Saturday, February 27, 2010

"Only the Beginning"

News of last week's hearing was on the front page of the Saipan Tribune five days in a row. I'm guessing we'll get bumped by the tsunami story. This is our press release for Monday:
February 28, 2009

Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
– The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are urging Northern Mariana Residents to continue expressing their support for building a Mariana Trench Visitors Center and Headquarters in the CNMI.

“Your voice is being heard in the halls of the United States Congress,” said Friends of the Monument’s Vice Chair Agnes McPhetres, “but this fight is far from over and this is only the beginning.”

The Friends are campaigning for a visitors center and headquarters to be built in the CNMI and have waged a letter writing campaign urging the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife to support Representative Gregorio Camacho “Kilili” Sablan’s H.R. 3511, the “Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility Authorization Act of 2009.”

Representative Madeleine Bordallo of Guam introduced a competing bill, H.R. 4493, that would build a visitors center and other infrastructure on Guam, not CNMI. The Friends of the Monument are opposed to Bordallo’s bill.

McPhetres traveled to Washington, DC last week to deliver the Friends of the Monument’s testimony and to testify on behalf of the 6000 CNMI residents who signed petitions in support of creating a monument. McPhetres’ testimony asked the Subcommittee to “do the right thing” and “place the headquarters for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in the CNMI.”

During the hearing Representative Gregorio Camacho “Kilili” Sablan entered into the official congressional record over 150 letters, emails, and comments in support of H.R. 3511, many written by supporters and members of the Friends of the Monument.

“We are grateful to all the residents who are helping us bring the headquarters to CNMI,” said Friends’ Director Angelo Villagomez. “It was the support of our people that resulted in the creation of the monument and they are deserving of the social, economic, and environmental benefits promised by the Government of the United States.”

Residents can submit testimony in support of Kilili’s H.R. 3511 up until this Friday, March 5, 2009. Letters should be addressed to Representative Bordallo and copies of all letters should be sent to Representative Sablan. The Friends of the Monument are offering assistance in writing letters and can be reached at marianamonument@gmail.com and angelovillagomez@gmail.com.

Ms. McPhetres Goes to Washington

Agnes McPhetresAgnes was phenomenal at the hearing on Thursday!

You can watch the entire hearing HERE and Wendy Doromal has a recap of the testimony given during the hearing on her blog. Agnes and the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument's testimonies were the best, of course.

angelo villagomez white houseAn update of our week in Washington, DC is forthcoming. I think we are going to get our Mariana Trench Visitors Center, but it will take some work.

Tsunami Warning Cancelled for Saipan

Good morning, Saipan.

The Tsunami Warning for the Northern Mariana Islands was canceled at 10:12 AM Chamorro Standard Time.

From Tsunami Bulletin Number 018:
THE TSUNAMI WARNING IS NOW CANCELLED FOR

CHILE / PERU / ECUADOR / COLOMBIA / ANTARCTICA / PANAMA /
COSTA RICA / NICARAGUA / PITCAIRN / HONDURAS / EL SALVADOR /
GUATEMALA / FR. POLYNESIA / MEXICO / COOK ISLANDS / KIRIBATI /
KERMADEC IS / NIUE / NEW ZEALAND / TONGA / AMERICAN SAMOA /
SAMOA / JARVIS IS. / WALLIS-FUTUNA / TOKELAU / FIJI /
AUSTRALIA / HAWAII / PALMYRA IS. / JOHNSTON IS. / MARSHALL IS. /
MIDWAY IS. / WAKE IS. / TUVALU / VANUATU / HOWLAND-BAKER /
NEW CALEDONIA / SOLOMON IS. / NAURU / KOSRAE / PAPUA NEW
GUINEA / POHNPEI / CHUUK / MARCUS IS. / INDONESIA /
N. MARIANAS / GUAM / YAP / BELAU / PHILIPPINES / CHINESE
TAIPEI

A TSUNAMI WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR

RUSSIA / JAPAN

Robinson Crusoe Island Rocked by Massive Wave

tsunami forecast mapIt has been confirmed that the 8.8 Chilean earthquake generated a tsunami.
A 3-meter tsunami wave hit on Saturday the Robinson Crusoe island, the largest in the Chilean Juan Fernandez archipelago, following a powerful earthquake which struck Chile earlier in the day, the country's president, Michelle Bachelet, said.

"A village on the island is half-flooded, people have been evacuated to higher elevations," the president said, adding there had been extreme damage from the tsunami.
The map above is a forecast map for the tsunami. The area in red is where it is expected to be really bad.

Tsunami Expected to hit Saipan at 1:03 PM Sunday

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued Tsunami Warning Bulletin 007 at 12:49 PM GMT, which is 7:49 AM EST and 10:49 PM CST (Chamorro Standard Time).

A tsunami warning is still in effect for most of the Pacific Basin.
... A WIDESPREAD TSUNAMI WARNING IS IN EFFECT ...

A TSUNAMI WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR

CHILE / PERU / ECUADOR / COLOMBIA / ANTARCTICA / PANAMA /
COSTA RICA / NICARAGUA / PITCAIRN / HONDURAS / EL SALVADOR /
GUATEMALA / FR. POLYNESIA / MEXICO / COOK ISLANDS / KIRIBATI /
KERMADEC IS / NIUE / NEW ZEALAND / TONGA / AMERICAN SAMOA /
SAMOA / JARVIS IS. / WALLIS-FUTUNA / TOKELAU / FIJI /
AUSTRALIA / HAWAII / PALMYRA IS. / TUVALU / VANUATU /
HOWLAND-BAKER / NEW CALEDONIA / JOHNSTON IS. / SOLOMON IS. /
NAURU / MARSHALL IS. / MIDWAY IS. / KOSRAE / PAPUA NEW GUINEA /
POHNPEI / WAKE IS. / CHUUK / RUSSIA / MARCUS IS. / INDONESIA /
N. MARIANAS / GUAM / YAP / BELAU / JAPAN / PHILIPPINES /
CHINESE TAIPEI
This latest update calculates the times the tsunami will strike. It is expected to reach the Northern Mariana Islands at 3:03 AM GMT, which is 10:03 PM EST and 1:03 PM CST. Estimated initial tsunami wave arrival for all areas in the pacific are listed on Tsunami Warning Bulletin 007.

More info:
SEA LEVEL READINGS CONFIRM THAT A TSUNAMI HAS BEEN GENERATED WHICH COULD CAUSE WIDESPREAD DAMAGE. AUTHORITIES SHOULD TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION IN RESPONSE TO THIS THREAT. THIS CENTER WILL CONTINUE TO MONITOR SEA LEVEL DATA TO DETERMINE THE EXTENT AND SEVERITY OF THE THREAT.

A TSUNAMI IS A SERIES OF WAVES AND THE FIRST WAVE MAY NOT BE THE LARGEST. TSUNAMI WAVE HEIGHTS CANNOT BE PREDICTED AND CAN VARY SIGNIFICANTLY ALONG A COAST DUE TO LOCAL EFFECTS. THE TIME FROM ONE TSUNAMI WAVE TO THE NEXT CAN BE FIVE MINUTES TO AN HOUR, AND THE THREAT CAN CONTINUE FOR MANY HOURS AS MULTIPLE WAVES ARRIVE.

FOR ALL AREAS - WHEN NO MAJOR WAVES ARE OBSERVED FOR TWO HOURS AFTER THE ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL OR DAMAGING WAVES HAVE NOT OCCURRED FOR AT LEAST TWO HOURS THEN LOCAL AUTHORITIES CAN ASSUME THE THREAT IS PASSED. DANGER TO BOATS AND COASTAL STRUCTURES CAN CONTINUE FOR SEVERAL HOURS DUE TO RAPID CURRENTS. AS LOCAL CONDITIONS CAN CAUSE A WIDE VARIATION IN TSUNAMI WAVE ACTION THE ALL CLEAR DETERMINATION MUST BE MADE BY LOCAL AUTHORITIES.

Pacific Wide Tsunami Warning after Chilean Earthquake

There are always rumors and misinformation on Saipan when things like tsunamis and typhoons are bearing down on us. The best place to look for information on potential tsunamis is the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center.

There is a tsunami warning in effect for most of the Pacific basin after an 8.8 earthquake struck the coast of Chile. Saipan and the rest of the Northern Mariana Islands is included in the warning. The latest update came at 11:47 GMT, which is 6:47 AM here on the East Coast and 9:47 PM on Saipan. The warning is about an hour old a new one should be coming up soon. Visit the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website for the latest.

Right now the warning extends to:
... A WIDESPREAD TSUNAMI WARNING IS IN EFFECT ...

A TSUNAMI WARNING IS IN EFFECT FOR

CHILE / PERU / ECUADOR / COLOMBIA / ANTARCTICA / PANAMA /
COSTA RICA / NICARAGUA / PITCAIRN / HONDURAS / EL SALVADOR /
GUATEMALA / FR. POLYNESIA / MEXICO / COOK ISLANDS / KIRIBATI /
KERMADEC IS / NIUE / NEW ZEALAND / TONGA / AMERICAN SAMOA /
SAMOA / JARVIS IS. / WALLIS-FUTUNA / TOKELAU / FIJI /
AUSTRALIA / HAWAII / PALMYRA IS. / TUVALU / VANUATU /
HOWLAND-BAKER / NEW CALEDONIA / JOHNSTON IS. / SOLOMON IS. /
NAURU / MARSHALL IS. / MIDWAY IS. / KOSRAE / PAPUA NEW GUINEA /
POHNPEI / WAKE IS. / CHUUK / RUSSIA / MARCUS IS. / INDONESIA /
N. MARIANAS / GUAM / YAP / BELAU / JAPAN / PHILIPPINES /
CHINESE TAIPEI
I will post updates as they happen.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Most Recent Dive

obyan beach shore diveMy most recent dive was a shore dive from Obyan Beach with Harry Blalock, Dennis Chapla, and Edz. We swam out from the ancient Chamorro latte site and drifted west to the cut in the reef with a rope.

edz blanco and angelo villagomezI say that this was my most recent dive because it surely wasn't my last.

Meanwhile it is snowing in Washington, DC. Yes, snowing.

******

Agnes McPhetres: Do the Right Thing

agnes mcphetres saipan tribuneToday's Subcommittee Hearing is front page news in Saipan for the fourth day in a row. We are off to the hearing now; it starts in an hour.

Testimony of Agnes Manglona McPhetres

Spoken Testimony of
Agnes McPhetres
Vice Chair
Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument

Before the
Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife
Committee on Natural Resources

Hearing on the
Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility
Authorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 3511)
and the
Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2010/Bonitan Tasi (H.R. 4493)

February 25, 2010

Good morning, Chairwoman Bordallo, and other distinguished members and guests of the Subcommittee, and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument.

My name is Agnes Manglona McPhetres and I am the Vice Chair of the Friends of the Monument. I have been an educator my entire life, assisted in founding and establishment of Northern Marianas College and was its President for 17 years until my retirement.

In 2008 I was one of the leaders of a grassroots movement that resulted in President George W. Bush creating the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. I gave presentations, went door to door collecting signatures for our petition, was interviewed on local talk radio and public television programs, and I even appeared in a television commercial. I also traveled to Washington, DC to share with federal officials the unprecedented level of support and excitement back home.

My main concern with the monument has always been education. Education is the cornerstone of self-determination and it is so important that our children become educated. While we have several lawyers and a few medical doctors, there are no indigenous scientists working in Saipan. From the moment I heard about this monument, I hoped that it would inspire a generation of our local children to seek degrees and careers in science and I dreamed it would lead to our local resource agencies being staffed with Chamorro and Carolinian marine biologists.

Promises were made by the Bush Administration that the monument would benefit education, increase research, enrich culture, support tourism, and of course, protect our fragile marine environment. Specifically, our people were promised that the monument would become the headquarters for the Monument including the site of a Mariana Trench Visitors Center.

H.R. 4493 would take the social, educational, and economical benefits promised to the people of the Northern Mariana Islands and turn them over to Guam. The Friends oppose this change.

For this reason I ask the Subcommittee to support H.R. 3511, as it follows the original understanding between the White House and the residents of the CNMI that led to the monument declaration.

I would also ask the Subcommittee to explore improving upon the monument declaration by (1) increasing the scope and scale of the protections, (2) closing some loopholes that allow harmful extractive activities within the monument, and (3) transferring managerial authority to NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries.

Contrary to what was reported in the press in 2009, the monument has not been afforded the strongest protections available. Also, the monument excludes many biologically and geologically unique features inside the United States EEZ, including the area thought to have the highest remaining density of sharks left in the Pacific and the site of a pool of liquid boiling sulfur on the ocean bottom that supports previously unknown forms of life. The Friends recommend that the borders of the Islands Unit be extended to include the entire United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion.

A map of the monument gives the impression that an ocean area the size of Michigan has been protected, however, the Trench Unit and the Volcanic Unit of the monument are not marine protected areas. Not a single drop of water or a single fish is protected within their borders. Only the Islands Unit, about 1/6 of the monument, protects marine life.

The protections for the Islands Unit, although restricting commercial fishing, still allow for harmful extractive activities. The position of the Friends is that the Islands Unit of the monument should only be used to enhance culture, promote research, advance education, and protect the environment. We recommend that the protections afforded the monument be strengthened.

It would also be more appropriate for an agency focused on ocean conservation, research and education, specifically NOAA Sanctuaries, to manage the marine resources within the Islands Unit, rather than one focused primarily on fish and wildlife management. We recommend that the Islands Unit of the monument be afforded marine sanctuary protection resulting in a Mariana Trench Marine National Sanctuary.

And finally, while Guam and CNMI do share cultural and geographic similarities, we are two separate territories with distinct governments, histories, and populations and there are many reasons for locating the Mariana Trench Monument headquarters in the CNMI rather than Guam. Those reasons include (1) the CNMI’s closer proximity to most of the monument, especially its most significant features, (2) promises made by the U.S. Government, namely the Bush Administration to place the monument in the CNMI, (3) the CNMI’s population has a greater need for ocean literacy, scientific education and research to lift the CNMI’s educational standards, (4) the fact that placing the headquarters in the CNMI would help diversify our economy and lift our ailing tourism industry, (5) and it was the people of the CNMI who lobbied, petitioned, and negotiated for a monument while the political leaders and the people of Guam opposed one.

Additionally, any economic benefits to the CNMI will likely generate benefits to Guam because much of our transportation and services come through Guam. However the reverse is not true. In addition Guam is already dealing with an economic boom from the massive buildup of military forces. A headquarters, visitor center and related facilities in the CNMI will be disproportionately beneficial to our people – who need the educational and other benefits that would come from the international recognition of the Mariana Trench. It will make a great difference where the headquarters and related facilities end up being built and there are excellent reasons for putting it on Saipan, even if there are more people and a busier airport on Guam.

While I can understand the logic of centralizing all Federal activities in Guam, may I remind this Committee, that logic should not take precedence over principle. We trust that the Subcommittee will do the right thing and place the headquarters for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in the CNMI. Thank you once again for the opportunity to speak today.

Testimony of the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument

Written Testimony of
Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument
Ignacio V. Cabrera – Chair
Agnes M. McPhetres – Vice Chair
Mike Tripp – Treasurer
Laurie Peterka – Secretary
Angelo Villagomez – Director
Bryan Jones – Director
Jane Mack – Director

Before the
Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife
Committee on Natural Resources

Hearing on the
Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility
Authorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 3511)
and the
Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2010/Bonitan Tasi (H.R. 4493)

February 25, 2010

INTRODUCTION

We are the Friends of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, an incorporated non-profit organization based on Saipan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Our organization formed in 2008 to express the voice of the local community and consists of a cross-section of indigenous and resident people of the CNMI who are dedicated to the conservation, preservation and protection of marine flora, fauna and geological features of the oceans; and the proper management of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Our members and our directors have been involved with the issues surrounding the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument since January 2007 when the idea for a monument was first proposed by the Pew Environment Group. Pew had been involved in the successful creation of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in 2006 and they were scouting other areas on the globe where large no-take marine protected areas could be created. They selected the Northern Mariana Islands as an area of interest because of our large swaths of remote, unspoiled ocean, and our history of environmental protection, which is enshrined in our Constitution and practiced in our indigenous cultures.

It was our members who first proposed the name Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and it was our members who put forth the proposal in the CNMI community to protect as a no-take monument the entire United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion. We are some of the most well-versed and well-informed people concerning monument issues and have kept a careful record of all letters, correspondence, and news concerning the monument.

The Bush Administration recognized us as local leaders on this important issue and on the day the monument was declared invited us to the White House. Three of our Directors, Ignacio Cabrera, Angelo Villagomez, and Agnes McPhetres attended on behalf of all our members. The honor was made even more special seeing as the only other people from the CNMI in the room that day were Governor and Mrs. Benigno Fitial. McPhetres presented First Lady Laura Bush with an orange Mariana Trench t-shirt right after the ceremony and later received a personal thank you letter and a photograph commemorating the day.

Since the declaration, when issues concerning the monument arise, as they have with the introduction of HB 3511 and HB 4493, we contact 1000-plus members who subscribe to our email list. We publish to our blogs, appear on local television, and issue press releases to the Saipan newspapers to keep the public informed. Many of the letters that have been presented as testimony to this Subcommittee were written as a result of our community organizing.

As part of our testimony on the pending bills, we will not only comment on them, but also share with you a short history of how the monument came to be, describe how the monument signed into law by President George W. Bush differs from the monument promised to us by the Bush Administration, and make recommendations for improving upon the existing monument and bringing to fruition the potential social, economic, and environmental benefits of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

MONUMENT HISTORY

Jay Nelson, the Director of Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy, first traveled to Saipan in January 2007 and met with CNMI Representative Cinta M. Kaipat and environmentalist Angelo Villagomez, who at the time were leaders of the environmental community on Saipan. Kaipat, born on the island of Agrigan and raised on Pagan, is the first female attorney of Carolinian decent produced in the CNMI and was serving as the first attorney ever elected to the local CNMI Legislature. Villagomez was the Director of the Mariana Islands Nature Alliance (MINA).

Nelson pitched the idea of a large, remote no-take marine protected area to Villagomez and Kaipat, at first suggesting that all the waters north of Saipan be protected. Although scientifically sound, Villagomez and Kaipat scoffed at this idea because of their understanding of local politics. After some discussion Villagomez and Kaipat suggested that a marine protected area surrounding the three northernmost islands in the CNMI would be palatable for the public because the islands were hundreds of miles away and were already designated as conservation areas in the CNMI Constitution. The Mariana Trench runs parallel to the Marianas Archipelago and because several hundred miles of this deep ocean occurred within the United States EEZ surrounding those three islands, Villagomez suggested the name Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Villagomez and Kaipat helped move this idea and this name along by setting up some meetings between the CNMI Executive Branch and Pew Environment Group. In August 2007, Nelson met with the Governor’s Senior Policy Advisor, Ray Mafnas, and the CNMI Secretary of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, Ignacio Dela Cruz. Dela Cruz raised some concerns about a monument conflicting with the potential revenues received from future seabed mining ventures, but Mafnas expressed optimism that the Fitial administration could work with Pew and asked Nelson for a proposal. Mafnas also suggested to Nelson that he hire Villagomez to promote the idea in the community.

Villagomez, Kaipat and several other individuals including Ken Kramer, the then-Coordinator of Marianas Resource Conservation & Development Council (RC&D), and Mike Tripp, an underwater videographer and President of Marianas Dive, informally promoted the idea of a monument throughout the fall of 2007. Villagomez arranged for Nelson to try to interest MINA, the local non-profit for which he worked, in taking the local lead. In November 2007 Nelson pitched the idea to the members of MINA and proposed that MINA could be the lead local organization in support of a monument.

MINA ultimately declined to take the lead on the monument after a single board member protested (it turned out he was being fed false information from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council). Villagomez resigned from MINA shortly after and was hired by Pew to take on the project.

In December 2007 a letter was sent by Nelson to Governor Fitial outlining the monument process and comparing a monument in the CNMI to the creation of Papahanaumokuakea in 2006. The governor did not immediately respond to the letter.

For the first several months of 2008 Villagomez, now acting as the Saipan Coordinator of Global Ocean Legacy, worked with local citizens, environmentalists, divers, business owners and fishermen alike, to put together a proposal of what a potential Marianas Trench Marine National Monument would look like. He brought our current treasurer, Laurie Peterka, on board to help research and put together a proposal. Together they gathered people’s concerns and researched ways to address them.

The first meeting Villagomez had as the Saipan Coordinator of Global Ocean Legacy was with the directors of the CNMI resource agencies to ascertain some of their concerns. John Joyner of Coastal Resource Management Office, Frank Rabauliman of Division of Environmental Quality, and Sylvan Igisomar of Division of Fish and Wildlife met with Villagomez, Kaipat, and Ken Kramer who was then the Coordinator of RC&D. Villagomez explained the idea of a monument and how it was modeled after Papahanaumokuakea and shared with the directors information from NOAA, including information fliers and handouts from NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries, as well as co-management agreements between the federal government and the State of Hawaii.

Villagomez had worked closely with all three directors and their offices when he was the Director of MINA and Coordinator of Beautify CNMI and shared with them everything he knew about how a potential monument would function, be managed, and how it was likely to be created by Bush invoking the Antiquities Act.

Villagomez continued to pitch the idea in the community and to address stakeholder concerns up until March 2008 when Nelson and Matt Rand of Pew Environment Group traveled to CNMI to make a presentation to the governor in his office on Capital Hill. Tan Holdings Vice President Lynn Knight arranged the presentation. Also invited to the presentation were the governor’s Military Task Force, the governor’s Strategic Economic Development Council, and the CNMI’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategic Plan Committee. In total about 40 high-ranking government officials and local leaders filled the governor’s conference room on March 20, 2008.

The governor was oddly not in attendance. We found out why when moments before the presentation was to start, Mafnas handed Villagomez a letter signed by the governor letting him know that the government was not interested in discussing any monument or conservation area “at this time.” The presentation still went on as planned without the governor.

After the presentation, Mafnas very rudely challenged Nelson in the Governor’s Conference Room, which caused many of the attendees to back Nelson and galvanize around the monument idea. The idea for a monument was now out there and it wasn’t going to go away even though the Executive Branch was not interested. The community at large and several members of the Legislature were already openly showing signs of support.

One of the first organizations to throw support behind the monument was Beautify CNMI, a volunteer environmental coalition founded by Kaipat and Villagomez consisting of government agencies, local businesses, community groups, and concerned citizens. Marianas RC&D was also an early supporter. The members and volunteers of these two organizations were actively promoting the idea throughout the community in the Spring of 2008.

Members of the CNMI Legislature, Representatives Tina Sablan, an Independent firebrand known for her support of Open Government and Immigration Reform, and Ed Salas, a Republican representing the largest village on Saipan, were supportive of a monument from the first time they met with Pew Environment Group and would prove to be two of our most important allies.

The business community was also beginning to take on the monument as a cause. Lynn Knight at the time was a Vice President of Tan Holdings, President of the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Chair of the CNMI’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategic Plan Committee, and co-chair of the Governor’s Strategic Economic Development Council. She used her considerable influence to promote the idea as something that would help improve tourism in the islands and many businesses followed her lead.

The idea had also spread to the Rotary Club of Saipan. Although the club is non-political and never took a stance on the issue, members of the club, all of whom are prominent community leaders, took leading rolls in supporting the monument. Four of our current board members belong to the Rotary Club of Saipan.

The supporters of the monument never intended on waging a “campaign,” but with the Governor taking the position he did, it fell to the supporters of the monument to show the level of support the idea had in the community and in order to do so, we had to wage a “campaign” educating the public on the Antiquities Act, the science behind marine protected areas, and the economic, social, and environmental benefits a monument would bring.

We did not yet call ourselves the Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument, but the people who would ultimately become our founders did what many people do when they find themselves at odds with their elected leaders: they invoked their First Amendment rights and started a petition.

A local retired librarian named Ruth Tighe penned the petition. Ruth’s petition read:
Understanding that the quality of the world's oceans are deteriorating, and that its marine life in all forms are also under stress; and
Observing that designation of marine sanctuaries does restore fisheries and marine life to an earlier plenitude; and
Welcoming the opportunity to support the Micronesia Challenge and contribute towards and support the restoration of the world's seas and underwater ecosystems; and
Recognizing that the CNMI's economy is failing and its people suffering accordingly; and
Believing that an increase in visitors to the CNMI would significantly refuel the economy; and
Being aware that declaration of a Marianas Marine Monument would bring such an increase of visitors, scientists, explorers, tourists and the media to the CNMI; and further
Keeping in mind the historical and cultural significance of all the islands in the Marianas archipelago; and
Wishing to assure their preservation and protection,
We, the undersigned, do hereby petition the President of the United States, George W. Bush, to designate the waters surrounding the Marianas' islands of Maug, Uracas and Asuncion a National Monument, to be regulated and administered jointly and cooperatively by the people of the CNMI and the relevant agencies of the federal government.
We started collecting signatures by going to the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings and by standing in front of grocery stores in the afternoons. We had grandmother’s taking the petition door to door in their neighborhoods and college students passing the petition around in their classes. The petition was even seen being passed around at weddings.

It was around this time that we started calling ourselves Friends of the Monument. We asked people to sign the “Friends of the Monument’s petition” and promoted ourselves on blogs, YouTube, Myspace, and Facebook. We purchased advertising in local newspapers and magazines and put together a 30 second public service announcement and aired it on local television. Our members also kept up a steady stream of letters to the editor, most of which were written to address concerns raised by the community.

We initially set out to collect 1000 signatures, but as momentum built we approached 2000. When Ike Cabrera and Agnes McPhetres flew to Washington DC to meet with federal officials in August 2008, Cabrera promised Chairman for the Council of Environmental Quality James Connaughton that he would collect 5000 signatures.

We ultimately collected over 6000 signatures from residents living on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. During this time our members also made presentations to schools, which resulted in over 500 letters of support written by local school children. We also created a separate “business petition” which was signed by 206 business owners, presidents, and general managers.

All of these face-to-face, one-on-one conversations and the 115 presentations made by Pew Environment Group resulted in a community heavily engaged in discussions on marine related issues. The innumerable letters to the editor and newspaper articles also helped the White House have an understanding of pretty much all the issues and concerns about the monument long before they even announced that they were interested in exploring the possibility of a monument.

And when the White House officials finally arrived in Saipan for the public hearing, they were greeted with a sea of orange t-shirts in support of the monument.

It is important to note that while we were waging our campaign in support of the monument, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC) was waging a separate campaign against the monument. They tried to make the monument appear controversial, but all you had to do was compare the names at the bottom of the letters they were writing to the names listed in the local WESPAC directory to see that they were nothing more than a very vocal minority.

The local coordinator for WESPAC, Jack Ogomoro, circulated a petition in opposition to the monument, but was only able to generate 300 signatures in the time we gathered 6000. It was later exposed in the local newspapers that the promoters of that petition had been exchanging hot dogs for signatures with one young indigenous man apologizing for selling his signature for something as insignificant as a hotdog.

WESPAC used everything in their arsenal to make the monument seem controversial, when in fact it was supported by a majority of the people living in the CNMI. Governor Fitial also negotiated for less US government power and protection, but in the end, when all was said and done and after the monument issue had been examined, digested, dissected, and looked at from every possible angle, President George W. Bush put his pen to paper and created the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

Our work in the community during that time was unprecedented for the CNMI. Between March and October 2008 the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument and the Pew Environment Group had engaged the community to an extraordinary level, which resulted in:

• 66% of CNMI registered voters were found by two independent polls to be in support of the monument when it was signed.
• 6000+ Commonwealth residents signed petitions in support of a no-take monument.
• 206 business owners, presidents and general managers signed on in support of the monument.
• 115 public meetings were held and presentations made to over 3300 attendees – including 400 who attending the official White House meeting in October 2008.
• 500 letters in support of the monument were written by local students.
• Almost 150 letters to the editor – with a 3:1 pro/con ratio – were published in the local papers over 18 months.
• Innumerable news stories and four separate one-hour panel discussions appeared on local television.
• Editorials were printed in both papers and too many newspaper articles to count appeared over the 18 month process.
• Almost a dozen radio interviews took place concerning the monument on local talk radio programs.

All of this hard work paid off. On the day the monument was signed into law by President George W. Bush, most of our detractors had succumbed to public pressure and we counted among our supporters:

• CNMI Governor Benigno Fitial
• CNMI Senate President Pete P. Reyes
• CNMI House Speaker Arnold I. Palacios
• Saipan Tribune Editorial Board
• Saipan Chamber of Commerce
• Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands
• Northern Marianas Insurance Association
• Marianas Dive Association
• Kagman Community Association
• Japan Saipan Travel Association
• Taotao Tano Indigenous Rights Association
• Northern Marianas College Alumni Association
• Former elected leaders: Governor Juan Babauta, Rep. Cinta Kaipat, Rep. Andrew Salas, Rep. Karl Reyes, Senator Thomas Villagomez, Mayor Vic Cepeda, Mayor George Sablan, and Lt. Governor Jesus Borja.
• Beautify CNMI
• Friends of the Marianas
• Mariana Islands Nature Alliance
• Marianas Resource Conservation & Development Council

If you compare this to Guam where there was a single public meeting hosted by the White House and no public outreach it becomes clear that the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument belongs to the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

It was the people of the Northern Mariana Islands who asked for the monument and we are deserving of the economic, social, and environmental benefits of a monument.

THE MONUMENT WE GOT

We have described how the idea for a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was born in Saipan and developed in Saipan, but the actual monument that developed from that idea, the monument that was signed by President George W. Bush, differs from our original proposal, which was to invoke the Antiquities Act to create a no-take monument encompassing the entire United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion.

The monument that we have today is a result of many hours of discussion and negotiation between the elected leaders of the Commonwealth and the Bush Administration. Governor Fitial, House Speaker Arnold Palacios, and Senate President Pete Reyes sat down with James Connaughton and together they worked out a monument they could all support publicly.

One of the mistruths spread by the WESPAC was that the monument would be a “Pew Monument” although Pew Environment Group and Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument never represented themselves as taking part in any formal discussions. We always told the community that all formal discussions would take place between the Bush Administration and the elected leaders of the CNMI.

The position of the Friends is that the declaration was a great start, but the work is far from over. The no-take monument envisioned by the Friends of the Monument was composed of the entire United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion. Connaughton started hinting close to the day of the declaration that the White House was thinking of reducing this area and allowing more extractive activities within this area due to pressure they were getting from the recreational fishing lobby and Governor Fitial, who falsely believed the CNMI had nascent commercial fishing and seabed mining industries.

Connaughton also hinted that they were looking at the entire Mariana Trench, not so much as a protected area, but as an area worthy of special recognition with no protections for the marine resources associated with the Mariana Trench.

When we finally saw the declaration language, we realized that the monument we envisioned when we lobbied President Bush to invoke the Antiquities Act is not the monument we got. We envisioned that NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries would manage the monument, similar to Papahanaumokuakea, but management authority was given to the Department of Interior (and ultimately to United States Fish & Wildlife Service) because of Department of Justice attorneys citing an Executive Order issued in 1933.

The monument was also much smaller and had far fewer restrictions than the 6000 people who had signed our petition had asked for.

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument consists of three “units” to be managed by the US Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS); There is a Trench Unit, a Volcanic Unit, and an Islands Unit. Each has varying levels of protections.

The Islands Unit comprises the United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion out to about 50 miles. This is similar to our original proposal, except that it is exponentially smaller and the only extractive activity restricted is commercial fishing. All other types of fishing are allowed and loopholes exist that will likely allow commercial fishing.

The Trench Unit, comprised of the substrate of the entire Mariana Trench within the United States EEZ, and the Volcano Unit, a collection of 21 incongruous active hydrothermal submarine volcanoes, are meaningless boundaries on a map that do not protect any marine life. They are simply a recognition of unique geological features and do not necessarily require any management. Modern technology barely allows us to visit these places, so management will be difficult at best. Needless to say, the monument did not meet our expectations.

Additionally, the White House made repeated promises that a monument would bring positive worldwide attention, infrastructure, including a visitors center to be built in the CNMI, an enforcement boat, and federal support in the form of jobs and programs. While there have been copious amounts of positive worldwide attention, the other promises have not been kept.

A monument advisory council was supposed to have been created three months after the designation of the monument., yet more than one year since the designation this advisory panel has yet to be created.

The monument declaration also calls for a management plan to be in place within two years of the declaration, yet more than halfway to the deadline no public meetings have taken place and no stakeholders have been engaged.

RECOMMENDATIONS

We are concerned with and oppose H.R. 4493. A true enhancement to the monument would be for the federal government to deliver to the people of the Marianas the promises they made in the run up to the designation of the monument, beginning with the passage of H.R. 3511 and the construction of a Marianas Trench Visitor’s Center in the CNMI.

Furthermore, the Friends ask the Subcommittee to explore improving upon the monument declaration by (1) increasing the scope and scale of the protections, (2) closing some loopholes that allow harmful extractive activities within the monument, and (3) transferring managerial authority to NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries.

The original vision for the monument was for the entire United States EEZ surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asunction to be set aside as a no-take marine protected area reserved for education, culture, research, and the environment. The only extractive activity that should be allowed within the Islands Unit is fishing for indigenous cultural practices.

Jurisdiction for the monument should be handed over from USFWS to NOAA Office of National Marine National Sanctuaries (ONMSP). WESPAC should also be removed from management for the Islands Unit and replaced with ONMSP, whose mission is more in line with conservation and the Friends vision for the monument. ONMSP is also more sensitive to local concerns and needs than WESPAC.

Part of our reasoning for requesting the inclusion of NOAA ONMSP is that they have more experience managing blue water regularly. USFWS does not typically manage blue water and except for ocean connected to significant land-based features they do not manage water anywhere that we are aware of; all of their ocean managed areas are tied to important land resources such as seabirds, turtles, and seals. In the CNMI the monument doesn’t include any land at all so this is a very unusual situation for them. Also, USFWS usually focus on land-based vertebrates such as mentioned above, not so much fish – though the Friends recognize that they have some terrific coral reef ecologists.
Staffing at the ONMS is also more appropriate to the needs of the CNMI. They have more outreach and education staff that focus on bringing sanctuaries to the people. USFWS is more of a research-oriented agency where the education and outreach are not so central to their mission.

Monday, February 22, 2010

We're All Friends Now

The Saipan Tribune has an excellent story on all the support being generated for placing a Mariana Trench Visitors Center and the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Headquarters on Saipan. The story appeared on the front page of the Tuesday, February 23 edition of the paper with some of the biggest headlines I've ever seen for Saipan.mariana trench front page
'Put Marine Monument visitors center in CNMI, not Guam'
Residents, officials press US Congress to honor presidential proclamation
By Haidee V. Eugenio

Government officials, environmentalists and ordinary citizens are united in asking the U.S. Congress to build a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitors Center in the CNMI, thereby honoring the Jan. 6, 2009 presidential proclamation.

[snip]

'Fair and reasonable'

Angelo Villagomez, director of the Friends of the Monument, said “many people in the Northern Marianas fought for this and now we are in danger of losing the monument headquarters and facilities to Guam.”

Friends of the Monument, the key proponents of the monument leading up to its designation, are asking local residents to provide testimony in support of building a Mariana Trench Visitors Center in the CNMI, rather than Guam.

“The community needs to come together to show their support if we are ever to see the benefits promised to the CNMI by the Bush Administration,” Villagomez said in a statement yesterday.

Beautify CNMI! founder and volunteer Cinta Kaipat, in a Feb. 21 letter to Bordallo, expressed hope that the Guam delegate “can come around to supporting HR 3511 because it would start to fulfill the promises made by the Bush Administration and the federal government when the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was designated on January 6, 2009.”

Kaipat said Saipan is over 100 miles closer than Guam to the area of the monument that is a marine protected area.

She said it was the people of the CNMI who petitioned Bush to create the monument, “not our brothers and sisters on Guam.”

“It is only fair and reasonable that the social and economic benefits go to the people who requested that it actually be created,” she added.

Forms of support

Drumming up support for Sablan's H.R. 3511 has taken many forms, including a letter campaign by the Friends of the Monument, pre-filed CNMI Senate and House resolutions, written testimony, and personal testimony by CNMI entities in Washington, D.C.

Even those who were previously opposed to the Marine Monument are now supporting the building of the visitors center in the CNMI.

Rep. Diego T. Benavente (R-Saipan) said establishing the visitors center in the CNMI is part of the monument negotiations, and that the terms of the negotiations should be honored. He said the economic benefits brought by such a marine monument visitors center as originally envisioned by CNMI residents and officials are now in danger of being lost to Guam.

Sen. Juan M. Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) filed Senate Resolution 17-05 supporting Sablan's HR 3511 to establish and operate the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility in the CNMI.

Senate President Paul A. Manglona (R-Rota) said yesterday that the Senate is expected to adopt the resolution this week.

Rep. Teresita Santos (Ind-Rota) also filed House Resolution 17-6, supporting Sablan's bill of putting and operating a marine monument visitor center in the CNMI. The House is expected to act on the resolution.

[snip]

Friends of the Monument

In a statement yesterday, the Friends of the Monument said they are opposed to H.R. 4493 because they want to see a Mariana Trench Visitors Center built on Saipan.

They argue that the area of the monument close to Guam does not restrict any fishing or protect any coral reefs or preserve any coastal resources and that only the “Islands Unit” of the monument, an area surrounding the CNMI islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion, protects marine resources.

Agnes McPhetres, vice chair of the Friends of the Monument, will also be testifying in Washington, D.C. on behalf of the group.

McPhetres, in a statement yesterday, said Bordallo's H.R. 4493 seeks to provide research and enforcement dollars to the Government of Guam even though the monument does not protect any fish, wildlife, or any other living creature within 500 miles of Guam.

“If you read the monument proclamation, the area of the monument that extends close to Guam only restricts future seabed mining of the substrate at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. It makes no sense to house the management of the biological resources of the monument on Guam when they are here (Northern Mariana Islands). It would appear that Guam is asking for federal dollars to manage resources under the jurisdiction and within the borders of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands,” she said.
The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are still drumming up support and we're asking anyone and everyone who wants to see the Visitors Center in the CNMI, rather than Guam, to take a few minutes to draft a letter of testimony addressed to Guam Representative Madeleine Bordallo requesting that she support H.R. 3511.

PLEASE send a copy of your letter to Representative Gregorio Sablan so that he can enter your testimony into the official record. Letters for Representative Sablan's office can be emailed to Paula Bermudes-Castro at paula.bermudes-castro@mail.house.gov or faxed to (202) 226-4249, and must be received by Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument Seek Testimony for Congressional Hearing

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Angelo Villagomez, angelovillagomez@gmail.com

(Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) - A Congressional hearing is scheduled this Thursday in Washington, DC for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument and the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument, the key proponents of the monument leading up to its designation, are asking local residents to provide testimony in support of building a Mariana Trench Visitors Center in the CNMI, rather than Guam.

The hearing will take testimony concerning two bills, H.R. 3511, Representative Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan’s “Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility Authorization Act of 2009,” and H.R. 4493, Representative Madeleine Bordallo’s “Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2010.”

Sablan’s H.R. 3511 seeks to “authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish and operate a visitor facility to fulfill the purposes of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument” while Bordallo’s H.R. 4493 seeks to “provide for the enhancement of visitor services, fish and wildlife research, and marine and coastal resource management on Guam related to the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.”

The Friends are opposed to H.R. 4493 because they want to see a Mariana Trench Visitors Center built on Saipan. They argue that the area of the monument close to Guam does not restrict any fishing or protect any coral reefs or preserve any coastal resources and that only the “Islands Unit” of the monument, an area surrounding the Commonwealth islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion, protects marine resources.

Friends’ Vice Chair Agnes McPhetres said of Bordallo’s bill, “H.R. 4493 seeks to provide research and enforcement dollars to the Government of Guam even though the monument does not protect any fish, wildlife, or any other living creature within 500 miles of Guam.”

“If you read the monument proclamation, the area of the monument that extends close to Guam only restricts future seabed mining of the substrate at the bottom of the Mariana Trench,” explained McPhetres. “It makes no sense to house the management of the biological resources of the monument on Guam when they are here (Northern Mariana Islands). It would appear that Guam is asking for federal dollars to manage resources under the jurisdiction and within the borders of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.”

The Friends are asking the community to provide testimony for Thursday’s hearing through letters and emails. They are asking for letters to be addressed to the Subcommittee’s Chairwoman, Representative Bordallo and request that copies of all letters be emailed to Representative Gregorio “Kilili” Sablan so that he can enter them into the official record.

According to the Friends, each letter should give a short introduction of the author, explain their interest in the monument, and specifically request that the Subcommittee support H.R. 3511. Letters should also ask for a Mariana Trench Visitors Center to be built in the CNMI.

According to Friends’ Director Angelo Villagomez, “Many people in the Northern Marianas fought for this and now we are in danger of losing the monument headquarters and facilities to Guam. The community needs to come together to show their support if we are ever to see the benefits promised to the CNMI by the Bush Administration.”

Letters for Representative Sablan’s office can be emailed to Paula Bermudes-Castro at paula.bermudes-castro@mail.house.gov and must be received by Wednesday, February 24, 2010.

For more information or if you need help drafting a letter, please email Angelo Villagomez at angelovillagomez@gmail.com.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument formed in 2008 to express the voice of the local community and consists of a cross-section of indigenous and resident people of the CNMI who are dedicated to the conservation, preservation and protection of marine flora, fauna and geological features of the oceans; and the proper management of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Visit them online at http://marianamonument.blogspot.com.

Sample Letters

The letter you write as testimony to support the construction of a Mariana Trench Visitors Center on Saipan does not need to be complicated. All it needs to do is explain who you are, give an anecdote about your support for the monument, and then request for the Subcommittee to support H.R. 3511, Representative Sablan's “Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility Authorization Act of 2009."

The letter should be addressed to:

Representative Madeleine Z Bordallo
Chairwoman
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans
427 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Make sure you give a copy of the letter to Representative Sablan. You can drop it off at his district office or email it to his staff at Paula.Bermudes-Castro@mail.house.gov.

Under the Pala Pala X has a sample letter. Posted below are some more letters that have already been submitted as testimony.

This is a letter from retired educator Roger Ludwick (Mr. Ludwick was my Dad's science teacher in the 1960s):
21 February2010

Dear Representative Bordallo,

My name is Roger N. Ludwick. I have lived on Saipan for over 45 years. I taught biology, chemistry, and physics at Marianas High School when your father, Chris Zion, was teaching there. He was my colleague.

I supported the formation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM). I signed the petition. I urged others to do the same. The CNMI and Guam now have a world-wide recognized National Park equivalent in size and importance to the Grand Canyon. My support for the Monument presumed that such a park would attract visitors and improve the economy of this region.

Many world travelers are not scuba divers. World travelers like to see the place they are going to boast about later. The only visible parts of MTMNM are Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion islands. To promote visitation to these islands, because they are part of the CNMI, the main tourist center should be located on Saipan and the main economic benefit should come to the citizens of the CNMI. While our people, the newest US citizens rallied to get President Bush to create this park, what were the long time US citizens of Guam doing?

Therefore, at this time, I urge you to throw your support for the establishment of the National Monument Visitors Center to the bill (HR 3511), being proposed by my friend Kilili, Greg Sablan..

Passage of this bill will help fulfill the promises made by the Bush Administration and the federal government when MTMNM was designated 06 January 2009. These promises were made to the people of the CNMI.

I have sailed to these three islands and walked on them in years past. I am 70 years old and look forward to being one of the first visitors to the CNMI Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Tourist Information and Research Center here on Saipan.

Thank you for considering the position of your neighbors, the citizens of the Northern Marian Islands.

Respectfully,

Roger N. Ludwick
Sadog Tasi
And here is a letter from health professional Dianne Esplin:
Representative Madeleine Z Bordallo
Chairwoman
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans
427 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

February 21, 2010

Dear Representative Bordallo,

My name is Dianne Esplin and I live in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. I signed the petition to create the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, and wrote a letter to President Bush in support of the creation of the monument. There is no place on earth like the Marianas Trench, and the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to learn more and share it with others.

I envision this Monument to be an exciting opportunity for public learning about this incredibly unique location. A visitor’s center could be the starting point for researchers, and then a place to collect the information, research and discoveries of those researchers. I envision this Monument to be a means by which local children can develop a pride and a sense of environmental responsibility to protect this exclusive ocean treasure.

I am writing to you today to ask you to support H.R. 3511, which would help fulfill the promises made by the Bush Administration and the federal government when the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was designated on January, 6, 2009.

It is my strong hope that the Marianas Trench National Monument will be built in the CNMI, as so many CNMI private citizens have fought and petitioned for this Monument to exist in the first place. We would be so proud to host such a place.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter,

Sincerely,

Dianne C. Esplin
If you have written a letter I would appreciate if you would send me a copy so that I can post it on this blog. It might help others write their letters.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Under the Pala Pala X

Under the Pala Pala X – ACTION ALERT: Fulfiling the Promises of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument

Island Decisions and Island Opinions are made Under the Pala Pala

The economic and social benefits promised by the designation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument are in danger of being lost to Guam unless you do something about it.

Yes, YOU. If you are reading this and you want to see a Visitor’s Center built on Saipan instead of Guam, YOU need to get involved RIGHT NOW.

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument belongs to the people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. 6000 people signed a petition in support and 500 students wrote letters to the president. Backing was so strong that two separate independent polls found 66% of registered voters supported its creation in the Fall of 2008. And it was people from the Commonwealth, the Governor, the First Lady, Agnes McPhetres, Ike Cabrera, and myself that sat in the White House as President George W. Bush created the monument on January 6, 2009.

On Guam there was no public discussion and only a single meeting with federal officials. Guam Governor Camacho, Representative Bordallo, and an assortment of Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council thugs also vehemently opposed the creation of the monument.

I know there are many people in the Commonwealth that consider the monument THEIR monument and I’m asking all you to take the time to help insure that YOUR monument remains YOUR monument.

The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife has called for a hearing on the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. It is scheduled for this Thursday and is listed on the House Committee on Natural Resources Committee calendar.
The hearing will discuss two conflicting bills concerning the building of a visitors center that have been introduced by Representative Sablan of the Commonwealth and Representative Bordallo of Guam.

Sablan’s H.R. 3511 would “authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish and operate a visitor facility to fulfill the purposes of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, and for other purposes." It is called the “Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility Authorization Act of 2009." It calls for the building of a visitors center in the Commonwealth.

Bordallo’s H.R. 4493 would “provide for the enhancement of visitor services, fish and wildlife research, and marine and coastal resource management on Guam related to the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, and for other purposes.” It is called the "Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2010." It calls for educational facilities, a visitors center, federal programs, and other benefits to accrue to Guam and would alter the management scheme to include the Government of Guam.

If you want to see the benefits of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument accrue to Saipan and not lost to Guam, please take the time to contact the members of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife. You can send a letter to all the members, but sending a letter to Bordallo should suffice as long as you send a copy to Kilili. Your letter should specifically ask the Subcommittee to place the monument visitors center on Saipan.

A draft letter is posted at the bottom of this email. In case you want to write more or get a fuller understand of this complicated issue, I will provide some background information first.

The monument that was created by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009 consists of three units: an Islands Unit, a Volcanic Unit, and a Trench Unit. The Islands Unit is the monument that was being pushed by the Friends of the Monument and the more than 6000 Saipan, Tinian, and Rota residents who signed our petition. The Islands Unit consists of the submerged lands and water column around the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion out to about 50 miles past the mean high tide mark of each island. The Islands Unit restricts commercial fishing, but allows for many other types of fishing. The Trench Unit, comprised of the substrate of the entire Mariana Trench within the United States EEZ, and the Volcanic Unit, a collection of 21 incongruous active hydrothermal submarine volcanoes, are meaningless boundaries on a map that do not protect any marine life. They are not a marine protected area. They are simply a recognition of unique geological features and do not necessarily require any management, especially considering that modern technology barely allows us to even visit these places.

The Governor, the House Speaker, and the Senate President gave their stamp of approval for this version of the monument before the declaration and the reason we are about to lose the benefits of a monument to Guam is because back in 2008 when they were supposed to be focusing on bringing benefits of a monument to the CNMI, they were in fact busy trying to ensure that the monument would not inhibit their ability to sell off the Commonwealth’s natural resources some time in the future to the first “investor” that come along. Also, when it came time to sit down to talk with the White House, they were too proud to ask the advice of those who had experience and knowledge that would have helped them bring those benefits to the Commonwealth.

For this reason, they signed off on extending the Trench Unit of the monument into the federally controlled submerged lands close to Guam and giving management of the monument to the Department of the Interior (US Fish & Wild Service), rather than the Department of Commerce (NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries). By the time the Friends of the Monument saw the declaration, the ink was dry, the ceremony was over, and the story was already on the front page of USA Today and the Washington Post. There was nothing we could do to remove Guam from the equation.

Bush left Washington, DC two weeks later as the Blue President, having protected more of the Earth’s surface than any other man, and we now have to deal with the results of the inept “negotiating” of our leaders.

Guam, on the other hand, is likely to make out like a bandid from our leaders’ incompetence. Guam already has a National Wildlife Refuge and a USFWS office with staff. In all likelihood, any office space or staff for the monument will end up in Guam. NOAA Sanctuaries, on the other hand, has no presence in Guam. Had Governor Fitial listened to our suggestions, my suggestions, there would have been 100% chance of the offices and staff ending up on Saipan.

Now let’s pretend for a moment that Kilili succeeds in killing Bordallo’s bill and the monument offices and staff end up on Saipan. That would be great, but what happens during the next federal budget crisis? And what if the political party typically hostile to funding environmental measures takes back control of the United States Congress and cuts the budget of USFWS? We’ve already seen several federal programs on Saipan move staff to Guam. In the last few years we’ve lost the American Memorial National Park Superintendent, the USDA Rural Development Coordinator, and the Marianas Resource Conservation & Development Coordinator to Guam. I’m sure that trend will continue; policy makers in Washington, DC are prone to thinking that operating two offices out in the middle of nowhere is a waste of money when they could just as easily only operate one.

A visitors center is an entirely different deal from offices and staff. Offices can be leased and staff moved around without much trouble and, regrettably, we will probably be fighting for those federal jobs to be kept on Saipan on an annual basis until the end of time or until the CNMI becomes an independent nation, whichever comes first. However, if the visitors center gets built on Guam, it will be on Guam forever. That is why we need to ensure that it gets built on Saipan.

Bordallo’s H.R. 4493 would hasten this process of losing the benefits of a monument to Guam and we need to stop it in its tracks. Her bill would also add the Government of Guam to the management regime of the monument.

Guam has no grounds to be included in the management regime. While the Trench Unit does extend to some of the federally controlled submerged lands near Guam, not a drop of water and not a single fish is affected by the monument designation. Remember, the Trench Unit is not a marine protected area. Furthermore, modern technology barely allows humans to explore the trench, never mind manage it. For example, There have been more successful missions to visit the surface of Mars (7) than there have been to the bottom of the Mariana Trench (3).

The Volcanic Unit is also unmanageable. The 21 active hydrothermal submarine volcanoes are incongruous postage stamp-sized dots spread throughout an area the size of Texas. While five of those volcanoes lie within the United States EEZ surrounding Guam, they have meaningless protections afforded them and do not require much management.

Only the Islands Unit has any meaningful environmental protections or any likelihood of enforcement and the entirety of the Islands Unit is within the United States EEZ surrounding the Commonwealth, hundreds of miles from Guam. The Islands Unit is also adjacent to the Commonwealth owned and controlled islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion. Therefore, the Commonwealth, and not Guam, should be involved in its management.

Even considering all this, Bordallo could still make the changes she wants if we don’t stop her. Please take the time to draft a quick letter addressed to the members of the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife and ask them to support a visitors center on Saipan.

And in case you were wondering, here is my full list of changes that would truly enhance the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and bring to fruition the Vision set forth by the Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument:

1. Transfer management authority of the Islands Unit to the NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries, thus creating the Marianas Trench Marine National Sanctuary.
2. Extend the borders of the Islands Unit to the full extent of the United States EEZ surrounding the islands Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion.
3. Further restrict the allowable activities within the Islands Unit to only allow those activities furthering research, education, cultural preservation, and environmental protection.
4. Restrict allowable fishing to fishing for cultural indigenous purposes only.
5. Close the loopholes that allow for commercial fishing disguised as other types of fishing.

These changes would close some of those loopholes in the declaration now. They would also make those benefits I’ve discussed in great detail accrue to the Commonwealth, rather than being lost to Guam.

I also think that the best thing to do moving forward is to write off the Trench Unit and the Volcanic Unit and focus our efforts on our original science-backed proposal to protect the full United States EEZ around the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion, otherwise known as the Islands Unit. Adding environmental protections to the Trench Unit or the Volcanic Unit would just give Guam more reason to be involved.

Thanks again for all you do. I hope you can help. The draft letter is posted below. I recommend addressing your letter to Bordallo because she is the Chair of the subcommittee, but I’d also send a copy to Kilili’s office.:

Representative Madeleine Z Bordallo
Chairwoman
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans
427 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC 20515

Date

Dear Representative Bordallo,

My name is [insert your name] and I live in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. [Please give some information about your role in the creation of the monument. Did you sign a petition? Write a letter to the President? A letter to the editor?]

I am writing to you today to ask you to support H.R. 3511, which would help fulfill the promises made by the Bush Administration and the federal government when the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was designated on January, 6, 2009.

[You could include something about your hopes for the monument here]

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter,

Sincerely,

[Your name]


-----------

Under the Pala Pala is the regular commentary of environmentalist and erstwhile politician Angelo O’Connor Villagomez. Pala pala is the Chamorro word for an outdoor shelter traditionally made of wood and thatch used for staying out of the sun, cooking, eating, drinking, singing, and talking. Sign up to subscribe via email at www.AngeloVillagomez.com.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Monument Hearing on Thursday

A Congressional hearing for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument has been scheduled and is listed on the House Committee on Natural Resources Committee calendar:
The House Natural Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, led by Del. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-GU), will hold a legislative hearing on the following bills:

H.R. 3511 (Sablan): To authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish and operate a visitor facility to fulfill the purposes of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, and for other purposes. "Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Visitor Facility Authorization Act of 2009"

H.R. 4493 (Bordallo): To provide for the enhancement of visitor services, fish and wildlife research, and marine and coastal resource management on Guam related to the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, and for other purposes. "Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2010"

Subject:
House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife
Legislative Hearing on H.R. 3511 and H.R. 4493

When:
Thursday, February 25, 2010, at 10:00 a.m.

Where:
Room 1324 Longworth House Office Building

Witnesses:
TBA

The hearing will be webcast live and archived on the Committee's Web site at http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/
Representative Sablan released a press release announcing the hearing to newspapers on Saipan:
The House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife announced today a hearing on H.R. 3511, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument Management Enhancement Act of 2009.

The bill provides for Monument visitor facilities to be located in the Northern Mariana Islands and was introduced by Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan in July. A similar bill, H.R. 4493, introduced by Subcommittee Chair Madeleine Z. Bordallo this year is also on the agenda. The hearing will be on Thursday, Feb. 25, 10am, EST.

“I want to thank Chairwoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo for making time on her Subcommittee's very busy agenda for these two bills,” said Sablan. “I appreciate her positive response to my requests for a hearing.”

“The many people in the Northern Mariana Islands who supported establishment of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument are very eager to see the promise of this Monument begin to be fulfilled. Establishing the visitor center in the NMI is an important first step towards realizing the potential benefits of the Monument.”

Sablan introduced H.R. 3511 on July 31, 2009. The bill has 37 co-sponsors. His bill authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to build a multipurpose visitor center in the NMI for interpretation, public education and enjoyment of the Monument. A hearing on the legislation was first scheduled in October, then cancelled by the Subcommittee.

Chairwoman Bordallo introduced H.R. 4493 on January 25, 2010. Bordallo's bill provides for Monument visitor and research services to be placed on Guam. Bordallo's bill also gives the government of Guam a role in the management of the Monument, equivalent to the management role of the CNMI provided in the Presidential Proclamation that created the Monument.
First off, kudos to Kilili's press release writer for getting every fact about the monument correct. It was perfect. I think this was the first time they got everything absolutely correct.

Kilili continues:
“I look forward to working with Chairwoman Bordallo to make sure that Congress does the right thing with respect to development and management of the Monument,” said Sablan.

“And I look forward to taking testimony from Governor Fitial, the Northern Marianas Legislature, Friends of the Monument, and other parties both in the Northern Marianas and nationally, who advocated for the Monument or helped negotiate with the White House the terms and conditions of the Presidential Proclamation, signed on Jan. 6, 2009.”
I'm taking the first stab at writing up the testimony for the Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument. It usually takes several days for our seven member board to put the stamp of approval on our releases. The hearing is this Thursday, which means we're going to have a busy weekend. Stay tuned for updates.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Destination Saipan

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***This is a paid advertisement. Advertising rates for the Saipan Blog can be found HERE. Email the Saipan Blogger at angelovillagomez at gmail dot com for more information.***

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Famous Chamorro People

The 2000 United States Census reported 135,233 Chamorros living in the United States (58,240), Guam (61,922), and the Northern Mariana Islands (15,071). That’s not a lot of Chamorros. I remember my father telling me as a young boy that Chamorros were an endangered species. Why, there are more living African Elephants than there are living Chamorros.

Chances are you’ve never even heard of a Chamorro, never mind a famous Chamorro person. I am going to change that. Right here, right now on this very blog you are reading I am going to create the definitive list of famous Chamorro people. I will start with 8 famous Chamorros, but this list is by no means complete. If there is a famous Chamorro person out there, living or dead, that deserves inclusion on this list, please make a suggestion and I will add them depending on how convincing you are or how much you pay me (I am willing to accept beef jerky as payment).

So here we go, the most famous of the famous Chamorros:

Angelo OConnor Villagomez
Angelo Villagomez – Environmentalist, Blogger, and Male Model

That’s me! Come on, did you really think I wouldn’t include myself on this list? This is my blog, after all. I’m an environmentalist and blogger from the island of Saipan. I ran for Mayor once…and lost. I haven't really done much else except for clean some beaches and help protect some fish and the only reason I’m even on this list is because Brad Ruszala, Saipan’s only celebrity, isn’t Chamorro.

jimmy dee
Jimmy Dee – Entertainer

Anyone who introduces themselves as [Insert Name], International Superstar deserves to be on this list. Do I have any of this guy’s albums? No. Have I ever seen him perform in person? No. Do I dig his Vegas leisure suit on Youtube? Hell, yeah!

hurao and matapang kill diego luis de san vitores
Mata’pang and Hurao – Warrior Chiefs

Mata’pang (right) and Hurao (left) were two Chamorro chiefs from the 1600s who led an insurgency against the disease infested invading Spanish missionaries (the history books prefer to say that they murdered a priest). They vanquished the first Christian missionaries on Guam, Spanish priest Diego Luis de San Vitores and Pedro Calungsod, martyrs whom have since been beatified by the Catholic Church.

Hurao is famous for giving a speech in 1671 denouncing the Spanish occupation and for centuries has served as a symbol of freedom and anti-colonialization.

frank the crank camacho

Frank "The Crank" Camacho – MMA Figher
Frank Camacho is an MMA figher born on Guam, raised on Saipan, and now training on the East Coast. My friend Diana Felix had the hots for him, but don’t tell anybody.

john hattig

John Hattig – Athlete
John Hattig was the first Chamorro to play Major League Baseball. In fact, I think he’s the only Chamorro to ever play Major League Baseball. He might be the only Chamorro to ever appear on a baseball card (or 10), too, which I think is even cooler.

And that’s the list of famous Chamorros. Are there any glaring omissions?

Carnival of the Blue XXXIII

Deep-Sea News, that blogging bastion of the briny deep*, is the host of Carnival of the Blue XXXIII.

Carnival of the blue is a rotating monthly compilation of the "best of" ocean blogging, bringing together ocean bloggers and readers and (hopefully) using new media to build a virtual community of ocean lovers. The Carnival lives on the blogs of community members and has been hosted here on Saipan Blog in the month of September for three years running: 2009, 2008, 2007. You can visit Carnival of the Blue headquarters for links to all the carnivals since ever since.

*I want a nickel every time Kevin, Miriam, or Dr. M repeat that phrase.

Monday, February 15, 2010

MCBI on Youtube



The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument gets a small mention in this Youtube video from the Marine Conservation Biology Institute.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Science Based Conservation

The four most cutting words in the English language are "I told you so."

The Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument lobbied heavily for full protections for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. In a letter to Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality James Connaughton we asked for protections to include the entire water column of the full EEZ surrounding the islands of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas. From our letter dated December 15, 2008:
The Friends of the Monument believe that the no-extraction area should extend to the entire EEZ so that it includes the full convergence zone of the Pacific Plate and Philippine Plate, including the seamounts, hydrothermal vents, mud volcanoes, submerged volcanoes, coral reefs, the famed Mariana Trench and all other sea life and habitat in-between.

These habitats, from the surface down to the deepest darkest place on Earth are all intertwined. Many bottom-dwelling creatures depend on the detritus "snow" from dead animals from above, while pelagic fish feed on smaller creatures sustained by deep sea nutrient upwelling. You cannot separate the bottom of the ocean from the water above it. They are all connected as one ecosystem.

We are asking the President to protect the entire ecosystem surrounding the three northern islands, much as President Theodore Roosevelt protected an entire ecosystem when he set aside 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon in 1908. And we are further asking that modest additions along the Mariana Trench be made to increase the area into the largest no-take marine monument in the world.
A scientific study recently confirmed the bolded statement above:
Washington, Feb 12 (ANI): Evidence from the deepest surveyed point in the world's oceans has suggested that tiny single-celled creatures called foraminifera living at extreme depths of more than ten kilometers build their homes using material that sinks down from near the ocean surface.

The point in question is called 'The Challenger Deep', and is located in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean.

It lies in the hadal zone beyond the abyssal zone, and plunges down to a water depth of around 11 kilometers.

"The hadal zone extends from around six kilometers to the deepest seafloor. Although the deepest parts of the deepest trenches are pretty inhospitable environments, at least for some types of organism, certain kinds of foraminifera are common in the bottom sediments," said Professor Andrew Gooday of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS).

[snip]

"Our observations demonstrate that coccoliths, and probably also planktonic foraminiferan tests, reach the Challenger Deep intact," said Gooday.

"These particles were probably transported to these extreme depths in rapidly sinking marine snow, the aggregated remains of phytoplankton that lived in the sunlit surface ocean, or in faecal pellets from zooplankton," he added.

It seems likely, therefore, that at least some agglutinated foraminifera living at extreme hadal depths build their homes from material that sinks down from the ocean above. (ANI)
This helps support our belief that the health of the ecosystem at the depths of the Mariana Trench is connected to the near surface ecosystem miles above.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument continue to push for full protections and to lobby the federal government to fulfill the promises made by President George W. Bush when he invoked the Antiquities Act to create the monument, including the building of a visitors center on Saipan and education and enforcement dollars.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mariana Trench Depth to Scale

In 2008 I was part of a campaign that successfully lobbied President George W. Bush to designate the 95,000 square mile Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. I try to follow any news about the Mariana Trench and post updates to this blog, like the rumors that James Cameron and Richard Branson are both separately building submarines in an attempt to reach the bottom of the trench sometime in the near future.

This blog post is one of those Mariana Trench updates. Several people alerted me to a graphic making the rounds on the Internet right now that shows the depth of the Mariana Trench to scale and I want to share it with you. I do not know where the graphic originated, but if someone out there in Internetland could send me the source I would like to credit the artist.

Isn't that amazing? Can you imagine what type of life might be down there? Have you seen the movie the Abyss?

And in case you can't read the text on the graphic, here it is again:
0 FT: The black dot is an approximate scale representation of a 6+ foot tall person.

350 FT: Maximum diving depth of a blue whale, the largest known animal on Earth. Large-sized, full grown adult represented on scale.

1250 FT: Height of the Empire State Building. If you were to drop the whole skyscraper into the Mariana Trench, it would be covered with water at this point.

3280 FT: After this point, light can no longer penetrate the water.

5280 FT: One mile under water.

13,120 FT: Beginning of the Abyssal Zone. Water pressure at this level reach (sic) around 11,000 pounds per square inch. Strange, frightening-looking creatures inhabit these depths, such as the Fangtooth, the Flashlight Fish, and the Anglerfish.

20,000 FT: The Hadal Zone. Pressure levels reach 16,000 pounds per square inch, over 1,100 times the amount of pressure on the surface. Although sparse, life exists at these levels.

31,000 FT: Average cruising altitude for a commercial airliner. For those that have viewed the height out of an airplane window, let this be a scale reference.

36,000 FT: The Challenger Deep, lowest point in the ocean. It is believed there are lower undiscovered points, as only around 10% of the ocean has been mapped.
I should point out, however, that the Challenger Deep, the deepest portion of the Mariana Trench lies outside the border of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. Challenger Deep is 180 miles from Fais Island, an outer island of Yap, and 190 miles from Guam, which means that the deepest point of the ocean falls under the jurisdiction of the Federated States of Micronesia.

Furthermore, the most biologically and geologically diverse area of the monument and the only unit within the larger monument that protects a single drop of water or any flora and fauna is the Islands Unit, which is composed of the federal submerged lands and waters surrounding the island of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas. So while the thrill seeker may want to say they dived to the deepest point in the ocean, on the planet in fact, the area of the most interest to science lies hundreds of miles to the north in waters that are deep, but not as deep as Challenger Deep.

All three units of the monument, the Islands Unit, the Volcanic Unit, and the Trench Unit, are interesting and important to science, but I predict that after a round of adventurers dive to Challenger Deep a few times over the next couple of years, they will turn their attention to the Islands Unit because that is where you can see new underwater volcanoes erupting, chemosynthetic bacteria growing on top of photosynthetic coral, and other natural wonders that occur nowhere else on the planet.