Thursday, April 23, 2009

Voices from Saipan

This is a 3:31 web-only video that accompanies the NBC Nightly News segment on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

There is also a written story.
"We can reach the moon, but we can't reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench. What kind of life is down there? What kind of scientific discoveries are yet to be found?" says Angelo Villagomez, of the Friends of the Monument, which led a vigorous campaign for a protected area.

The Trieste, a 2-man min-sub operated by the US Navy, did reach the bottom in 1960. Since then, the only vessel to come close, was an unmanned Japanese research sub in 1995. Next month, though, they'll be another US attempt, this one unmanned, in a mini-sub called the Nereus from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Scientists are heralding a new era in marine exploration.
For his part, Villagomez sees the establishment of Mariana trench National Monument as the ocean equivalent of the setting up of Yellowstone, the first park on land, in 1872.

"I would hope that other nations will look at what the US has done. It's set a new paradigm in marine conservation," he told me.

The Friends of the Monument are based on Saipan, the capital of the North Marianas, best known for one of the fiercest and most decisive battles of the Pacific War, which cost the lives of 30,000 Japanese and three thousand American troops.

The wrecks of ships, aircraft, tanks and landing craft litter the coast here.
We caught up with Villagomez as he addressed student's at Saipan's Hopwood Junior High School, part of campaign that mobilized Saipan's tiny, 50,000-strong population behind the monument.

"How many of you wrote letters to President Bush?" he asked as a sea of hands were raised in the air. From radio chat shows, to a petition drive, they spread the word that Saipan could gain enormously by being at the heart of such a pioneering act of conservation. Initially, local officials were lukewarm, seeing the proposed federally managed monument as a threat to their powers.

The conservationists had wanted more - some of the underwater volcanoes along the volcanic arch are outside the protected are, as are some of the shark habitats in a neighborhood well within the range of Chinese fishing boats, eager to feed the appetite for Shark fins, one of the biggest threats faced by these endangered predators.

"But it is a start," says Villagomez. "Down the road, I see the protection increasing, I see the borders expanding." Challenges do lie ahead. It's still not clear how tough the new rules on fishing and exploration will be, and precisely how the monument will be managed and policed.

The Friends showed us Saipan's existing protected areas, which have succeeded in bringing back fish to the reef - and were we witnessed a remarkable underwater parade of protected giant Eagle Rays.


Winter Park Fords said...

Great video!

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

I receieved a message that the video plays today. It will be on the Internet soon, I hope.

bradinthesand said...

great stuff. i like how they cropped out your mohawk on harry's show.