'A natural treasure worth protecting'
By JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU
Special to the Saipan Tribune
Last year over four million people visited the Grand Canyon and it is widely regarded as one of the world’s natural treasures. But as the people of the Northern Marianas know, however, not all of nature’s treasures lie above the waves. The unique geological and ecological marvels found in the water surrounding the Mariana Trench makes this area one of the world’s most precious marine environments.
President George W. Bush, following in the footsteps of noted conservationist Theodore Roosevelt, recently proposed protecting these invaluable treasures found in the waters of the U.S.-held Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands once and for all.
The question is still open as to what prohibitions will be established in the area against fishing, drilling and mining. It is also uncertain whether the area will be designated as a marine sanctuary or national monument.
Yet while there may be unresolved issues, one thing is clear: If the President establishes this site as a no-take reserve, it would be one of the most significant conservation achievements of any President in U.S. history. The people of the CNMI should make their voices heard on how why it’s so important that we protect these underwater treasures while we still can.
I’ll never forget the first time I visited the waters off the Marianas. The area holds a kaleidoscope of life. More than 250,000 sea birds representing two dozen species live in the area that would be included in the proposed marine monument, along with several species of endangered and threatened populations of sea turtles, and the coconut crab-the world's largest land-living arthropod. Indeed, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have described the waters off the Northern Marianas as one of the most unique geological and biological environments on Earth.
The proposed monument also includes a portion of the trench and a significant cross-section of one of the planet's most volcanically active regions. The combination of the trench and volcanic geology creates a wholly unique and extraordinary underwater wonderland of seamounts and mud volcanoes not found anywhere else.
Managed properly-much as the areas around the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and other treasures that are above the waves-the natural wonders that bless the CNMI could serve as an important engine for tourism. To do that, however, the mechanisms to properly manage uses of such special places while also protecting them from damaging activities that only pay off in the short term must be put in place. Designation as a marine reserve would be just the tool to use here.
While roughly 13 percent of the Earth’s land is currently protected, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, less than 1 percent of our oceans are completely off limits to fishing. Scientists, however, have found that when managed properly no-take marine reserves can be a tremendous tool in both conservation and rebuilding stressed fish populations.
No-take marine reserves act like nurseries where animals grow larger than normal. They reproduce much more effectively and reproductive capabilities increase exponentially with the size of the fish. The abundance of these no-fishing zones often spill over into adjacent fishing areas, where just outside the boundaries, fishermen can fish all they want. This, in addition to the potential of millions of new tourist dollars that designation of a marine monument might bring, could be a boon for the local economy.
As a lifelong environmentalist, diver and marine explorer, I have dedicated much of my life to advocating the protection of the world's oceans. In particular, marine reserves are of primary importance in preserving the richness and integrity of the plant and animal life within. And President Bush's proposed ocean monument in the CNMI has the opportunity to do just that.
The proposed monument complements the protections already enforced by the CNMI and presents a remarkable opportunity to care for every link in this complex and fragile chain as an integrated ecosystem.
We owe it to future generations that the natural wonders found below the waves enjoy protections just as strongly as those above. Areas that may seem remote and hard to reach today could be the natural treasures of tomorrow.
I hope the people of the Northern Marianas will make their voices heard in this next step of the process and let officials in Washington know that they want to protect the CNMI’s natural treasures while there is still time.
The eldest son of the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, Jean-Michel Cousteau is president of Ocean Futures Society.
Monday, October 06, 2008
Jean-Michel Cousteau on the Monument
Posted by Bucky Taotaotasi
The Saipan Tribune carried an editorial from Jean-Michel Cousteau today.