SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands – The Friends of the Monument were informed this week that they are to be recipients of a 2009 EPA Environmental Award on April 16. The award seeks to recognize individuals and groups outside of the EPA who are making significant contributions to improve the environment. Jane Mack of the Friends of the Monument was the first person notified about the award.
"I was really excited to receive the dawn telephone call from Wendy Chavez at EPA, telling us that Friends of the Monument would be recognized as an award winner," Mack said when asked about the award. "I nominated the community organization for special recognition because the Friends worked hard and its members put their hearts and souls into the campaign for a monument. The Friends efforts directly contributed to the eventual designation of the Monument by President Bush."
The award is open to people and groups who are working all across California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands and tribal lands to protect public health and the environment. This year over 200 nominations were made, but only 40 winners will be recognized.
“It is an honor to be recognized by the EPA for our work. This is an award the Friends will share with all our supporters, especially the Pew Environment Group,” said Friends Chairman Ignacio V. Cabrera about the award.
On January 6, 2009, then-President George W. Bush declared 190,000 square miles of ocean as marine monuments, closing parts of them to mining and commercial fishing, including the 95,000 square mile Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
The Friends of the Monument were the main local proponents of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. They worked to build and showcase local support to convince then-President Bush to declare a monument around the three northernmost islands in the Marianas archipelago.
“In less than a year, the Friends of the Monument grew from an idea into the most powerful grassroots movement in the Mariana Islands,” said Jay Nelson, Director of Global Ocean Legacy with the Pew Environment Group. “It was amazing to see a such an outpouring of genuine support for the marine environment.”
The Friends of the Monument waged an old-fashioned door-to-door grassroots campaign to build support for the monument.
Wesley Bogdan, a local attorney and one of the Friends of the Monument said of the monument declaration, "The creation of the monument shows that the system can work, that the people actually do have the ability to affect their government to some degree. The Friends of the Monument's hard work and receipt of this award from EPA can help spread that message and hopefully encourage more people to get involved and work on projects important to their community."
Initially local leaders were not receptive to the idea of a marine monument, so the Friends started a petition drive and with the help of 60 volunteer petitions gatherers, collected over 6000 signatures from local residents.
They also made presentations to local junior high school, high school, and college students, which resulted in over 500 handwritten support letters being sent to President Bush.
During a White House sponsored workshop, the Friends recruited over 400 supporters to attend. Most were wearing orange, as the workshop took place during the Friend’s sponsored WOW Week – Wear Orange Week.
They worked with the local business community and signed 206 businesses on to support the monument, including the Chamber of Commerce, Hotel Association of Northern Mariana Islands, Tan Holdings, DFS, and McDonalds.
They also organized a letter writing campaign in support of the monument. Over 100 current and former community leaders sent letters to then-President Bush in support of the monument. Constitution writers Dr. Joaquin A. Tenorio and Karl T. Reyes and business leaders David M. Sablan and Manny S. Villagomez were among the prominent letter writers.
Officers of the group also traveled to Washington, DC on two occasions to meet with federal officials and national media outlets.
Mike Tripp, a local dive operator commented about the grassroots campaign, "If it were not for the Friends of the Monument, the monument designation would never have happened. The organization stands as proof that individuals coming together for a common cause can truly effect positive change in their own backyard, and also for the benefit of the planet".
The Friends of the Monument formed in the Spring of 2008 to express the voice of the local community and consists of a cross-section of indigenous and resident people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who are dedicated to the conservation, preservation and protection of marine flora, fauna and geological features of the oceans; and the creation and proper management of a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
More information on the Friends of the Monument and the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument can be found at http://marianamonument.blogspot.com.