Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rapa Nui

Ahu Tongariki
I had a very short trip to Easter Island this week.  I traveled from Washington, DC to Houston to Panama to Santiago, Chile and finally to Easter Island.  It takes a similar amount of travel to get to Saipan, which surprised me.  For some reason I thought this island would be closer!  Still, as a Pacific Islander, it is very meaningful to be able to visit this island.  They are descended from the the same people who populated Micronesia and the Marianas, so the Rapa Nui are in effect my distant cousins.

Sadly, I was only there for a day, which is no where long enough to get to know a place or a people.  In the end I spent as much time traveling to and from Easter Island as I did actually on the island.  I hope I get to go back one day.  I posted a few more photos on Facebook, if you want to see them.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Inventory List

For the last 10 years I've been one of the advocates for bringing the NOAA Sanctuary program to the Northern Mariana Islands.  The archives of this blog catalogue most of that journey, including our two year attempt to use the Antiquities Act to protect the Mariana Trench, and the four times we petitioned the Obama Administration to create a national marine sanctuary in the Marianas.

We've had failures, and we've had success, and everything seems to take longer than it should, but that journey took a significant step forward last week when NOAA Sanctuaries accepted the nomination from the Friends of the Mariana Trench to designate a Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary and placed the nomination on the list of sanctuary inventory -- areas that have the criteria to be national marine sanctuaries and that are eligible to go through what is called a sanctuary process.

A lot of people in Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam, not to mention Washington, DC and Hawaii, were involved in this accomplishment, and they all deserve to be recognized.  We also need to explain to the community what this means and what the steps moving forward will be.  The governor and the delegate issued a joint press release, and singled out Ike for recognition.  That's quite an accomplishment, and much deserved.

Discussing the Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary in December with some folks.  Also, we're eating chicken kelaguen in this photo.
Northern Mariana Islands Governor Ralph DLG Torres and U.S. Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) announced yesterday significant progress on their joint effort to have the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument declared a National Marine Sanctuary. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has now placed the Monument on the national inventory for possible sanctuary designation.

Torres called the decision “an important step toward realizing the benefits promised to the people of the CNMI during the formation of the Marianas Trench National Monument.

“The federal government declared our unique marine resources a national treasure and we must pursue avenues for federal resources to ensure adequate conservation for future generations and the promised benefits for our people,” the governor added. “I thank Congressman Sablan for his collaboration on this effort and look forward to continuing to work alongside him to ensure that promises are fulfilled and our people realize tangible benefits from any future designation.”

Sablan said, “NOAA’s decision to list the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument as an area that can be considered for sanctuary status is a significant step toward the goal the governor and I articulated in our joint request to NOAA last year.

“I want to thank the governor for his willingness to work together in this way to realize the economic, environmental, and cultural potential of the Marianas Monument,” said Sablan.

“And I congratulate all of the other leaders and activists in our community for the success of their efforts to have the Monument placed on the sanctuary inventory by NOAA.”

Torres and Sablan began their effort with a joint letter to President Obama in September 2016, requesting initiation of the multi-year process to consider sanctuary designation for the Monument.

“Overlaying a Sanctuary designation to include the marine areas of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument would advance the goals of both the National Marine Sanctuary Act and the original objectives of the Monument proclamation,” they wrote. “It would also support the conservation values, practices, and aspirations of the people of the Marianas and our nation.”

This joint, bipartisan approach by the Marianas leaders helped spur broad community support for the idea of sanctuary designation. In December 2016, Friends of the Marianas Trench, led by Ignacio Cabrera, filed a petition with NOAA nominating the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument as a National Marine Sanctuary. The nomination package included letters, resolutions, and signatures of support from local legislators, mayors and 1,500 residents of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.

Placement on the NOAA inventory means that the agency has determined that the nomination successfully met numerous criteria, including ecological, historical, cultural and archaeological significance; economic uses; need for conservation and management of threatened resources; and broad-based community support.

Now that the nomination has been placed on the inventory, NOAA may consider it in the future for designation as a National Marine Sanctuary. Sanctuary designation is a lengthy process that is highly public and participatory. For more information on the sanctuary designation process go to www.nominate.noaa.gov.

Torres and Sablan have agreed to continue working together and to urge NOAA and the new Trump administration to keep the process of adding sanctuary status to the existing Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Mariana Trench Photo Exhibit

In 2016, the Okeanos Explorer went all over the Marianas, both inside and outside the monument.
I've got some funding to put together an educational Mariana Trench photo exhibit and I could use some help picking what photos to use, and what information to provide.  I picked about 50 photos from the recent NOAA Okeanos Explorer mission and uploaded them to Facebook.  I'm asking people to provide input, and I've already gotten a lot.  I could use yours, too!

I'm planning on culling this down to about 20-30 photos, and then putting together the information that will accompany each photo.  I'm also looking for places and events to display the exhibit, particularly on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.  Got any good ideas?  Leave them on the Facebook page or in the comments of this blog.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Prayer for Rob Stewart

Rob in Saipan
I'm one of the many people whose life was enriched by knowing Rob Stewart.  I met Rob about six years ago on Saipan.  He worked on sharks, I worked on sharks.  We were destined to be friends.

Most of us will never have the impact that Rob's life had.  In the five years that I worked in shark conservation, I heard over and over from people in more than a dozen countries how it was Rob that had first told them about the plight of the world's sharks.  I heard Richard Branson say this with my own ears.

Rob helped kick off the modern shark conservation movement with his film Sharkwater.  He helped a sixth grade class on Saipan protect sharks, and then he helped a group of kids on Guam do the same on their island.  His vision to protect sharks spread across the world, but first it spread across Micronesia, where today all sharks are protected in an area as large as the United States.  But his work was not yet finished when he passed away.

Losing Rob is devastating, and it will take scores of us to carry on with the burden he took on at such a young age.  But we will carry it, and we will remember Rob.  And in carrying on with his life's mission, we will become better, and stronger, and we will think of him when we eventually succeed.

Rob was already a celebrity by the time I met him, but other than the giggling high school teachers -- yes, teachers, not students -- you wouldn't have known it.  He was just a dorky kid who really loved sharks and the ocean, and wanted to share that love with the rest of the world.

Rob inspired people all across the globe, and we share in the sorrow that his family and friends face today.  I hope that they find solace in knowing that although Rob is gone, he will not be forgotten, and his life's work will carry on.

A few years ago, Rob agreed to be an ambassador for Shark Stanley, my little project to help protect sharks through shark sanctuaries and other means.  I asked Rob what advice he would give to aspiring filmmakers and conservationists, and this is what he said: "Take the first step, don't be afraid.  Lean in.  By working for good, for life, or for conservation, your task will call out the best in you.  There has never been a better time to be a filmmaker or conservationist and the world has never needed you more."

This is even more true today.

Rob in Guam
Rob's funeral is this Saturday in Toronto at the Bloor Street United Church at 1 PM.  There will be a celebration of his life following the funeral.