Monday, December 22, 2008

Letter to Connaughton

The Friends of the Monument have asked President Bush to increase the area under consideration for monument designation. Posted below is the letter sent to White House Council for Enviormental Quality Chairman James Connaughton.
December 15, 2008

James Connaughton
Council for Environmental Quality
722 Jackson Place, NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Chairman Connaughton,

Thank you for taking the time to meet with us during our recent visit to our nation's capital. We appreciate that you and others in the Administration are taking seriously the support of the local Northern Marianas people in your upcoming monument decision.

The issue of the proposed monument has engaged our community for more than a year. It has been debated several times in public, discussed, analyzed and argued over. Both sides have been on TV and the radio many times and more than 150 letters have been published in the local papers, most of them in favor by the way.

The Friends of the Monument and our allies have conducted over 115 public meetings with over 3300 people attending. We have also held uncounted individual discussions. You witnessed firsthand the widespread community interest and support at the CEQ-sponsored meeting. The 400 residents in attendance made it one of the largest public meetings in CNMI history. More than 60 of us gathered signatures on a petition in support of a marine national monument – which 6000 residents signed! That’s an unheard of number and dwarfs the 2300 votes of the top vote getter in the recent election for our first congressional delegate.

In addition, our allies and supporters circulated a business petition which was signed by 206 business owners and managers. The tourism industry and business community know what we believe to be true, that the monument will be an environmental crown jewel for the CNMI and the U.S., and will also boost our visitor industry and offer a significant contribution to the economy of the CNMI. With some work, it also will offer tremendous educational benefits to our youth and could help make the CNMI a hub for deep sea research.

A recent poll conducted by a class at the Northern Mariana College confirmed what we already knew from our public outreach: the public overwhelmingly supports the monument that has been proposed and discussed for over a year. In fact the poll showed that residents support the monument by an overwhelming 2:1 ratio.

What the people of the CNMI have accepted and endorsed is the monument as it was originally proposed, a very large no-take reserve that will put the CNMI on the international map (our Vision letter, dated October 15, 2008, is attached for your reference). We do not want weakened protections and we do not want the area designated to be reduced. In fact, as Andrew Salas conveyed to you over and over in our meeting with you, we would like the area of the monument increased!

To make ourselves perfectly clear, the people of the Commonwealth are asking President Bush to use the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the largest no-take monument which would include the full Exclusive Economic Zone surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug and Asuncion, encompassing the water column, the sea life and the geological features at the bottom.
As we have told you in person, we would like our monument to be the largest no-take reserve in the world. We ask that both commercial and recreational fishing be prohibited along with other extractive uses such as deep-sea mining. We believe the best use of the treasures in this region is as a protected zone for future use in research, tourism and education, not extraction. From the beginning of the proposal the only exception we have requested is a limited one for traditional subsistence fishing by the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands. Given the distance from Saipan and the small number of people who travel to these islands, we believe this limited exception to the no-extraction regulations would best be managed by the local indigenous people to ensure both that our rights are protected and this privilege is not abused.

The Friends of the Monument believe that the no-extraction area should extend to the entire EEZ so that it includes the full convergence zone of the Pacific Plate and Philippine Plate, including the seamounts, hydrothermal vents, mud volcanoes, submerged volcanoes, coral reefs, the famed Mariana Trench and all other sea life and habitat in-between.

These habitats, from the surface down to the deepest darkest place on Earth are all intertwined. Many bottom-dwelling creatures depend on the detritus "snow" from dead animals from above, while pelagic fish feed on smaller creatures sustained by deep sea nutrient upwelling. You cannot separate the bottom of the ocean from the water above it. They are all connected as one ecosystem.

We are asking the President to protect the entire ecosystem surrounding the three northern islands, much as President Theodore Roosevelt protected an entire ecosystem when he set aside 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon in 1908. And we are further asking that modest additions along the Mariana Trench be made to increase the area into the largest no-take marine monument in the world.

Thank you for your interest in the CNMI, for taking the time to learn about our beautiful islands and most of all for truly hearing our request. It is our grandchildren that will inherit that which we leave behind and we want what is truly best for them.


Ignacio V. Cabrera

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mariana Trench Creatures

Their are many different creatures living on our very own waters. There are so many different Spices such as Tonguefish, mussels, bumphead parrotfish, megapodes, white tern and many more. we have one of the most rarest beaked whales, such as Cuvier's beaked whale and blainville beaked whale, that are believed to reside around our very own islands.

I honestly think this is a very good opportunity for research and other educational reasons.
as a young adult I know that my friends and family can take advantage and learn a lot about our islands waters and the creatures that lives within. Crabs and Angler Fish are but few of the many species of the Mariana Trench. Another interesting characteristic of these deep sea creatures is their longevity; many of these animals having a lifespan of over one hundred years, provided of course that they do not end up in fishing nets.

The Mariana trench can be a big laboratory in which many scientists, students and other interested people can learn and discover many facts.

Our connection to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

The Marianas have a great opportunity before them. If the idea of a monument is denied we will be missing out on many different and exciting things. Like the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, which covers 139,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, we can also have a protected marine life area. Their are many threats through our ecosystem and we want to prevent to protect our marine life. The monument in the Marianas can bring many educational opportunities for students and others interested in Marine life.
Their have been ups and downs with the Papahanaumokuakea Monument, but we are able to learn from their mistakes and maybe even become a better and improved monument area.
We can also obtain the many benefits that the Papahanaumokuakea Monument have by agreeing to have a monument up in the Northern Islands.

For more information on the Papahanaumokuakea visit this link

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Marine Reserves

The ocean is a home for many different living things from micro organisms to large mammals and fish. They are being endangered and threatened by over fishing, pollution, climate change, and habitat destruction.We have to make sure that our waters are safe and clean in order for these animals to live in it. The oceans are really important for both our sea creatures and us humans as well. We obtain a lot of food and resources from the oceans, but we must set aside protected areas of our oceans to improve from past threats. We must have a home in which animals can increase and grow bigger. Setting aside large areas from fishing can help the animals grow larger again. Limiting fishing areas can help protect our ecosystem and the animals that live in them.

This is bad news for the world's Ocean

Shark fin soup alters an ecosystem
By Lisa Ling

There is no animal on earth more vilified than the shark. Pop culture references and annual, over-hyped reports of attacks on swimmers or surfers have put sharks on the top of the list of the world's most feared living things.

There is however, a creature far more predacious than the shark: Humans.

Sharks existed before there were dinosaurs and they pre-date humans by millions of years. Yet, in a relatively short period of time, humans and their technological arsenal have driven most shark populations to the verge of extinction.

This is bad news for the world's oceans. Sharks are the top predator in the ocean and are vital to its ecosystem. The rapid reduction of sharks is disrupting the ocean's equilibrium, according to Peter Knights, director of WildAid International.

"These are ecosystems that have evolved over millions and millions of years," said Knights. "As soon as you start to take out an important part of it, it's like a brick wall, you take out bricks [and] eventually it's going to collapse."

When sharks attack humans, it inevitably makes news - it is a sexy story. What is rarely reported is that worldwide, sharks kill an average of 10 people every year. It's usually when people venture into a shark's habitat and not the other way around. By contrast, humans kill around 100 million sharks every year - a number that has ballooned in recent years because of the enormous demand for shark fins to make shark fin soup.

Shark fin soup is a delicacy reserved for the wealthy on special occasions and it has been part of Chinese culture for centuries. For years, only rich Chinese mostly in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore consumed it, so the impact on the overall shark population was negligible.

Over the last decade, the exploding middle class in China has changed the fate of the shark. With an unprecedented number of people making more money than ever, the demand for all things that signal an improvement in status is gargantuan. The ability to serve and consume shark fin soup is among the most revered of activities, because it signifies that one has made it.

Shark fin soup can be expensive. A bowl of imperial shark fin soup can cost upwards of $100. These days, shark fin soup is so fashionable that it's becoming commonplace. Buffets serve versions of it for as low as $10 a bowl. The irony is that shark fin is flavorless -- its cartilage has a chewy consistency. Tens of thousands of sharks are being killed for a gelatinous thing in a soup.

To satiate the appetites of upwardly mobile Chinese, fishermen traverse all corners of the Earth's oceans in search of sharks or, more specifically, their fins. Because space is limited on fishing vessels and shark bodies are bulky and not considered as valuable, fishermen often catch the sharks, saw off their fins and toss the sharks back into the water. Without their fins, sharks cannot swim and they sink to the ocean floor, where they're picked at by other fish and left to die.

The "Planet in Peril" crew traveled with Knights to Taiwan's southern port city of Kaohsiung, which is considered one of the world's main hubs for shark fins. We watched as the fishermen unloaded their catch. Thousands of fins were thrown from one of the ships that had spent months fishing the international waters of the Pacific.

Because of the sensitivity over this issue, few people were willing to talk to us.

Shark finning is not illegal. Taiwan has no law against fins taken from international waters coming into its ports. However, Taiwan does have what it calls a "plan of action" that requires the bodies of the sharks the fins came from to be accounted for and not dumped into the sea.

But at this port, we see more fins than bodies as a forklift scoops up large piles of fins and dumps them into a truck. There are no signs of anyone monitoring the weight ratio or making sure there's no illegal fishing of the five shark species protected under international treaty.

"The laws are weak and when you take the fins off, identifying these species is almost impossible," Knights said. "You can see they all look almost identical and yet they're makos and threshers and blue sharks; there [are] all kinds of species there, but identifying them and monitoring them and having a regulated fishery is virtually impossible."

Taiwan is not alone. Shark finning thrives off weak regulations around the world and only a few countries demand that sharks arrive in port with fins attached.

Knights says it comes down to economics.

"The fin is one of the most expensive pound-for-pound item from the sea. And the beauty about the fin is that it's very compact ... it doesn't take up your hull and you can make a lot of money from it," said Knights.

Fins can sell for $500 per pound, according to WildAid, which is campaigning for a global ban on shark finning.

In recent years, Cocos Island has become another battleground in the fight to save the shark.

Located 300 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, the only way to get to this uninhabited islet in the eastern Pacific is by boat. Cocos Island, recently declared a national park, is a nearly pristine and richly preserved ecosystem where thousands of sharks have roamed for centuries. Scientists think there are more sharks there than any other place on Earth.

Fishermen come from all over the world to catch the sharks that swim around the island. It is illegal for fishing boats to get within three miles of the island, but the law is routinely ignored. On any given day, one can see numerous fishing boats no more than a mile away from the island.

The fate of the shark is grim. Increasing public awareness of the shark's role in the marine ecosystem and the rapid rate of extinction because of the demand for shark fin soup may be the best hope for the shark, which has inhabited the planet for 400 million years.

"Can you imagine if it was Yellowstone Park and people were shooting up grizzlies? No one would ever get away with it. But this ocean, because it's out of sight, out of mind, [shark finning] carries on," said Knights.

By Lisa Ling

Monday, December 15, 2008

We've only got one shot at making our economy rise while it is at its worst. By having a monument we can get back on our two feet and start functioning right. Many benefits can come from this and some people are just to darn blind to to see it. And like what Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis once said, "Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” Their is so much possibility that a monument in the Northern Mariana Islands can happen and also do so much for the economy. So much can be done by just one answer and with your support and your voice we can make this possible. Think of all the benefits that we have right now and so much the benefits we can receive from having a monument. In the article from Coral Reef Alliance it lists the benefits that we can obtain from having a Mariana Marine Monument.

The benefits of designating a Mariana Trench Marine National Monument are:
  • Global recognition of a phenomenal underwater environment alongside the Mariana Trench—the deepest place on the globe and one of the natural wonders of the world.
  • An unparalleled opportunity to protect a diversity of oceanic habitats including tropical coral reefs, seamounts, and deep canyons.
  • Protection of a unique global scientific laboratory to study acidification and impacts of carbon dioxide on the ocean.
  • Preservation of the diverse, healthy, and largely unexploited—and thus scientifically valuable—fish populations in this area.
  • Creation of the second or third largest no-take marine reserve on the globe, after the new monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, complements the three northernmost islands' protected status as nature reserves under the Commonwealth constitution.
  • Support for the Commonwealth tourism industry.

Callum Roberts Interview

Check out this interview of author Callum Roberts on Voices f America.

..Interesting facts..

Do you, a family member, or a friend have a copy of the scientific Report?.

their are so many interesting facts about the three most northern islands and the creatures that lives within.

On the island of Maug lays a vent, so much bubbles of liquid carbon dioxide.

Interested in evolution?. Asuncion is the place to be. it's an active volcano.

and the island of Uracus together with Maug support regionally seabird colonies.

The scientific Report also mentioned that Dr. James Maragos studied coral reefs in the Pacific for almost 40 years. it was said that he believed protecting the waters that surrounds the island is the most effective way to conserve coral reef diversity.

if you haven't heard, our waters are very rich in sharks and other apex predators.
there are so much creatures that we should protect. it's interesting and it could help us learn more about the waters at the Northern Islands. i like the fact that we have so much mussels, we also have a bumphead parrot fish. it's so amazing how so many beautiful creatures live under these waters.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bush Eyes Unprecedented Conservation Program

They say the pen is the strongest weapon. With a pen President Bush can approve to have a Marine Monument here in the CNMI. With the Antiquities Act President Bush is authorized to "protect vast stretches of U.S. territorial waters from fishing, oil exploration and other forms of commercial development. The initiative could also create some of the largest marine reserves in the world — far larger than national parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon."
The Antiquities Act authorizes the president to designate any federal public lands as national monuments without any congressional approval. There has been very strong supporters for the idea of a monument, but we also have an opposing side as well.

The president can designate the three Northern Islands to have a monument, but there has been many concerns arising among the local people, leaders, and large companies. I hope that we can have a National Marine Monument for the benefit of our economy. With a monument we will have a great future ahead of us.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Honolulu's weekly stories.

Legacy blues
Will Bush's big environmental push be thwarted by bureaucrats?
by Christopher Pala / 12-10-2008

President Bush is under strong criticism for using his last weeks in office to promote hard-to-overturn influential regulations that, far more than those of his predecessors, appear tailored to benefit favored industries. But another kind of 11th-hour effort has garnered much praise, including two editorials in the New York Times: his Blue Legacy project.

Following the success of his designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, which will end fishing there by 2011, Bush asked his aides to find out whether other parts of U.S. territorial waters could usefully also be named national monuments under the 1906 Antiquities Act. The act gives the president unfettered authority to protect any place that has scientific or historical interest, and scientists say intact islands’ ecosystems constitute such objects.

After a lengthy selection process, the administration settled on 11 tiny, remote Pacific islands and has been grappling with the question of exactly how much water to protect. The first three miles off most of these islands are already protected–the question was whether to go to 12 miles, 50 miles–as in the Papahanaumokuakea–or the entire Exclusive Economic Zone, or EEZ, which extends to 200 miles and is reserved for U.S.-flagged fishing boats. Scientists and environmentalists said banning commercial fishing in the whole EEZ would slow the decline of everything from seabirds to tuna and would constitute a marine reserve four times the size of the Papahanaumokuakea, leaving Bush a nonpareil legacy of marine conservation.

What’s in a nothingburger?

But last week, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality and the presidential advisor in charge of the project, told the environmentalists he had been working with for a year that the recommendation he planned to submit to the sub-cabinet next week, the cabinet the following week and the president around Christmas, was to just extend no-fishing zones from three to 12 miles offshore.

“It would be a nothingburger,” said one of the environmentalists, who asked not to be identified so as not to harm the project’s chances and who just a week earlier was expressing confidence that the 200-mile option was likely to be adopted. “It will have almost no effect on anything.”

“After all the work they put in, it was like the elephant that gives birth to a mouse,” said another.

But the project’s proponents are not giving up, because Bush has a record of boldness on this matter. After six years of nudging forward efforts to turn the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands into a giant marine reserve, Bush eventually lost patience with an opposition engineered largely by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who had previously used his clout to prevent President Bill Clinton from designating the islands a national monument. Once a Republican governor was installed in Honolulu and threw her support behind the designation, Bush cut short the cumbersome process and signed the National Monument proclamation in June 2006. In an interview that year, Connaughton said he had been “delighted” with the president’s move. A short, jovial man with a striking resemblance to Karl Rove, Connaughton is known for his optimistic outlook that conservation measures can be implemented without harming business interests.

“That time, the bureaucracy was dragging its feet and Connaughton was on Bush’s side,” said one of the environmentalists. “This time, Connaughton is playing the role of the bureaucracy.” Also opposed are recreational fishermen, who fear that losing their privileges in remote areas could set a precedent for losing them in populated areas.

One of the environmentalists involved wondered aloud whether Connaughton was simply testing their reaction. But if Connaughton does make his recommendation, the sponsors of the national monument hope history will repeat itself and Bush, when he realizes that Connaughton’s version of his Blue Legacy would be no legacy at all, will overrule his aide and go for something memorably huge that would be closer to what the scientists recommend.

The case for conservation

The process started in September of last year, when at the behest of Connaughton, about eight environmental groups submitted lists of blue-water areas worthy of conservation. Several were located off the southern Atlantic coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, and all were dropped from the list after fishing and oil lobbies raised objections. In one case, the recreational fishing lobby intervened and Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana threatened to introduce a bill that would prevent any president from using federal funds to designate a national monument in his last two years of office. She withdrew the threat after that proposal was dropped, according to one of the environmentalists.

In the end, Connaughton’s office announced two finalists in August.

The first group, and the most interesting to science, are the islands of Maug, Asuncion and Uracus in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, which are just south of Iwo Jima, Japan. Their sponsor is the Pew Environmental Group, a part of the Pew Charitable Trusts that also helped persuade Bush to turn the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands into the Papahanaumokuakea monument.

The Marianas are rich in submerged volcanoes that put out much more gas than other submarine volcanoes, which leads to an exceptional diversity of life forms. Scientists say Maug in particular will be intensely studied in the future to understand how coral reacts to the acidification that is expected when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets absorbed into the oceans.

The waters of the proposed monument extend to the Marianas Trench, the deepest underwater canyon in the world, and to a group of seamounts that have more hydrothermal life than anywhere else, including the oldest living things on earth–bacteria–and the world’s first hydrothermal vent-dwelling fish.

Because the islands are small and the slopes steep, areas where fish can thrive are relatively small. But Saipan, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana’s main population center, is more 300 miles away, and its fishing fleet, mostly artisanal and subsistence-driven, stays within 20 miles of the coast, so the fish density in the northernmost islands is five times what it is in the inhabited ones, according to the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. “It wouldn’t be hard for a foreign company to partner with a local one in Saipan and come up and wipe out some of these fish populations,” says Rusty Brainard, chief of the Coral Reef Ecosystem Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Honolulu.

Conversely, a monument designation is likely to trigger the appearance of live-aboard dive ships that could bring recreational divers to explore these unique underwater sceneries.

The three tiny islands (the largest is one square mile), which have never been inhabited, are enshrined in the Marianas Commonwealth Constitution as nature reserves. The waters around them, up to 200 miles, are managed by the NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, known as Wespac, which are part of NOAA. If the monument is declared, they would lose jurisdiction to NOAA’s National Sanctuary System, which has a record of encouraging tourism and allowing limited fishing.

Marine biologists say the other islands under consideration, in the Central Pacific, matter for an

entirely different set of reasons. Howland, Baker, Palmyra, Kingman Reef and Jarvis–all National Wildlife Refuges with protected reefs, along with Johnston, Rose and Wake–have some of the biggest densities of corals and fish on the planet because the waters around them are unusually full of nutrients brought by upwelling currents. “Healthy reefs are much more resistant to global warming than damaged ones like we have in Hawai’i,” explains Jim Maragos, a veteran marine scientist with the Fish and Wildlife Service who has probably studied more Pacific reefs than anyone alive. “That’s why we need to preserve them and study them so we can figure out how to help the damaged ones survive.” He and others say the main reason reefs are dying, far ahead of pollution, is overfishing of herbivore fish like parrotfish that keep algae from overwhelming coral and make it more vulnerable to sudden spikes in temperature caused by global warming.

“Once these reefs die, they turn into rubble and the big storm waves will come right up to the shore and destroy people’s houses,” Maragos adds.

“If we don’t protect these places, it will be the end of true natural selection in the oceans,” adds Alan Friedlander of NOAA’s biogeography branch.

Elliott Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Wash., says the waters off all these islands contain hundreds of seamounts, which are underwater mountains teeming with life that are shallow enough to be fished–and destroyed–by trawlers. “The time to protect a place is before it’s exploited, not during or after,” he says.

“Usually the effect of marine protected areas on fish like tuna that travel all over the ocean is marginal,” adds Steven Gaines, an authority on marine reserves who heads the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But if the reserves are big enough, and now we could soon be getting into that area with multiple reserves, then you could start seeing increases in their populations.”

According to Cmdr. Mark Young, the chief enforcement officer of the U.S. Coast Guard in Honolulu, the tuna fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean accounts for over half of the global catch. “This $3 billion industry is one of the few profitable fisheries remaining in the world,” he wrote in an e-mail, and is increasingly drawing poachers, notably from tuna fleets that overfished their own stocks until they collapsed.

Even the birds that nest on the islands–some of the few left in the world without people or rats–stand to gain from large-scale marine reserves around them, says Beth Flint, a senior ornithologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service. “Most of these seabirds depend on tuna to drive schools of small fish to the surface where the birds can pick them off,” she says.

In addition, scientists say that such large no-take areas are bound to slow the decline of turtles, birds, dolphins and sharks that die for having bitten at baited hooks meant for tuna and billfish like swordfish or marlin.

Wespac’s long arm

Environmentalists say it’s no accident that the two groups of islands that survived the initial scrutiny of the Bush administration were the least fished. Hawai’i’s 123-ship long-liner fleet in the last quarter spent only four percent of its fishing effort in the proposed Central Pacific islands, NOAA figures show, and the waters off the northernmost Marianas, which have few tuna, are not fished at all. But that did not prevent aggressive pushback from Pacific marine conservationists’ old nemesis, Wespac, whose long-time executive director, Kitty Simonds, strongly opposes marine reserves. Wespac’s spokeswoman, Sylvia Spalding, declined to answer any questions, as did Simonds.

The National Marine Fisheries Service regulates the U.S. fishing industry, but regional policy usually originates at Wespac. The agency is tasked with protecting the interests of fishing companies as well as insuring these interests don’t result in the collapse of fish stocks, but it has presided over the rapid collapse of lobster stocks in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and a steep decline in the fish populations of the Main Hawaiian Islands, including valuable bottom-fish stocks. It has even issued commercial bottom-fishing and lobster fishing permits in the National Wildlife Refuges of Baker, Howland, Kingman, Jarvis, Johnston and Palmyra, in violation of federal laws that ban fishing there, says Maragos, the veteran Fish and Wildlife scientist.

Insiders say Wespac’s influence has been magnified by the unswerving support its advocacy has received from Inouye, who as the long-time co-chairman of the Commerce Committee, controls who in the Commerce Department, of which NOAA is a part, gets funding and who does not. Next year, Inouye will step down to become chairman of the even more powerful Appropriations Committee.

In Saipan, where tourism, still the main industry, has fallen from 700,000 to 400,000 visitors a year in 10 years, the Hotel Association and the Chamber of Commerce have endorsed the monument. “Almost no one is able to enjoy these islands at this time,” wrote Lynn Knight, chairwoman of the association, in a letter to Bush, while monument status would “boost the local economy in promoting ecotourism.”

In contrast, the governor and most of the legislature have voiced their opposition to what they call “The Pew Monument” in language that strikingly resembles Wespac’s stinging criticism of the creation of the Papahanaumokuakea monument.

Andrew Salas, a former member of the Marianas House of Representatives, said that without Wespac’s intense lobbying, “There would have been a bit of grumbling because relations between the Marianas government and the federal government are pretty bad these days, but that’s it, because the overwhelming majority of the people support the monument.”

The Saipan connection

In Saipan, much of the political elite has ties to Wespac. The governor’s chief of staff, Ray Mafnas, is a senior Wespac official. Arnold Palacios, Speaker of the House, is a former member of the Wespac council. He wrote in a letter to Bush that the “loss of control over such a vast area of land and water is an assault on the traditions and culture of the islands.” The man he appointed as chairman of the House Federal Relations Committee, Representative Diego Benavente, who engineered the approval of two anti-monument resolutions, is also president of the Saipan Fishermen’s Association. Last year, it received a $150,000 grant from Wespac to open a store to sell its catch. It closed two months after it opened because of unexpected expenses “like utilities, rent, and salaries,” the local press reported. Benavente was quoted as saying, “We ran out of money, basically.” Asked where the money had gone, Wespac officials declined to comment.

Juan Borja Tudela, the mayor of Saipan, where most of the Marianas’ 65,000 people live, pleads that the monument waters should be left under the control of Wespac, which he calls “much more sensitive to the Pacific Islanders’ way of life.”

Wespac vice-chairman, Manny Duenas, head of a fishermen’s group in Guam, goes further in his own letter to Bush. “The taking of our marine resources may be construed as being no different than cattle rustling” and it would “serve as a springboard to ensure the cultural genocide of a people,” he wrote.
Similarities in style between anti-monument letters from Saipan and from Wespac-affiliated officials in Hawai’i have led some monument proponents to wonder if all were drafted at 1164 Bishop Street, the agency’s seat.

In another letter, the Marianas’ first lady, Josie Fitial, wrote to Laura Bush, a strong backer of a large and robust monument, “The success we have in ocean conservation is an excellent example of the international image that you want the U.S. to portray to the world in regard to exemplary ocean management.”

On the same day that excerpts from her letter were printed in the Saipan Tribune, the other daily, Marianas Variety, reported that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had filed suit against the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. to get it to stop discharging wastewater with illegal amounts of bacteria, lead and copper into the sea. The lawsuit alleged that the federal agency had been trying to correct the situation since 2000 and it seeks to get the utility to also clean up the supply of drinking water, which “is a present threat to the public,” an assistant U.S. attorney was quoted as saying.

by Christopher Pala / 12-10-2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Christian Science

"The islands, atolls, and seamounts that would be conserved are remote. But they may also represent unique opportunities for research. In addition to its reefs, a northern Marianas reserve would include a section of the Marianas Trench, formed by the collision of two plates of the Earth’s crust and home to the deepest spot on the seafloor. The area hosts 19 species of whales and dolphins. Life thrives in the extreme environments around hydrothermal vents. The seascape includes enormous mud volcanoes and pools of boiling sulfur."

By having a monument we can have many opportunities for research. We have one of the deepest trench in the world. By using our resources we can provide a lot information for research and for many people interested in marine biology.

"The Line Islands, meanwhile, are feeding stations for migratory fish with an unexpected twist on the traditional food pyramid. “It’s an amazing inverted pyramid design,” in which most living organisms sit atop the food chain instead of at the bottom, says Nancy Knowlton, a marine scientist with the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History. Although organisms lower on the food chain are fewer, they reproduce more quickly and so can support a relatively large number of diners. The system gives researchers a good baseline to understand what coral-reef systems used to look like, she says."

"The Line Islands also serve as a way station for 21 species of migratory birds and some 19 species of seabird, who come to feed as large fish on a feeding frenzy drive their prey to the surface. “This shows a direct ecological connection between land and sea,” notes William Chandler, vice president for government affairs at the Marine Conservation Biology Institute office in Washington."

We have many different species living in our waters that exist anywhere else. We also have other animals that are living and migrating near the three Northern Islands, which means even more research.

"The effort is drawing support from the tourist industry, who see the region’s reefs as an asset that needs to be safeguarded, as well as from conservation groups and marine scientists.
But the proposal has generated its share of concerns. Some supporters worry that conservation measures won’t be tight enough."

Not only is this good for research, but also for tourism, education, and our whole economy itself.

All Thing Considered

Mr. Ike Cabrera And Mr. Andrew Salas point of view on All Things Considered.

Two years ago, President Bush won high praise from a group that's been largely critical of him: environmentalists. They were elated after the president declared a huge area near Hawaii a protected marine monument.

The White House is now trying to secure the president's place in ocean history with a similar preserve elsewhere in the Pacific. Only this time, the political sailing isn't so smooth, and the administration may be scaling back its ambitious plans.
The heart of the new marine monument would be in U.S. territorial waters north of Guam — the Northern Mariana Islands.

Ike Cabrerra, from the island of Saipan, is one of just a handful of people who have ever made it to the north end of the island chain.
"There's no place in the world compared to this area," Cabrerra said. "Most of the islands are volcano."

A Plea For Protection
The waters are rich with undisturbed sea life and home to some of the world's most majestic underwater geology, including the deepest canyon in the ocean, the Mariana Trench. But all is not perfect in paradise. While locals like Cabrerra support a marine preserve, their elected officials do not.

So Cabrerra traveled to Washington to lobby for the protected area. His traveling companion, Andrew Salas, said the politicians don't object to conservation, but they are upset with the federal government. It seems Uncle Sam recently took control of immigration policy for the Northern Marianas and also instituted the federal minimum wage.
"So this awesome idea to protect those islands came in at the wrong time, and everyone thought, 'Oh, another federal intervention,' " Salas said.

Salas and Cabrerra went to the White House this week to plead for complete protection for an area the size of Arizona. They brought with them petitions signed by businesses, schoolchildren and 6,000 local residents. The island only has 10,000 voters.
Salas said a protected area isn't just good for the environment, but tourism could boost local businesses like his. He owns the Hawaii Bar and Grill on Saipan.

"I'm actually going to change the name of that thing as soon as this thing gets declared. I'm going to make it the Mariana Trench Bar and Grill," he said.
But to declare complete success, the conservation group will not only have to trump the local politicians: Other interest groups have been marching into the White House with requests to argue against a fully protected monument.

Potential Conflicts
Gordon Robertson of the American Sportfishing Association pleaded his organization's case: "Let's not make a designation and foreclose this recreational fishing right up front, because it is compatible with conservation and it is easily controlled."
The huge Hawaiian monument designated two years ago bans fishing. That did not sit well with Robertson.

"I would like to think that if that opportunity presented itself again, it would be done differently," he said.
The White House might not fully protect the area off the Northern Marianas, even though the place is so remote that there's essentially no fishing there.
The same could be true for other sites in the Pacific that the White House is also considering. The potential conflicts aren't just fishing, but include possible military uses, cultural activities, and mining and energy development, said James Connaughton, who's in charge of this issue at the White House.

"What we're trying to do is sort out where there are, in fact, some conflicting uses and sort out where those concerns don't actually exist," Connaughton said.
That could mean scaling back the size of some of the proposed preserves, or not offering complete protection everywhere.

Jay Nelson of the Pew Environment Group said so little of the ocean is undisturbed that he wants the White House to fully protect as much as it possibly can.
"They run the risk, if they start to listen to too many constituencies, of making essentially everyone unhappy," he said.

And, at this point, time is running short. Connaughton said that, in the end, he may hand off all the work he has done to the Obama administration.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mr. Salas & Mr. Gellerman

Living on Earth

GELLERMAN: With just a few weeks left to his term as president, George W. Bush is seeking to burnish a blue-green legacy.
Two years ago, Mr. Bush put 140,000 square miles of Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii, off limits to oil drilling and fishing. Now, the President hopes to protect another vast area of the ocean – this one 4,000 miles west of Hawaii. It includes three of the remote Northern Mariana Islands and the Mariana Trench, the deepest spot in the ocean – a gash in the earth's crust nearly seven miles down. The proposal has some influential supporters - including first lady Laura Bush - and prominent opponents. Among those trying to sink the President's plan to create this National Marine Monument is Vice President Dick Cheney, and nearly all of the elected officials of Micronesia.
But many residents want to win federal protection, including Andrew Salas, vice president of the organization Friends of the Monument. Mr. Salas, welcome!

SALAS: Thank you.

GELLERMAN: Which three islands are we talking about?

SALAS: Maug, Asuncion, and Uracus. The water surrounding those three islands.

GELLERMAN: So how many square miles we talking here?

SALAS: About 115,000.
Mr. Andrew Salas, vice president of Friends of the Monument and former congressman of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.

GELLERMAN: I gotta tell you, the one that was named two years ago is 140,000.

SALAS: That's the reason why we came to D.C. This is my first trip to D.C., and I want to ask the good president to please make it bigger than the Islands in Hawaii.

GELLERMAN: So how much bigger?

SALAS: Maybe an inch bigger. [LAUGHS]

GELLERMAN: So those are kinda bragging rights?

SALAS: Yes sir. Nobody ever remembers second place in the World Series or the second place at the Super Bowl. Always remember the champ.

GELLERMAN: Well how would that help the people of Northern Marianas?

SALAS: Well you know, you know, have you ever been to the Northern Marianas islands?

GELLERMAN: No, I haven't.

SALAS: Okay, we are very tiny island chains in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And we have a population that fluctuates anywhere between 50 to 80 thousand. We've become a minority in our islands. And because of the economic development that happened in our islands when we became part of the United States. And it would help us greatly because over the past few years we've become a place where, you know, CNN has reported us as being enslaving our guest workers, locking them up in their rooms and abusing 16-year-old waitresses. The reason why we want this thing to be larger is the fact that we can use it, we can rebrand it. We have a place called Marianas Visitors Authority that will go out and rebrand the commonwealth as the largest marine protected area in the world. So it would be a retooling of our ability to attract tourists to our commonwealth.

GELLERMAN: Mr. Salas, what would protection under this marine reserve do for the area?

SALAS: Well, for one, you know, those three islands are – they're about 300 miles from Saipan. Right now we don't have the means – it is protected by constitution, but we do not have the means to patrol that area and protect it. As a matter of fact, maybe seven or eight weeks ago, we caught a Taiwanese ship poaching in our waters. So, at the most basic, fundamental protection is at least to keep outsiders away from our islands and to stop poaching our fish in our waters. Look at what's happening with the fish stocks all over the world. This will provide an area where fish can be protected and when they get big they can lay an abundance of eggs and they can go out, outside the protected areas and everybody can benefit from it.

GELLERMAN: Strange – I mean here you've got Laura Bush and the President supporting this and they're being opposed by the Vice President Cheney.
Soft corals and tropical fish on the summit of an underwater volcano in the Mariana Islands.

SALAS: [Laugh] Well, it's not a perfect world, but we try our best, you know. The governor of the commonwealth thinks of this as another federal intrusion and it's not. In our possession today we have original copies of over 6,000 signatures from our people from our beautiful commonwealth that sign in support of this monument.

GELLERMAN: Mr. Salas, what was this place like when you were young?

SALAS: Ah, it was beautiful. And that's why we – you know, Beach Road is our main road, our primary road when I was growing up. And when the fish would come into the lagoon, our blue water became really dark. And every islander that was passing by, whether driving, bicycling or walking, all they had to do was come up to the beach and they get a coffee can full of whatever fish was in the lagoon. But now you gotta go miles to fish. And we're hoping that President Bush takes the time to make a bold move to declare it a marine monument so that the people of the commonwealth can have a place where young people can remember, like I remember, thirty years ago, forty years ago, about the beauty of our lagoon on Beach Road.

GELLERMAN: Well Mr. Salas, I want to thank you very much.

SALAS: Thank you sir. It was my pleasure.

GELLERMAN: Andrew Salas is vice president of Friends of the Monument – a group seeking protection for the Northern Mariana Islands.



1. A Marine Monument!

2. More jobs in the CNMI.

3. To have an increase in tourism.

4. To protect our marine environment.

5. Create a protected nursing home for marine life.

6. The college to have a NOAA science curriculum for ocean science from having a National Marine Monument.

7. Our people and our local culture support conservation.

8. The students to be well educated about our marine life.

9. To prevent over fishing.

10. To visit the Northern Islands.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Opening our waters to commercial longliners

According to the Marianas Variety, a WESPAC supported commercial fishing venture is coming to the Marianas:
An investor is already inquiring about long line fishing in the CNMI, he said.

Last year, the Northern Marianas Fisheries Inc., expressed interest in a commercial fisheries project on Rota and Saipan.

The firm which also plans to work closely with the local fishermen’s cooperative, will bring two federally approved fishing vessels to the CNMI.

The local marine conservation plan recently approved by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will pave the way for the development of a CNMI fishing industry, which will include the Northern Islands’ remote fishing station project, Dela Cruz said.
This venture follows in the footsteps of Crystal Seas, the bankrupt commercial longliner that just failed on Rota.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Five minutes of your time

The month of January is coming up, and we need to do everything we can to push our Marine Monument forward. there's two things we could do to help.

1. write a letter expressing how you feel about the Monument

2. Send an e-mail to

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Friends of the Monument Interns

The Friends of the Monument have two interns, Emmi and Bel.  One of the tasks of the interns is to post to this blog.  They join several other adult Friends of the Monument as contributors to this blog.

Each of the contributors is allowed to post whatever they want to this blog.  The interns write their own posts and are responsible for what appears here.

Please leave comments on the interns' blog posts letting them know what you think about their work.

Supporter from Hawaii

There is a letter in the Saipan Tribute today written by Mr. William J. Aila Jr. from Hawaii.
Aha Moku who?

Much has been said about an Oct. 13, 2008, letter that was written to President Bush by a group of Hawaiians called the Aha Moku Council, asking him to not designate the Northern Marianas National Marine Monument.

This group is a creation of the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council. The Aha Moku Council is supposed to organize and consult with Native Hawaiians who represent their ahupua'a, a traditional land division system in Hawaii.

The Aha Moku Council has not yet organized, nor have they consulted with any of the Hawaiian groups representing their ahupua'a on Hawaiians taking a position on the creation of the Northern Marianas National Marine Monument and yet, at the urging of WESPAC, sent a letter, purporting to represent the Native Hawaiian's position.

The letter that states, “When you created the Papahanumokuakea National Marine Monument, it was done without the participation of Native Hawaiian people.” It further states the name Papahanaumokuakea “was the name the your administration picked for the Monument.

”This is typical WESPAC misinformation. The name “Papahanaumokuakea” was chosen by the Native Hawaiian working group of the North-Western Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve Advisory Council. This Reserve was the precursor to the Monument.President Clinton in an Executive Order, designated that three members of this Council should be Native Hawaiians, with one seat reserved for a Kupuna or elder. WESPAC, on the other hand, has no such requirement to have a Hawaiian on its Council.

The Native Hawaiian Working group met over the course of more than six months to consider several names for the Monument. The debate amongst Hawaiians was fierce but amiable, ultimately choosing Papahanaumokuakea. Hawaiians were at the forefront of the creation of the Reserve and continue to be consulted and have a place on the Management Board of the Monument.
The largest group of cultural practitioners in Hawaii, Ilio ula o ka lani, has demonstrated its support for the Monument by having representatives fly to Washington on numerous occasions and by attending close to a hundred meetings on the process. On one occasion, organizing a 10,000-person march on Waikiki to show support for the process.

Please do not allow the misinformation of the eight people on the Aha Moku Council, created by WESPAC, who have not consulted with Native Hawaiians as described in their organizational documents, to influence the people of the CNMI. Check out the facts, consider your needs and the future legacy that you leave for the children of the CNMI.

WESPAC has a direct state in the matter and that is the reason for the misinformation campaign. Should President Bush and the people of the CNMI approve a Monument, then WESPAC loses jurisdiction over fisheries in the Monument. For WESPAC, it's all about them, and not about you or the resources of CNMI. Don't be fooled!

William J. Aila Jr.
Wai’anae, Hawaii

Friday, November 28, 2008

My Thanksgiving

Some people don't celebrate thanksgiving, but most people have small barbecue and are thankful for a lot of things. This year went by so fast, and so much has happen to me that I'm thankful for.

On Thanksgiving Day my family and I decided to attend a Thanksgiving mass, and have a small get together at my grandmother's house. Everything went well, I remembered my older sister asking me what I'm thankful for. I had some things on my mind but it wasn't a whole list. Her questioned never got off my mind, so I decided to think about all the good things that happen to me this pass few months. I took out a piece of paper and wrote ten things that I'm thankful for.

This Thanksgiving day, I’m thankful for:

1. My grandmother survived uterus cancer, and is still recovering.

2. Auntie Ning & Uncle Ike helped me with my truck, I love you both.

3. I’m thankful to have my mom around till this very day, you’re the best!

4. My whole family supports the monument, and wears orange every weekend.

5. I collected 500 signatures on my own! Whoopee!

6. I have a job to help mommy financially.

7. I’m thankful that Laurie and Angelo educated me about the Monument; I love you guys to the maximum power!

8. I’m thankful that so many islanders support the monument.

9. Thankful to have a big family with a big heart.

10. Thankful to be around and learned new things everyday!

Monument in Popular Science

Popular Science has an article about the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument this month.
As of press time, government agencies declined to divulge details or a time frame for a decision. They did, however, confirm that the president had requested an assessment on the possibility of increased protection for up to 700,000 square miles of ocean (three times the size of Texas) west of Hawaii, as well as the Northern Mariana Islands and the Mariana Trench, a 6.8-mile chasm that marks the deepest part of the ocean and harbors hundreds of exotic marine species.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Future of Fishing

This PSA was created by Shifting Baselines.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008



1. The Federal Government is trying to help our islands.

2. More than 5,000 people sign the petition.

3. Our Constitution already supports conservation.

4. We have one of the deepest trench in the world.

5. We have many species that don't exist anywhere else.

6. We have a lot of community support.

7. We have grown closer as family and friends.

8. Laura Bush supports the idea of a monument.

9. OBAMA is our new president.

10. Change will happen soon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An Open Letter to the World from the Friends of the Monument

As we move towards the culmination of our goal of establishing a marine monument, we wish to offer this letter of gratitude to all those who have helped us reach this point in our journey.

The idea was a quite simple one: preserve the waters, along with the richness and biodiversity within, for this and future generations. As we stated in our formal request to President George W. Bush, “Declaring the waters as a monument would expedite the process of bringing protection to the precious resources found in the waters there, while establishing specific federal responsibilities toward governance of the Monument, and enhancing our ocean legacy.”

Yet, as simple as the idea was, the journey to see its fruition has been one fraught with challenges. They were challenges, however, for which we were prepared.

Scientists will tell you that any new theory is first rejected as false, then dismissed as trivial, then accepted as important--but known all along. (1. The theory is not true; 2. The theory is true, but it is unimportant; 3. The theory is true, and it is important – but we knew it all along.) So, we suffered the slings and arrows of doubts from some…and we persevered.

Marketers will tell you that every new innovation goes through the stages of awareness, interest, evaluation, and trial before it is accepted. So, as interest mounted, we educated the masses about the benefits of such a monument to the CNMI… and we persevered.

Philosophers will tell you that all truth passes through three stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Finally, it is accepted as being self-evident. So, we responded to allegations of deception from our critics… and we persevered.

Playwrights will tell you that every great story must have conflict. It is the heart of drama. (Someone wants something, and people and things keep getting in the way of them achieving the goal.) So, we tolerated the media spin that portrayed the chasm between Monument supporters and critics; a spin which at times minimized the overwhelming support for the monument from within our community….and we persevered.

Finally, all of life's great achievers will tell you there is no victory without struggle, so we accepted the role of those who positioned themselves as our opponents, for we recognized the role of the opposition in every new theory, every new innovation, all truth, and every great story.

We realize, with all the attacks, the suspicion, the pace of change, the drama, the conflict, struggle, and false statements, the real danger lies not in our acceptance of the monument, but in allowing things to continue as they are. It is a fact that the health of our oceans continues to decline every year. Without intervention, species will disappear, reefs will die, and we will lose what has been described as “one of the most unique geological and biological environments on Earth.”

In fact, the most compelling ‘danger’ of a new revolutionary theory is the real and present harm its acceptance would inflict on the power, wealth or prestige of adherents to the already-existing theory. We are aware that there are those who feel their power, wealth or prestige are at stake. To them, we offer the assurance that we, like them, seek only the best for our children and future generations. We are willing to sacrifice a little in the interest of future need.

And, there is no victory without the efforts of those who have helped take this from a seed of an idea to being a part of the conversations within the highest echelons of power within these United States. Therefore, it is with a sense of gratitude that we, the Friends of the Monument, thank the following:

We thank the scores of volunteers who donated countless hours helping our community become educated, and speak out about an issue important to the CNMI. Thank you.

We thank the 5,632 residents (and growing, on an island of 13,000 indigenous and 60,000 total population) who have signed our petition. Thank you.

We thank the business leaders who have come out bravely in support of the idea, and who have written letters to the media as well as to President Bush voicing their support. Thank you.

We are thankful of the increasing coverage by the world media that has helped us shine a light on the natural beauty deserving of our attention and preservation. Thank you.

We thank James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality for his valuable time and energy listening to the concerns of our leaders and community. Thank you.

And, finally, we thank First Lady Laura Bush for lending her presence and position to our cause, and to the momentum of the world-wide movement in support of the Monument. Thank you.

Historians will tell you that every great movement is subjected to attempts to suppress, and subvert, but that the worthy ones eventually gather grass-roots momentum and spark the changes that move us forward as a society. The annals of history are filled with evidence that there is no greater force than an idea whose time has come.

We believe our time has come.

Thank you, one and all.

Ignacio V. Cabrera
Friends of the Monument

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Color Orange

Have you ever wondered why the Friends of the Monument wear the color orange?

For the past months many people are starting to wear the color orange. It is the new trend in fashion lately here in Saipan. The color orange represents beauty, uniqueness, and nature. It is also our state tree color, which is the flame tree. The color orange stands out just like the flame tree, especially during the summer. As the tree starts to bloom along the beach road area, it will stand out to say to the community "I want a monument" here in the CNMI.

2 out of 5000

There were two letters in the Saipan Tribune today written by people who had signed the petition in support of the Marine Monument.

The first letter was written by Ben Deleon Guerrero Jr.
Making Myself Clear

I'm writing to you today because I don't know which rumor is true. And I also wanted to make myself clear.

The first I heard was that nonresidents in the CNMI cannot sign the petition. Some say they can. And second, we won't be able to fish in our own waters up there. Some say we still could.

My question is how do people go there? Or do people even go there? What kind of boat do they use?

My cousin is a full supporter of the proposed National Marine Monument. She is also a volunteer. She taught me lots of interesting information about the islands and the animals that live there. She gave me a booklet with tons of cool pictures and facts about the three islands. That booklet is called “Scientific Report.”

Anyway, one day I went to PriceCostco and saw two men standing by the door with petition in their hands. They greeted me and asked me if I have heard about the proposed marine monument. I said yes! I grabbed his pen and gave him my signature.

Yes, I am 17 years old and I am one of the 5,000 people that signed the petition in support of the Marine Monument. I am a local resident of the Commonwealth, and I was educated about the issue before signing the petition. I just wanted to make that clear.

Ben Deleon Guerrero Jr.
Dandan, Saipan
The second letter was written by Maegan Agulto.
No coercion

Oh man, was I excited to see that thousands and thousands of people signed the petition in support of the marine monument.

I'm proud to say that I am one of those who signed, knowing that it would be a great opportunity for my daughter when she gets older.

I support the marine monument because I was taught/educated that it would bring great benefits to both our schools and our tourist industry. Most importantly media attention! That gives people from around the world a chance to learn about our ocean's marine life.

I signed the petition that was circulated by my sister, who is a volunteer and a full supporter. She taught our family a lot about the marine monument. I was educated, not forced, and I completely understood what I was signing.

Maegan Agulto
Chalan Kanoa, Saipan

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Please Support the Monument--Vote in Poll

Please support the proposed Marianas Trench Marine National Monument: vote in the current on-line poll at The Marianas Variety . Just scroll down a bit--it's on the right-hand side.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Will It Hurt Our Economy?

The LA Times carried a report that First Lady Laura Bush supports the creation of a marine national monument here, but Vice President Dick Cheney opposes it because it "will hurt our economy."

There are some important considerations when assessing the economic impact of creating a marine national monument here.

1. Right now, we have little to no economic activity in the proposed protected area going on. The waters around Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion are not being fished. An earlier report from WESPAC suggested that the area is not a feasible or viable fishery. There is no mining going on in the proposed monument area. So stopping economic activity there now causes no change to what we have at present, and certainly no harm to our economy.

2. The future is speculative. For gamblers, the possibility that there may be some potential mining is "economic harm." For conservationists, the possibility of future damage to our marine life and eco-system is not only biological and geological harm, but economic harm. No one can prove the future, but we can look to the past to see what is likely.

* We know that the rest of the world's oceans have been harmed, that marine diversity is dwindling at an alarming rate, that pollution does not stay in one area. There is reason to want to take measures now to conserve what we have.

* We know that any minerals that may be desirable for mining would be at the southern part of the protected area, and not in the same place as some of the deep water, most unusual and unique life; we know that we can have different zones for the protected areas, so that mining could be allowable in some part of the protected area.

* We know that "no take" zones help marine life recover. While the protected area right now does not have the kind of marine life desireable or economically advantageous to fishermen, as the rest of the world's oceans are fished out, the last and least likely places will be tapped for whatever can be taken from them. If we don't protect some area, we'll have nothing left.

3. There are potential economic benefits that far outweigh any possible harm. We will get free world-wide press coverage, which will help our sagging tourism economy. We will get more scientists coming to study, and they will spend money here while present in the CNMI, and will help at our schools and college. We will get a Visitor Center, which will provide for some jobs, as well as giving tourists more to do while here and possibly extending their visits another day. We will get a boat that can be used for transportation to the northern islands, on the way to the marine protected area.

There are likely many more advantages that I have not mentioned. While economists can always argue with each other over specific assumptions made in their studies, it is clear that their are economic gains to be made from the designation, and few if any economic losses to be sustained.

If we do nothing, what economic benefit will we gain?
None. Nothing now. Only a gamble that sometime in the future there may be something that we can exploit and further ruin, changing our natural world to dollars.

If we have a marine national monument designated, we will get
* free worldwide press
* an improved chance for more visitors
* a Visitors Center, which adds a few jobs and entices longer visits by tourists
* greater educational opporutnities for students here
* and a portion of our world saved and conserved for our future generations.

Monday, November 3, 2008

If you're here looking for information...

We have our public service announcement on the radio and television inviting people to stop by this blog for information. If you are one of the people responding to those PSAs, please look around the blog. There are many posts with lots of information.

I'd also encourage everyone to check out the post on Lil Hammerhead's blog that discusses some of the important scientific evidence about the need for marine "no take" zones.

At the public meeting with federal officials, one of the things I heard from people questioning the idea of a marine sanctuary/monument here is that our waters are in good shape, our marine environment hasn't been deleteriously effected, our marine resources are being adequately managed.

The reality is different, though. If you talk with people who've been here a long time, people who spend time in the water, they can tell you that fishing was better in the past--the fish were bigger, there were more of them, they were closer to us. Now it's getting hard to find some species, and the fishermen are going further out to do it.

We don't live in isolation from the rest of the world. Our ocean touches Asia, Australia, North America and South America. The marine animals we see here, especially the large marine mammals, may have traveled from those places. We are not immune from the pollution and over-fishing that is depleting our ocean resources at an alarming rate.

We need this marine national monument to protect our marine life while we still have it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Virgin Islands Buck Island Reef National Monument

This is a video about a monument in the Virgin Islands. This monument is managed by NOAA and the National Park Service.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Press Release from the Friends of the Monument

Northern Marianas Public School Students Submit 500 Letters to President Bush

22 October 2008


Ike Cabrera:; (670) 256-5648 (h); 483-8426 (m)
Agnes McPhetres:; 670-235-2430 (h)
Andrew Salas:; 670-285-3740 (c); 233-8200 (o)

Saipan — Today the Friends of the Monument (FOM), a coalition of indigenous and resident people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) who support designation and protection of the important ocean resources along the Mariana Trench* announced the submission of over 500 letters to President Bush written by local youth.

Throughout October, FOM visited classrooms and presented information on the pros and cons of a CNMI marine national monument to over 1000 local junior high and high school students. Opponents of the monument proposal were accorded a similar opportunity. Several of the teachers then had their students write letters to President Bush expressing their opinion about whether or not a monument should be established in CNMI waters.

“An overwhelming number of student letters were written in support of the proposed monument,” said 8th grade science teacher Kimberly Vaillancourt.

Vaillancourt brought some of her students to American Memorial National Park on Saipan to turn in her school’s letters. The students, who recently completed a class assignment which included a public debate on the monument issue, watched as the National Park Service representative individually logged each comment letter.

“It was a good lesson in civics for the students,” observed Vaillancourt.

Tenth grade language arts teacher Bryan Jones agreed. “Over 500 students participated in the spirited discussion and debate regarding the proposed monument. The vast majority concluded the idea would be a benefit for conservation, for the economy and for the future.”

On August 25, 2008 President George W. Bush directed his federal agencies to assess several sites in the Pacific for increased conservation and protection, including the possible designation of new marine monuments. One of the sites identified by the White House is a portion of the Mariana Trench within Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and adjacent waters. A proposal for protecting this area of more than 115,000 square miles has been debated in the CNMI for almost a year.

James Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and representatives from the U.S. departments of Commerce and Interior recently visited the CNMI to discuss the President’s marine conservation initiative with the Governor Benigno Fitial and other CNMI officials. Until October 26, 2008 comments on the proposal can be sent to:


*The Mariana Trench is the deepest point on the globe at over 36,000 feet deep. Mt. Everest dropped into the Trench would have more than a mile of water above it.

Friends of the Monument Web site:

Underwater Volcano in the Marianas

This video was taken closer to Rota, but showcases some of the cool things that might be undiscovered in the monument.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Sea of Orange

Wear Orange Week SaipanMany of the Friends of the Monument were in attendance for the Joint Session of the Commonwealth Congress where James Connaughton testified on the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Saipan Tribune Editorial

Compromise on marine monument plan

Despite its tentative nature, recent reports of Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and legislative leaders being more open to the idea of a national marine monument in the northernmost islands of the Marianas chain is welcome news, at least in so far as advancing the dialog on the issue is concerned.

Dialog, after all, is what should have been happening in the first place. The proposal was intended to draw people to the table so everyone can weigh the relevant issues and make decisions based on the merits of the plan. Instead, the issue has created battlegrounds, pitting people against one another and escalating the whole subject into epic proportions on the scale of a Mahabharata battle between the forces of good and evil.

Worse, people have been content to play along as two-dimensional caricatures of themselves, painting each other in the most unflattering of lights and refusing to listen to each other in the belief that they alone are right, or taking umbrage at imagined slights to their inalienable rights. Lost in all the noise, confusion, and animosity was the ability to imagine that there might be a third or a fourth alternative, a common ground where people can come together in the name of conservation and national patrimony.

The suggestion by White House Council on Environmental Quality chief James Connaughton that further talks about the monument plan may result in an agreement to restore the CNMI’s control over "submerged lands" is the cold dash of water needed to snap everyone out of their hysteria and restore some semblance of calm, and the local leadership’s statement about being more receptive to the monument proposal is exactly what everyone needs to hear.

A compromise on the matter is being offered and this time, it must be evaluated with a level head. The submerged lands issue is no small potatoes and for the CNMI to regain what has been stripped from it would be a great boon to the Commonwealth, not just economically but also historically. The loss of the submerged lands was never imagined nor contemplated by our Covenant negotiators and the fact that we lost our right to those resources because of the Covenant was a bitter pill to swallow. Regaining the submerged lands now would remedy this unintended consequence.

At the same time, it would allow the Commonwealth to explore all potential economic benefits these underwater resources may have-natural riches that are currently off limits to the CNMI because they do not belong to our exclusive economic zone. If we regain the right to manage these resources, this will have a more direct-and immediate-impact on the local economy since they are closer to the populated islands and not located hundreds of miles away where the only visitors are illegal fishermen from other countries. (Saipan Tribune)

Alternative Proposal

The monument opposition has finally put forth a proposal of their own.
Marianas Variety
Monday, 27 October 2008

THE current local issue regarding the proposal to establish a National Marine Monument has created much public discussion and debate.

Some of the assertive statements I have heard are actually informative, at times even entertaining, and some unfortunately tend to manipulate the fact with, at the very least, high speculative benefits and hyperbole. It is funny when you hear people try to expound on something they have only heard rather on something they have thoroughly researched and analyzed. It is like the naturally blind leading the legally blind.

Both sides of the issue received much attention, at times with passion infrequently seen on these islands. It seems, for the most part, that every time someone speaks out in support of the monument, someone else puts forth an equally convincing argument against it.

The fact that proponents of the monuments felt a sudden need to rush a monumental decision that would affect generations to come, collaboratively with President George W. Bush last few days in office, arouses suspicions among many of our good people, and for good reasons. (Do the proponents make you feel like a lifter in urgent need of clemency before Bush leaves the White House?) The decision to establish a national marine monument is not urgently needed now. Moreover, there is still a lot of information needed to make not just a national decision for the sake of Socratic reasoning, but for our own sake, and for the sake of the future of our children and their children yet to be born. Maybe this is something that we should take a long hard look, continue to study with passion, and allow our kids to participate in frequent debates before we put it out for vote.

Look at the “Covenant.” Many of our people now felt that we have given up a lot to be a non-voting American. We have given up our independence for financial benefits and a better economy. Look at where our economy is today.

Look at Palau, with its rich marine life along the corridors of the world famous rock islands at its doorstep, it has successfully instituted strict internal controls on fishing and harvesting of marine resources and, more importantly, has not allowed “outsiders” to unilaterally force the issue. We have learned from Palau the meaning and value of independence. Maybe we can learn from them the virtues of patience and deliberation when it comes to managing and preserving our valuable marine resources.

This brings me to the purpose of this letter. If the National Marine Monument is to be accepted by the people of the Northern Marianas, hopefully after much more deliberation, I offer a proposition that would maximize the benefits for our people. It is no secret that with the pullout of the Marines from Okinawa, Guam and the CNMI will become the strategic fullback position. Expectedly, the military will need to conduct frequent battle exercises where it is allowed.

The fact is, from the military point of view, we live in the largest strategic location in this part of the world. Hence, we play a very crucial role in U.S. military defense plan; a role we can develop collaboratively. Utilizing the 200-mile economic zone provides the opportunity for the U.S. military and its allies to conduct extensive training exercises including but not limited to amphibious landing in Pagan and long-range missile tests to the island of Aguiguan, if I may be so bold to suggest. The CNMI has the potential to become the most active location for U.S. military training exercises in the Pacific.

In anticipation of the inevitable military presence here in the Northern Marianas, I would like to propose that we offer to the U.S. military a 99-year lease for the islands of Uracas, Maug, Asuncion, Pagan and Aguiguan for say 5 billion U.S. dollars. That sounds like a lot of money but 99 years is a very long time. Five billion dollars represent what the U.S. spends every 15 days trying to bring democracy to the people of Iraq. The value of this lease to the military to conduct their training and exercises for 99 years is priceless.

We can certainly use the money during this our worsening harsh economic time. With these funds, we can to take care of:

1. our unfunded Retirement Fund liabilities

2. our collapsing infrastructure

3. our inadequate health facilities

4. our declining scholarship fun

5. Tinian harbor break water

6. Saipan’s polluted lagoon

7. Rota’s hard-to-get-of-the ground casino industry

8. the budget shortfalls in various areas of public services

9. a beneficial vocational education system

10. our college

11. a set of magnet schools in the our secondary school system

12. and maybe we can finally attract more conscientious and qualified medical professionals on island so we can reduced the need to refer patients off-islands at millions of dollars per year

13. redeem all land compensation obligation including wetland

14. and on and on and on

The opportunities are endless if we plan carefully and waste not our energy trying to give away our valuable resources for free. We are limited only by our own imagination. The bottom-line is, collectively we can do so much good. We need to get beyond today and tomorrow and extend our vision farther into the future. For once, let us commit ourselves to becoming less reactive and more proactive.

It bothers me to think that if not for Pew the people of the Northern Marianas will not deliberate on its own on how to best manage and sustain its natural resources in their own best interest. No, I think not.

As Mahetog, Saipan
Frank Aldan is a former Commonwealth Representative.

Friends of the Monument Press Release

Friends of the Monument Release Petition with over 5500 signatures

21 October 2008


Ike Cabrera:; (670) 256-5648 (h); 483-8426 (m)
Agnes McPhetres:; 670-235-2430 (h)
Andrew Salas:; 670-285-3740 (c); 233-8200 (o)

Saipan — Today the Friends of the Monument (FOM), a coalition of indigenous and resident people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) who support designation and protection of the waters of the Mariana Trench* announced they have met their petition goal in support of a protected marine monument.

“More than 5500 local residents of the CNMI signed our petition in support of designating a monument in the waters around the three northernmost islands of the Mariana Islands,” said Ike Cabrera Chairman of FOM. “We will be submitting these signatures to the federal government this week as part of the comment period announced by President Bush.”

Andrew Salas, FOM vice chair, pointed out the significance of the thousands of signatures. “It wasn’t easy but over 60 individuals spent four months gathering the signatures. Our islands only have about 12,000 registered voters, and 65,000 residents. Fifty-five hundred signatures represent a tremendous endorsement of the marine conservation and the monument idea.”

On August 25, 2008 President George W. Bush directed his federal agencies to assess several sites in the Pacific for increased conservation and protection, including the possible designation of new marine monuments. One of the sites identified by the White House is a portion of the Mariana Trench within Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and adjacent waters. A proposal for protecting this area of more than 115,000 square miles has been debated in the CNMI for almost a year.

“Now that thousands of people in CNMI have spoken out in support of a marine monument,” continued Agnes McPhetres, Vice Chair of the FOM, “we would like to see more support for the concept from our elected officials. It’s an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up”

Concluded Cabrera, “We have worked hard to demonstrate to the federal government that the people of the CNMI support marine conservation and the proposed monument. We hope they listen.”

*The Mariana Trench is the deepest point on the globe at over 36,000 feet deep. Mt. Everest dropped into the Trench would have more than a mile of water above it.

Friends of the Monument Web site: