Monday, September 25, 2017

Scientists want to know more about CNMI ocean protections

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, September 25, 2017 – As islanders, we are very appreciative of the ocean. We enjoy seafood, boating, swimming and all the other benefits our oceans provide. But how many of us really know about marine protected areas around the CNMI? Or about our very own Mariana Trench Monument, a marine protected area that is internationally recognized? Well a scientist from England, Danny Morris, also wanted to learn about our oceans, and he spent this past July and August on Saipan gathering data on this topic.

Danny is working towards his master’s degree at the University of York in England under the guidance Dr. Callum Roberts and Dr. Julie Hawkins, leading researchers in the field of ocean sciences. These scientists study the ocean and marine life all over the world. Dr. Roberts is an expert on coral reef biology and he also studies the relationship between humans and marine ecosystems. While Dr. Hawkins researches the environmental benefits of marine protected areas. Since the Mariana Trench Monument here in the CNMI is one of the world’s most unique marine protected areas, having animals that are not found anywhere else, Danny wanted to learn how we felt about ocean protection.

According to Danny, the Mariana Trench Marine Monument is very special and it was the CNMI’s conservation ethic that drew him to Saipan to conduct his research.

“Having a highly diverse ecosystem with many species in the deep waters that are yet to be discovered by scientists is so unique,” he explained. “And I wanted to see some of that for myself.”

“The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument was declared over 8-years ago, and was one of the first very large marine protected areas on the planet,” he continued. “I wanted to come learn about how that is viewed in the community.”

While Danny was on Saipan, he interviewed over 200 U.S. citizens to gain a better understanding of their view of marine protected areas around the Northern Mariana Islands. He spoke mainly to Chamorros, Carolinians, Filipinos, and other Micronesian ethnicities. People who were not citizens were not allowed to be surveyed.

He spent time in public places speaking to passersby, maybe you were able to speak with him and be interviewed for his scientific survey? He asked general questions about ocean protection, and more specific questions on marine protected areas and the Mariana Trench Marine Monument.

Danny’s work on the island is significant as ocean protection is important for maintaining our community and safeguarding our cultural legacy. According to scientists, at least 30 percent of the world’s ocean must be protected. While the Mariana Trench Monument seems to be a large protected area it is actually less than 5 percent of US waters. Scientists say that marine protected areas like the monument provides sanctuary to many marine animals so they can reproduce and move to other areas. They also say that marine protected areas are important to safeguard fragile animals like corals, and to protect species that are found nowhere else.

Many were pleased that Danny was able to conduct research here. Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chairman of the Friends of the Monument (FOM) said that he was happy to hear from Danny.

“It made me smile to know that these young scientists are taking an interest in what we have here,” Ike added. When not conducting his surveys, Danny spent time with various families in the community. Auntie Chailang Palacios and Uncle Bob Power hosted Danny at their home for several weeks.

“He’s a wonderful and polite young man,” said Chailang. “It was great fun for us to have him with us”, she added. While staying there, he was introduced to a variety of people including Agnes McPhetres, a co-founding chair of the FOM. Auntie Agnes was also delighted that Danny was here to study.

Danny is now home in England finishing his thesis to complete his Masters of Science degree in Marine Environmental Management. We expect to learn more about the results of Danny’s study in the coming weeks.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Scientists From Across the Globe Support Marianas Trench UNESCO Nomination

Dr. Andrew Thaler (left) with Saipan Southern High School My Wave President Reynafe Aniga (center) and Rick MacPherson (right).
Early this December, the National Park Service announced that the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument made the short list for UNESCO World Heritage designation. Though hidden beneath the water’s surface, the Mariana Trench, a unique geologic and ecologic landmark and a natural treasure, dwarfs the Grand Canyon in scale and scope.

Yesterday, a cohort of 55 members of the deep-sea research community, representing 46 institutions and 19 nations, delivered a letter in support of the nomination.

“The Marianas Trench is one of the most well-known and spectacular geological features on the planet,” said Dr. Andrew Thaler, who recently visiting the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. “Global recognition is long overdue.”

The Mariana Trench is more than a mile deeper than Mt. Everest is high and hosts Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth. It is also home to numerous sites of exceptional scientific value, including submerged volcanoes that host deep-sea hydrothermal vents, the largest documented mud volcanoes, coral atolls and fringing reef ecosystems that support apex predators like sharks and whales, as well as habitat-forming stony corals.

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument would be the first World Heritage site to include unexplored ecosystems, including geologically active sites that promise new species, scientific discoveries, and insight into biological processes in the deepest ecosystem on earth.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

LIVE from Underwater World of Guam

Rick MacPherson and Dr. Andrew Thaler gave a talk on conservation, science, and the Marianas Trench at the Underwater World of Guam on December 18, 2016.  Here's some poorly shot video of the talk:


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Marianas Trench Sanctuary

There is a story in the Marianas Variety today regarding the Marianas Trench.  I've noticed that over the years the archives of the local Saipan newspapers tend to get deleted, so I'm posting it here in its entirety, both for your reading pleasure and posterity's sake:
Rota lawmakers ask US to designate marine sanctuary process for Marianas Trench monument

MEMBERS of the Rota Legislative Delegation have introduced a resolution asking the U.S. to develop a marine sanctuary process that will strengthen protections for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Signed by Rep. Glenn Maratita, Sens. Teresita Santos, Paul Manglona, Steve Mesngon, Rota Legislative Delegation Commemorative Resolution 19-10 states that the monument, which was created by President George Bush in Jan. 2009, provides permanent protection for approximately 95,216 square miles of submerged lands, waters and deep sea in the Pacific Ocean.

The Marianas waters have been scientifically determined to be the single greatest marine priority for conservation in U.S. waters, the resolution says, adding that the threat of climate change makes protection of the monument a priority for the CNMI.

According to the resolution, the monument’s protection would benefit Northern Marianas residents who rely upon an intact and preserved marine ecosystem for cultural uses such as ocean voyaging.

“The president of the United States has been asked to initiate a marine sanctuary designation by Gov. Ralph Torres and Delegate Gregorio Camacho Kilili Sablan. [But] the existing management structure of the Mariana Trench Marine Monument does not prioritize educational programs and a visitor center….

“The Rota Legislative Delegation respectfully requests that sanctuary management plans include and highlight research, education, enforcement and visitor center elements particularly on the island of Rota.”
As this story develops, I encourage you to watch and share this video of the 20 minute poster session for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument from the IUCN Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii back in September.  It features several speakers from the federal management of the monument and Angelo Villagomez from The Pew Charitable Trusts talking about the culture of the monument:


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Advisory council urged to make visitors center a reality

The Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council finally adopted its long-awaited bylaws in governing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument yesterday, even as concerned citizens and even a member of the council urged it to make the promised visitors center a reality.

Department of Land Natural Resources Secretary Arnold Palacios said that since the Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council and the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library hosted a forum on the monument, he has received a number of comments criticizing the council for the lack of updates on the visitors center.

Palacios, along with Ben Sablan and Frank Rabauliman, make up the CNMI’s representatives on the council.

Palacios said there’s been a lot of backlash from the community on the slow pace of economic benefits the federal government promised when former President George W. Bush declared the Marianas Trench part of its Blue Legacy.

“There’s been a lot of promises made to the community but so far we’re not able to pull it off…We should do it and, if not, let’s just fold camp and go home,” he said.

NOAA deputy regional administrator Lisa Croft shared Palacios’ sentiments, saying the council should now work together to make sure that the commitments made by the federal government is followed.

She also acknowledged that a lot of promises and commitments made by the federal government have been broken.

The council held its second meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan and among those who attended were Sablan, Rabauliman, Palacios, Department of Defense representative Roy Tsutsui, and representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and other local and federal agencies.

In the comments portion of the meeting, former representative Rosemond Santos described the designation of the monument in 2011 as “modern day colonialism.”

She said the local community, especially the indigenous people of the CNMI, were not consulted when President Bush placed under federal protection 95,216 square miles of submerged lands and waters in various places in the Mariana archipelago as part of his Blue Legacy.

Cultural historian Genevieve Cabrera, meanwhile, urged the federal government to talk to the community instead of making decisions and policies behind their backs.

“If you show respect then respect will be shown back to you,” she said.

Another former lawmaker, William Torres, also told the council to consider the Northern Marianas College as the location of the monument visitors center.

Attaching the visitors center to the local community college would allow it to apply for federal grants and these will be a much-needed financial boost to NMC, he said.

The CNMI Legislature came out with a joint resolution in April, urging the council to designate Marpi as the site of the visitors center because of its easy access to tourists and residents alike.

Recently, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) made known his preference for the visitors center to be on Rota, to make the island the ecotourism hub of the Commonwealth.

Architect Herman Cabrera just finished a study that plans to use the old Japanese lighthouse on Navy Hill as the site of the visitors center.

Published in the Saipan Tribune