Thursday, February 25, 2010

Testimony of Agnes Manglona McPhetres

Spoken Testimony of
Agnes McPhetres
Vice Chair
Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument

Before the
Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife
Committee on Natural Resources

Hearing on the
Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility
Authorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 3511)
and the
Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2010/Bonitan Tasi (H.R. 4493)

February 25, 2010

Good morning, Chairwoman Bordallo, and other distinguished members and guests of the Subcommittee, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument.

My name is Agnes Manglona McPhetres and I am the Vice Chair of the Friends of the Monument. I have been an educator my entire life, assisted in founding and establishment of Northern Marianas College and was its President for 17 years until my retirement.

In 2008 I was one of the leaders of a grassroots movement that resulted in President George W. Bush creating the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. I gave presentations, went door to door collecting signatures for our petition, was interviewed on local talk radio and public television programs, and I even appeared in a television commercial. I also traveled to Washington, DC to share with federal officials the unprecedented level of support and excitement back home.

My main concern with the monument has always been education. Education is the cornerstone of self-determination and it is so important that our children become educated. While we have several lawyers and a few medical doctors, there are no indigenous scientists working in Saipan. From the moment I heard about this monument, I hoped that it would inspire a generation of our local children to seek degrees and careers in science and I dreamed it would lead to our local resource agencies being staffed with Chamorro and Carolinian marine biologists.

Promises were made by the Bush Administration that the monument would benefit education, increase research, enrich culture, support tourism, and of course, protect our fragile marine environment. Specifically, our people were promised that the monument would become the headquarters for the Monument including the site of a Mariana Trench Visitors Center.

H.R. 4493 would take the social, educational, and economical benefits promised to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands and turn them over to Guam. The Friends oppose this change.

For this reason I ask the Subcommittee to support H.R. 3511, as it follows the original understanding between the White House and the residents of the CNMI that led to the monument declaration.

I would also ask the Subcommittee to explore improving upon the monument declaration by (1) increasing the scope and scale of the protections, (2) closing some loopholes that allow harmful extractive activities within the monument, and (3) transferring managerial authority to NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries.

Contrary to what was reported in the press in 2009, the monument has not been afforded the strongest protections available. Also, the monument excludes many biologically and geologically unique features inside the United States EEZ, including the area thought to have the highest remaining density of sharks left in the Pacific and the site of a pool of liquid boiling sulfur on the ocean bottom that supports previously unknown forms of life. The Friends recommend that the borders of the Islands Unit be extended to include the entire United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion.

A map of the monument gives the impression that an ocean area the size of Michigan has been protected, however, the Trench Unit and the Volcanic Unit of the monument are not marine protected areas. Not a single drop of water or a single fish is protected within their borders. Only the Islands Unit, about 1/6 of the monument, protects marine life.

The protections for the Islands Unit, although restricting commercial fishing, still allow for harmful extractive activities. The position of the Friends is that the Islands Unit of the monument should only be used to enhance culture, promote research, advance education, and protect the environment. We recommend that the protections afforded the monument be strengthened.

It would also be more appropriate for an agency focused on ocean conservation, research and education, specifically NOAA Sanctuaries, to manage the marine resources within the Islands Unit, rather than one focused primarily on fish and wildlife management. We recommend that the Islands Unit of the monument be afforded marine sanctuary protection resulting in a Mariana Trench Marine National Sanctuary.

And finally, while Guam and CNMI do share cultural and geographic similarities, we are two separate territories with distinct governments, histories, and populations and there are many reasons for locating the Mariana Trench Monument headquarters in the CNMI rather than Guam. Those reasons include (1) the CNMI’s closer proximity to most of the monument, especially its most significant features, (2) promises made by the U.S. Government, namely the Bush Administration to place the monument in the CNMI, (3) the CNMI’s population has a greater need for ocean literacy, scientific education and research to lift the CNMI’s educational standards, (4) the fact that placing the headquarters in the CNMI would help diversify our economy and lift our ailing tourism industry, (5) and it was the people of the CNMI who lobbied, petitioned, and negotiated for a monument while the political leaders and the people of Guam opposed one.

Additionally, any economic benefits to the CNMI will likely generate benefits to Guam because much of our transportation and services come through Guam. However the reverse is not true. In addition Guam is already dealing with an economic boom from the massive buildup of military forces. A headquarters, visitor center and related facilities in the CNMI will be disproportionately beneficial to our people – who need the educational and other benefits that would come from the international recognition of the Mariana Trench. It will make a great difference where the headquarters and related facilities end up being built and there are excellent reasons for putting it on Saipan, even if there are more people and a busier airport on Guam.

While I can understand the logic of centralizing all Federal activities in Guam, may I remind this Committee, that logic should not take precedence over principle. We trust that the Subcommittee will do the right thing and place the headquarters for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in the CNMI. Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak today.

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