Monday, February 22, 2010

Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument Seek Testimony for Congressional Hearing

Contact: Angelo Villagomez,

(Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) - A Congressional hearing is scheduled this Thursday in Washington, DC for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument and the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument, the key proponents of the monument leading up to its designation, are asking local residents to provide testimony in support of building a Mariana Trench Visitors Center in the CNMI, rather than Guam.

The hearing will take testimony concerning two bills, H.R. 3511, Representative Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan’s “Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility Authorization Act of 2009,” and H.R. 4493, Representative Madeleine Bordallo’s “Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2010.”

Sablan’s H.R. 3511 seeks to “authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish and operate a visitor facility to fulfill the purposes of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument” while Bordallo’s H.R. 4493 seeks to “provide for the enhancement of visitor services, fish and wildlife research, and marine and coastal resource management on Guam related to the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.”

The Friends are opposed to H.R. 4493 because they want to see a Mariana Trench Visitors Center built on Saipan. They argue that the area of the monument close to Guam does not restrict any fishing or protect any coral reefs or preserve any coastal resources and that only the “Islands Unit” of the monument, an area surrounding the Commonwealth islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion, protects marine resources.

Friends’ Vice Chair Agnes McPhetres said of Bordallo’s bill, “H.R. 4493 seeks to provide research and enforcement dollars to the Government of Guam even though the monument does not protect any fish, wildlife, or any other living creature within 500 miles of Guam.”

“If you read the monument proclamation, the area of the monument that extends close to Guam only restricts future seabed mining of the substrate at the bottom of the Mariana Trench,” explained McPhetres. “It makes no sense to house the management of the biological resources of the monument on Guam when they are here (Northern Mariana Islands). It would appear that Guam is asking for federal dollars to manage resources under the jurisdiction and within the borders of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

The Friends are asking the community to provide testimony for Thursday’s hearing through letters and emails. They are asking for letters to be addressed to the Subcommittee’s Chairwoman, Representative Bordallo and request that copies of all letters be emailed to Representative Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan so that he can enter them into the official record.

According to the Friends, each letter should give a short introduction of the author, explain their interest in the monument, and specifically request that the Subcommittee support H.R. 3511. Letters should also ask for a Mariana Trench Visitors Center to be built in the CNMI.

According to Friends’ Director Angelo Villagomez, “Many people in the Northern Marianas fought for this and now we are in danger of losing the monument headquarters and facilities to Guam. The community needs to come together to show their support if we are ever to see the benefits promised to the CNMI by the Bush Administration.”

Letters for Representative Sablan’s office can be emailed to Paula Bermudes-Castro at and must be received by Wednesday, February 24, 2010.

For more information or if you need help drafting a letter, please email Angelo Villagomez at

The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument formed in 2008 to express the voice of the local community and consists of a cross-section of indigenous and resident people of the CNMI who are dedicated to the conservation, preservation and protection of marine flora, fauna and geological features of the oceans; and the proper management of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Visit them online at

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