Friday, January 09, 2009

First Thoughts

Now that we've had a monument for all of two days and now that the initial shock of it actually happening has worn off I can start looking at what the hell just happened.

When the Pew Environment Group first came out to Saipan the proposal they put forth was simple. If the Commonwealth was interested in protecting a vast area of their surrounding oceans using the Antiquities Act, there were a number of benefits that could practically be guaranteed. Managed under the NOAA Sanctuaries Program, a large no-take marine monument would lead to a boat, a visitors center, a co-management agreement, federal jobs and an increase in research, education and ecotourism. That was it. As a non-governmental organization, Pew could not make deals with the local government (something local officials had a hard time understanding), but they could point to what had happened in Hawaii as a model to follow. If the Commonwealth was interested, they would have to work with the Federal government to create a monument. Local leaders were told from the very beginning that President Bush would not create a monument without the support of the local people. We were right about that. Our monument was only created after heavy petitioning by our local residents and businesses and the final acquiescence of our local elected officials.

proposed marianas trench marine national monumentWorking with local environmental leaders, Pew produced a map that proposed an area that would extend constitutional protections given to our far northern islands to the surrounding waters. The proposed area included geological features such as coral reefs, mud volcanoes, hydrothermal vents, seamounts and, of course, the famed Marianas Trench. The area is also a biodiversity hotspot, teaming with unique undersea life. The name we came up with was the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument (Yes, I'm including myself as one of the local environmental leaders). Fully 1/3 of the trench subduction zone was within the proposed area. Months later one of the Pew managers realized that it had been exactly 100 years since President Theodore Roosevelt designated the Grand Canyon a monument. We began using this in our presentations, saying that President Bush, in declaring the Mariana Trench a monument, could become the Teddy Roosevelt of the Seas.

It worked.

The White House became enamored with the concept of protecting the Mariana Trench. While the original intent of the monument proposal was to protect a vast swath of ocean, the focus of the White House turned to the deepest, darkest place on Earth.

marianas trench marine national monument mapUltimately the proposal put forth by Pew and the Friends of the Monument was changed to what you see in the map above. The area surrounding the three islands of Uracas, Maug and Asuncion was reduced in size. Instead of protections extending out to the full 200 miles Exclusive Economic Zone the protections reach out to fifty miles. Instead of including unique seamounts as contiguous areas of the monument, the White House chose to use the postage stamp approach. The geological features of 21 seamounts are protected out to one nautical mile from the center of volcanic activity. The geological features of the Marianas Trench from the lip of the undersea canyon to the bottom are also protected. The water column above the trench and seamounts is not protected.

The Commonwealth is likely to receive an increase in education, research and ecotourism. As for the other benefits, we will have to wait and see exactly how everything plays out. Instead of NOAA Sanctuaries, jurisdiction for the monument was handed to the Interior Department, most likely to be managed under the auspices of the National Park System. I'll be the first person in line to tell you that the national parks are the best part of America (possibly tied with baseball), but this opens up a whole new set of issues that will have to be worked through.

All in all this monument is a good start. Everyone agrees that this monument will bring positive changes to the Marianas.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well written Angelo. I guess I missed the group yesterday. I am a bit bummed and would have liked to say goodbye to you your Mom, Ike and Agnes. I hope there will be another opportunity to visit Saipan soon.

We also lived up to our promise of trying to get the media to cover this story far and wide, having hopeful economic benefits for CNMI. We generated at least 856 news articles including on the front page of the Washington Post, USA Today (highest circulation news paper in the country) and LA Times, not to mention the national broadcast news of ABC, CBS and CNN. The story was also covered internationally and PEW even sent out a press release in Japanese.

All these stories spoke of the Marianas as a national treasure, not corruption or the problems that have been faced. This has to be a spectacular help to the image of CNMI. What do you think running a picture in the LA times of Saipan does for people’s perception of it? Great picture by the way.