Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mariana Trench in Honolulu Weekly

Honolulu Weekly has a cover story about the proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. The title of the story is Legacy blues: Will Bush's big environmental push be thwarted by bureaucrats?

The article gives a case for conserving the area under consideration in the Marianas:
The first group, and the most interesting to science, are the islands of Maug, Asuncion and Uracus in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, which are just south of Iwo Jima, Japan. Their sponsor is the Pew Environmental Group, a part of the Pew Charitable Trusts that also helped persuade Bush to turn the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands into the Papahanaumokuakea monument.

The Marianas are rich in submerged volcanoes that put out much more gas than other submarine volcanoes, which leads to an exceptional diversity of life forms. Scientists say Maug in particular will be intensely studied in the future to understand how coral reacts to the acidification that is expected when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets absorbed into the oceans.

The waters of the proposed monument extend to the Marianas Trench, the deepest underwater canyon in the world, and to a group of seamounts that have more hydrothermal life than anywhere else, including the oldest living things on earth–bacteria–and the world’s first hydrothermal vent-dwelling fish.
The article gives a taste of some of the opposition originating from the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, known as Wespac.
Andrew Salas, a former member of the Marianas House of Representatives, said that without Wespac’s intense lobbying, “There would have been a bit of grumbling because relations between the Marianas government and the federal government are pretty bad these days, but that’s it, because the overwhelming majority of the people support the monument.”
The article then ties WESPAC to the opposition in Saipan:
In Saipan, much of the political elite has ties to Wespac. The governor’s chief of staff, Ray Mafnas, is a senior Wespac official. Arnold Palacios, Speaker of the House, is a former member of the Wespac council. He wrote in a letter to Bush that the “loss of control over such a vast area of land and water is an assault on the traditions and culture of the islands.” The man he appointed as chairman of the House Federal Relations Committee, Representative Diego Benavente, who engineered the approval of two anti-monument resolutions, is also president of the Saipan Fishermen’s Association. Last year, it received a $150,000 grant from Wespac to open a store to sell its catch. It closed two months after it opened because of unexpected expenses “like utilities, rent, and salaries,” the local press reported. Benavente was quoted as saying, “We ran out of money, basically.” Asked where the money had gone, Wespac officials declined to comment.

Juan Borja Tudela, the mayor of Saipan, where most of the Marianas’ 65,000 people live, pleads that the monument waters should be left under the control of Wespac, which he calls “much more sensitive to the Pacific Islanders’ way of life.”

Wespac vice-chairman, Manny Duenas, head of a fishermen’s group in Guam, goes further in his own letter to Bush. “The taking of our marine resources may be construed as being no different than cattle rustling” and it would “serve as a springboard to ensure the cultural genocide of a people,” he wrote.

Similarities in style between anti-monument letters from Saipan and from Wespac-affiliated officials in Hawai’i have led some monument proponents to wonder if all were drafted at 1164 Bishop Street, the agency’s seat.

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