Saturday, May 14, 2011

Donut Hole Update

maug marine debris
Monument Trash: Piles of marine debris on Maug
A hearing was held on Thursday in the halls of power to convey territorial submerged lands to the Northern Mariana Islands.

Testimony was heard, mostly in support of the conveyance, although a few would like to see amendments, including the Executive Branch.  The Department of Interior made the recommendation that the proposed territorial submerged lands surrounding the islands of Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion (the Islands Unit) be conveyed back to the CNMI, "unless or until such time as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island enters into an agreement with the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce for the permanent protection and co-management of such portion of the Islands Unit."

For four years, the position of the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument has been, "the submerged lands surrounding the three islands should be granted to the Northern Mariana Islands, but remain a part of the monument to be co-mananged by the federal and commonwealth governments."

The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are concerned that Kilili's bill as written would create a loophole that would open the most biologically and geologically diverse portion of the monument to destructive activities. I've written about this issue at length here and here.

At issue is whether or not the federal submerged lands will remain a part of the monument when they become territorial submerged lands. The constitution of the Northern Mariana Islands sets the islands aside as "uninhabited places and used only for the preservation and protection of natural resources, including but not limited to bird, wildlife and plant species."

The newly conveyed territorial waters would have no protections, and constitutional protections aside, the leaders of the CNMI have shown time and again they are not to be trusted. Need I find the links to the stories of poaching on Asuncion by members of the Legislature?

The monument proclamation deems that the submerged lands "may" remain a part of the monument. The opposite is true as well, they "may not" remain, either. The proclamation does not outline who makes the determine of "may" or "may not," and it has been my hope that Kilili would make this a part of the submerged lands legislation.

Without such a determination, ostensibly the monument would have three gaping donut holes punched out of its most geologically and biologically diverse heart. I will concede that the current legislation does nothing to affect the monument proclamation, but it certainly opens a loophole for opening the monument to destructive practices. Think of it as the power poles leading to Marpi.

So Interior's recommendation is pretty darn close to what we want, and about as close as we're likely to get.

I encourage you to support Interior's position. If you would like to sign your name to a letter doing so, please send me an email at angelo at taotaotasi dot com. Feel free to share this blog post with others who you think may want to sign. The deadline for adding your name is May 17.

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