December 15, 2008
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
Monday, December 22, 2008
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.