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.

These chemicals have also been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals, the bill added.

In addition, oxybenzone and octinoxate appear to increase the probability of endocrine disruption, the bill stated.

“Scientific studies show that both chemicals can induce feminization in adult male fish and increase reproductive diseases in marine invertebrate species (e. g., sea urchins), vertebrate species (e. g., wrasses, eels, and parrotfish), and mammals. The chemicals also induce deformities in the embryonic development of fish, sea urchins, coral, and shrimp and induce neurological behavioral changes in fish that threaten the continuity of fish populations.”

Any person found importing any sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, or both, “shall be guilty of violating this Act and subject to a civil penalty of not less than $500 and not more than $1,000 per violation,” the bill states.