Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Monument Public Scoping Meetings Scheduled

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument was declared by President George W. Bush on January 9, 2009. The US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA will conduct the first scopings for an eventual management plan later this month. They issued a press release today:
Meetings to be held on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam 

Four public scoping meetings will be conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency on the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam to receive public comments on the scope of issues to be covered in the Draft Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MNM) Management Plan. The management plan will be used to guide resource managers for the long-term conservation and management programs for the MNM. The informal meetings are designed to share information about the planning process and facilitate the submission of public comments. Fishing issues in the MNM have been discussed at meetings held by the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council and won't be addressed at the scoping meetings.

The meeting on Saipan will be held February 24 at the Multipurpose Center on Beach Road in Susupe from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The meeting on Tinian will be held February 25 at the Tinian Elementary School, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The meeting on Rota will be held February 27 at the Round House in Songsong Village from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The meeting on Guam will be held February 29 at the University of Guam, Anthony Leon Guerrero Multi-Purpose Room #129, in Mangilao, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The Marianas Trench MNM encompasses about 61 million acres of submerged lands and certain waters of the Mariana Archipelago. It includes three units: the Islands Unit contains the waters and submerged lands of the three northernmost Mariana Islands (Farallon de Pajaros, Maug, and Asuncion) out to 50 nautical miles; the Volcanic Unit, with 21 submerged volcanic features; and the Trench Unit, which includes the submerged lands within the Trench. The Volcanic and Trench Units are also being managed as units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.
More information can be found on USFWS's website.  I am excited to see this positive development.  In 2008, many people sacrificed a great deal of political and personal capitol to overcome the initial lukewarm reception to the monument idea.  Although I am far removed from the day to day comings and goings of Saipan life, I am proud of the jobs that have been created due to the monument and the international attention brought to my home.  I see the monument as one day becoming a part of how the Chamorro people self-identify.  These scopings are a step in making that reality.

On my personal blog I get to make comments on issues that I may have worked on in the past for an organization that shall not be named, without my comments being affiliated with that organization.  With that disclaimer prominently noted, I find it interesting that fisheries issues will not be open for discussion at public hearings for a marine protected area.  If you want my guidance on what comments should be made at the public hearings, I'd start with that little gem.

So what will the federal government be seeking comments on?  Everything else.  And that's a lot of everything.  Personally, I'd start out by reminding NOAA that both NOAA Fisheries and NOAA Sanctuaries are moving towards an ecosystem based management regime.  It will be important to remind them of this because both the Trench Units and Volcanic Units do not protect a single drop of water or a single fish, unless that fish happens to be attached to the bottom of the Mariana Trench or an active volcano (sorry, demersal fish -- I bet you'll have to look that one up, by the way).  There are scientific studies out there that show how the benthic habitat is dependent upon the marine ecosystem above it.  It is impossible to protect that benthic habitat without also considering the 10,732 meters of water between the surface and HMRG Deep (the deepest part of the monument).  But that gets us back to fishing, and that's not up for discussion.

I apologize for the snarkiness.  There are actually other issues related to monument besides fishing that are very important, including how and who issues permits, what science should be studied within the monument, education programs, THE BUILDING, FUNDING, AND STAFFING OF THE ANGELO O'CONNOR VILLAGOMEZ ECODISCOVERY CENTER, funding priorities, enforcement capabilities, cultural and historical preservation, communications planning, and so on with the myriad of issues that all marine protected areas have to deal with.

There is also the issue of who gets to ride in Sir Richard Branson's submarine when he attempts to descend to the bottom of the Trench.  Also, which Hollywood actors get to portray Angelo, Laurie, Ike and Agnes in the movies.

And, ahem, if I were completed self-interested, I'd suggest they make Our Northern Islands by Dennis Chan a part of their education and outreach plans.  After donating 100+ copies of the book last year to the public schools, I'm still a few hundred dollars shy of turning a profit on editing and publishing the book.  But the book is out there and kids are learning about the Northern Islands, that's the important thing.  When I was a kid, my knowledge of the Northern Islands came from stories from my parents and only a handful of photos.  Our Northern Islands is chock full of stories and photos, and my ultimate hope is that the book inspires a whole generation of young people to love the most rugged part of the Marianas.  Also, maybe NOAA and USFWS could also help develop new materials, similar to Our Northern Islands (I bought a fancy new 60D Canon camera for the wedding and would be happy to sit on a boat and take pictures to be donated to NOAA).

Remember, this is your monument.  The Marianas are your home.  If you don't involve yourself with how your home and your monument are managed and solely rely on others to do it for you, well, take a walk through any village on Saipan to see where that leads.

1 comment:

The Saipan Blogger said...

These scoping meetings are coming at a very bad time. I was asked to spread around this info by a friend, and obliged.