Thursday, September 6, 2018

Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Photo Exhibit Opening


(Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands) –– The Friends of the Mariana Trench (FOMT) together with the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA) and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands (HANMI) are pleased to announce the opening of a photo exhibit featuring 32 photos from the Mariana Trench. The ribbon cutting officially opening the exhibit will be held at the Hyatt Regency Saipan at 10:00am on Friday, September 7, 2018.

“We are really excited to see this project come to life,” said FOMT Chairman Ignacio V. Cabrera. “Our goal with this exhibit is to give our community and tourists a way to interact with our monument and learn more about what we have there.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ship Okeanos Explorer conducted exploration missions of the Mariana Trench in 2016. ROV Deep Discoverer (a robot) made daily dives from 250 to 6,000 meters and provided live video feedback to scientists aboard the ship. The photos in this exhibit are still-captures from video footage obtained during those dives. Several possible new species were found during this mission.

"This is fantastic, and we applaud the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument for undertaking this initiative to bring the Monument to the CNMI community using the Okeanos Explorer information and images from the Marianas expedition," said Heidi Hirsh, Natural Resource Specialist with Marine National Monuments Program based in Hawaii.

The exhibit was coordinated by Laurie Peterka for the Friends of the Mariana Trench and funded by the Marianas Visitors Authority and the Northern Marianas Hotel Association. All images are courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas. Image printing and framing were donated by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Gloria Cavanaugh, HANMI Chairwoman, added “The HANMI is pleased to be involved in showcasing to our people and to our tourist the beauty of the CNMI. We tend to take advantage of the fact that we are surrounded by the deepest waters in the world. Without the Okeanos Explorer project, the beauty in our waters would never have been discovered. We are thankful to NOAA and the Pew Charitable Trusts for bringing these rare images for us and our guests to enjoy.”

The exhibit will move between HANMI member hotels for 24-months and be shared with community outreach partners on request. Inquiries can be directed to Laurie Peterka at marianamonument@gmail.com.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Study Shows Widespread Support of Marine Protected Areas in the Northern Mariana Islands

A scientist conducted research in the Northern Mariana Islands in 2017 and is sharing his results with the community. Danny Morris, who studied at the University of York, published a report titled “Public Perceptions of Marine Protected Areas in the Northern Mariana Islands”. In this new report, Morris presents data on voter opinions on Saipan regarding marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. Ultimately, the hope is that this work will be able to inform decision makers on the best course for improved MPA management.

A video presentation of the work can be viewed on the Mariana Trench Facebook page: www.facebook.com/marianamonument

Around the Northern Mariana Islands, there are eight MPAs. Five of these are small, coastal strict no-take areas and two are small, coastal limited-take where specific species cannot be extracted. In addition to these coastal protections is the Islands Unit of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, which protects the federal waters around the far Northern Islands of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracus.

To get a representative sample of opinions, Morris interviewed 253 people of all ages and backgrounds on the island. The survey took an average of 15 minutes and included open-ended and closed questions. The results of the survey showed that the people of the Northern Mariana Islands overwhelmingly supported MPAs and wanted more protected areas in their waters. When asked how much of the Mariana Islands ocean space should be protected, the average answer was 57 percent.

There were less positive responses when asked similar questions about the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, but they were still overwhelmingly positive. From these results, Morris deduced several steps that could be taken moving forward that could increase the understanding of the monument with the public. He suggested that the benefits and successes of the monument should be better communicated to ensure a well-informed public opinion. Morris also suggests that there should be better representation of the local people on the Advisory Council, which currently is only three people. Further, he recommends that CNMI obtain co-management with the US government and the completion of the long overdue management plan.

Marine protected areas have long been proven to be a powerful tool in effectively managing marine resources and ecosystems. They are the oldest form of fisheries management tool, and have existed in the Pacific for centuries. These survey results show that MPAs are also overwhelmingly supported by the community and the creation of new protected areas would be welcome.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Robot Workshop Organizers Thank Supporters and Participants


OpenROV Robotics Workshop, Mariana Trench
Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) –The Friends of the Mariana Trench would like to express sincerest thanks to everyone whose invaluable contribution lead to the success of the Marine Ecology via Remote Observation Workshop last month. 

“The Mariana Trench inspires the next generation of local explorers, engineers, and scientists.” said Laurie Peterka, Secretary for Friends of the Mariana Trench. “But the success of this workshop is owed to our sponsors and partners who provided resources which allowed our eager participants to show up every day to learn.”

Through the support and commitment from many in the community, the Marianas is now home of the largest fleet of underwater OpenROV research robots and some of the most qualified OpenROV operators in the world. The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument was directly responsible for this opportunity being made available to our community. Marine protected areas such as the monument create incentives for scientists to conduct research because they provide a baseline against areas that are unprotected.

OpenROV is short for open-source remotely operated vehicle and is a low-cost robotic underwater drone built with the goal of making underwater exploration, discovery, and education affordable and available to the masses. OpenROV is an open-source hardware project. By providing the list of the submarine parts and instructions on how to assemble them, the project aims to democratize underwater exploration.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench in partnership with Northern Marianas Trades Institute (NMTI) hosted the Marine Ecology via Remote Observation Workshop from April 14-22, led by Dr. Andrew Thaler and Dr. Stacy Baez. During the first week of the workshop eight facilitators learned how to build an underwater robot. These robots can be submerged in the ocean and contain a camera that can be used to observe the marine environment. Representatives from NMTI, Northern Marianas College, PSS (through Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance), CNMI Bureau of Environment and Coastal Quality (BECQ), Okeanos Marianas, Underwater World Guam, and University of Guam Marine Lab were selected as facilitators. After the facilitators were trained, they taught 18 local students how to build and operate the machines. Students were recruited from Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam. Participants built six underwater robots. These robots were donated to the community and will now be in use across the CNMI and Guam.

The Friends would like to thank OpenROV for providing robot building kits. Special thanks to NMTI for workshop space, staff, and transportation assistance. Thanks to Seatouch-Saipan for providing access to its facility in front of the Fiesta Resort and Space, and the Fiesta Resort and Spa for their tremendous support. Okeanos Marianas provided transportation for field operations in the Saipan lagoon, and thanks to the crew who made the experience unforgettable for participants. Finally, thanks to the organizations, businesses, institutions of higher learning, and government agencies who provided facilitators to conduct the student workshop.

The workshop was made possible by a grant awarded to Dr. Thaler and Blackbeard Biologic through the NOAA Marine Educators Training Program. The Friends were selected to be the workshop’s logistical coordinator and facilitated Dr. Thaler with community outreach and participant selection as well as engaging local and community partners.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Robots, Ocean Research and Sustainable Skills Development


The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are pleased to announce the selection of twenty students for the second part of our Marine Ecology via Remote Observation Workshop. During this second half of our program, students will receive training in the construction, operation, and maintenance of observation-class remotely operate vehicles (ROVs, also known as underwater drones or underwater robots). These students will be taught by eight local facilitators trained in train-the-trainer portion of our workshop.

Over a span of four days, students from Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam will construct research-grade ROVs and learn skills such as soldering electronics, acrylic fabrication, and building underwater housings while learning the fundamentals of marine ecology using underwater vehicles. Students will then have the opportunity to take the robots out in the field to conduct surveys and gain a greater understanding of how underwater robots can be used to compliment ocean research and monitoring programs. This model provides an intensive STEM-education opportunity for students while establishing a sustainable, long-term robotics program in the CNMI through facilitator training.

At the conclusion of this program, six ROVs will be presented to select community groups within the CNMI, such as the Okeanos Marianas, for community-driven ocean monitoring, research, and exploration. This project is being conducted in collaboration with Northern Mariana Trades Institute (NMTI) as the main host along with other community partners.

The student portion of this workshop will commence April 19 and end April 22. The public is welcome to view field operations in the afternoon on the last day of the workshop – save the date, April 22 – Earth Day! Location will be announced next week.

This workshop is made possible through a NOAA grant awarded to Dr. Andrew Thaler, a Friends member and marine and conservation scientist. The workshop is coordinated by the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument and hosted by Northern Marianas Trades Institute. Demonstrations and field ops are being hosted by Seatouch-Saipan.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Local Students to Learn About Ocean Exploration Using Robots


(Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands) ––Robots have been used to explore the deepest reaches of the Mariana Trench in recent years. This month, local students will have the chance to learn the basics of underwater exploration using drones provided by a federal grant.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are pleased to announce the selection of facilitators for the Marine Ecology Via Remote Observation Workshop. During this program, facilitators will receive training in the construction, operation, and maintenance of observation-class remotely operate vehicles (ROVs, also known as underwater drones or underwater robots).

Facilitators will then participate in a student-training workshop where they will instruct students from junior high, high schools, Northern Marianas College (NMC) and Northern Mariana Trades Institute (NMTI). Facilitators and students will also have the opportunity to take the robots out for field work at Seatouch in Garapan (and possibly other active research sites in Saipan) to conduct surveys and gain a greater understanding of how underwater robots can be used to compliment ocean research and monitoring programs. This model allows not only an intensive STEM-education opportunity for students in Saipan, but by providing training for local and regional facilitators, helps to establish a sustainable, long-term robotics program in the CNMI.

At the conclusion of this program, six ROVs will be presented to select community groups within the CNMI for community-driven ocean monitoring, research, and exploration. This project is being conducted in collaboration with NMTI as the main host along with other community partners including Seatouch and Okeanos Marianas.

The selected facilitators are:

· Mr. Jerry Joseph, 500 Sails/Okeanos Marianas
· Ms. Erin Derrington, Northern Marianas College
· Mr. David Benavente, Northern Marianas College
· Mr. Claus Bier, Northern Mariana Trade Institute
· Mr. Rodney Camacho, CNMI Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality
· Mr. Robert Jordan, Koa Consulting LLC
· Mr. Roy Adsit, Saipan Southern High School
· Ms. Julia Berg, University of Guam Marine Lab

The workshop will commence April 14 and end April 22 – Earth Day!

This workshop is made possible through a NOAA grant awarded to Dr. Andrew Thaler, a Friends member and marine and conservation scientist.