Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sierra Club Takes on Pagan

Mangrove monitor lizards are one of the species on Pagan
The Sierra Club has joined the fight to protect the island of Pagan from military use.  They have started an online petition, and even though I haven't seen it with my own eyes, I think they are sending out emails to their members asking them to sign.
Pagan Island, the "Crown Jewel" of the Marianas, is again slated for certain environmental devastation, this time by a proposal from the U.S. Military to use it for "live-fire training" which includes everything from artillery to bombing.

Pagan is a small island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It is one of the most biologically and geologically diverse islands in the archipelago, and is home to many threatened and endangered species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Aside from its stunning beauty and rich ecological resources, Pagan is also one of the most habitable of the northern most islands in the CNMI. In fact, this island has supported the ancestors of Pagan islanders for over 3,000 years, as evidenced by Chamorro stone ruins found skirting its beautiful beaches.

The U.S. Military plans to occupy ALL of Pagan Island for live-fire training and military exercises, ignoring the indigenous rights of Pagan Islanders, and the devastating environmental impacts that such activity will certainly

cause. For more information visit :
I have never worked with the Sierra Club before, but it is exciting that they have taken an interest in the Northern Marianas.  As far as I know, this is the first time they have ever gotten involved in Micronesia.  I hope they stick around for a while.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obama Confers Submerged Lands to CNMI

News out of the White House today is that President Barack Obama signed S.256 conferring submerged lands to the Northern Mariana Islands for the first time in history.  Submerged lands and the exclusive economic zone were not yet concepts when the Covenant creating the Commonwealth was signed, so there has been some confusion as to who owns the submerged lands in recent years.  That confusion no longer exists.  State waters now start at the high tide mark and extend out to 3 miles.  Federal waters extend from 3 miles to 200 miles.

Congratulations are in order for Delegate Sablan and his staff, the White House staff who helped deliver on this Bush Administration promise, and the numerous other individuals involved.

I've written for four years how this would affect the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.  Those posts are still relevant.  Here is a letter the Friends of the Monument wrote in 2009.  Most of my posts on this issue are tagged with Submerged Lands.  There may also be a few tagged with Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

The Saipan Tribune covers the story in a breaking news article.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Military Buildup Public Hearing on October 8

Dad fishing on Pagan circa 1979
The US Military published a press release today announcing a 60 day comment period for the environmental impact draft proposing military activities in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.  Included in the announcement is a schedule of public hearings.  The public hearing on Saipan takes place from 5 PM to 8 PM on October 8.  I encourage you to attend.
Environmental Impact draft available for review, comment
The U.S. Navy has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with military readiness training and testing activities conducted within the Mariana Islands Training and Testing Study Area.

The Navy requests and welcomes public comments on the Mariana Islands Training and Testing Draft EIS.

The Navy proposes to continue to conduct training and testing activities, which may include the use of active sonar and explosives, primarily in established operating and military warning areas of the MITT Study Area. The proposed action also includes pier-side sonar maintenance and testing alongside Navy piers located at Inner Apra Harbor, and land-based training activities at existing ranges and other training locations on Guam and in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The MITT EIS/OEIS is the reevaluation and reauthorization of training and testing activities reviewed in the Mariana Islands Range Complex EIS/OEIS, which the Navy completed with community input in 2010.

The project website may be accessed online at to download the Draft EIS/OEIS and submit comments online.

The Navy is seeking public input on the proposed action and alternatives, and the accuracy and adequacy of the Draft EIS/OEIS analysis. The Draft EIS/OEIS is also available in the government documents room at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Library at the University of Guam, at the Nieves M. Flores Memorial Library in Hagåtña, at the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library in Saipan, the Tinian Public Library, and the Rota Public Library.

Comments will be accepted throughout the 60-day public comment period, from Sept. 13 to Nov. 12. Written comments may be submitted online, in person at the public meetings below or by mail to: Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, Attention: MITT EIS/OEIS Project Manager, 258 Makalapa Drive, Suite 100, Pearl Harbor, HI 96860-3134

Four open-house public meetings will be held to inform the public and to obtain comments. The public meetings will include an open-house information session and an opportunity to present oral comments. Military representatives will be available to discuss the proposed action and the Draft EIS/OEIS. The public meetings will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 7 at the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration Building, on Oct. 8 at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe on Saipan, on Oct. 9 in the Tinian High School cafeteria, and on Oct. 10 in the Sinapalo Elementary School cafeteria.
My family has a long history on Pagan and none of us want to see it used as a military training ground. Living in Washington, DC it is difficult for me to rally the troops, but my cousin Ana Villagomez and my best friends Cinta and Gus Kaipat are doing what they can.

We borrow these islands from our children and we owe it to them to do a better job taking care of our cultural heritage.  The Chamorro people have lost so much in terms of language, art, traditions, and knowledge.  It would be a shame to permanently lose the land, too.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Managaha: Full of Mostly Dead Coral

A visitor from Japan recently wrote of Managaha, "it's full of mostly dead coral."

This is disappointing, but hardly surprising.  For years the warning sirens have been going off on the need to better manage the natural resources of Managaha.  I remember a letter to the editor from a visitor published in 2006:
Destruction of coral reefs
I visited Saipan last week and would like to tell you about my experiences. I am from Germany but am living in Japan now. All in all I had a very good time and was very impressed by Saipan’s natural beauty. I especially enjoyed visiting Managaha and the great snorkeling around the island.

But one thing made me sad and quite worried: I saw dozens of tourists stepping on the corals with their fins, so that actual pieces broke away. I could hardly believe my eyes! I think it is not only unbelievably sad to destroy the reefs’ fragile structures but, at the same time, this means a slow destruction of the financial resources of the island. Many tourists love snorkeling around the coral gardens that are close to the shore, so the intact reefs are not only a natural wonder but also an important source of revenue for Saipan. Once they’re gone, the island will become much less attractive for visitors from all over the world.

Also, I saw several tourists feeding the fish with hotdogs. I think this is problematic as well as it goes on day after day. Sausage is not an adequate diet for the fish, and the feeding affects their behavior in an unnatural way. They start to swarm around people and even attack them. The tourists should be taught to respect the reefs and animals more and watch them in their natural environment and behavior. The boat trip to Managaha would be an excellent opportunity to show a video or make the visitors listen to a tape that explains and informs them about the reefs’ uniqueness and fragility. And the DOS and DON’TS when snorkeling. Both the tourists and the submarine wildlife would take great advantage of that.

Susanne Prein
Nagano City, Japan

Friday, September 13, 2013

Advisory council urged to make visitors center a reality

The Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council finally adopted its long-awaited bylaws in governing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument yesterday, even as concerned citizens and even a member of the council urged it to make the promised visitors center a reality.

Department of Land Natural Resources Secretary Arnold Palacios said that since the Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council and the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library hosted a forum on the monument, he has received a number of comments criticizing the council for the lack of updates on the visitors center.

Palacios, along with Ben Sablan and Frank Rabauliman, make up the CNMI’s representatives on the council.

Palacios said there’s been a lot of backlash from the community on the slow pace of economic benefits the federal government promised when former President George W. Bush declared the Marianas Trench part of its Blue Legacy.

“There’s been a lot of promises made to the community but so far we’re not able to pull it off…We should do it and, if not, let’s just fold camp and go home,” he said.

NOAA deputy regional administrator Lisa Croft shared Palacios’ sentiments, saying the council should now work together to make sure that the commitments made by the federal government is followed.

She also acknowledged that a lot of promises and commitments made by the federal government have been broken.

The council held its second meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan and among those who attended were Sablan, Rabauliman, Palacios, Department of Defense representative Roy Tsutsui, and representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and other local and federal agencies.

In the comments portion of the meeting, former representative Rosemond Santos described the designation of the monument in 2011 as “modern day colonialism.”

She said the local community, especially the indigenous people of the CNMI, were not consulted when President Bush placed under federal protection 95,216 square miles of submerged lands and waters in various places in the Mariana archipelago as part of his Blue Legacy.

Cultural historian Genevieve Cabrera, meanwhile, urged the federal government to talk to the community instead of making decisions and policies behind their backs.

“If you show respect then respect will be shown back to you,” she said.

Another former lawmaker, William Torres, also told the council to consider the Northern Marianas College as the location of the monument visitors center.

Attaching the visitors center to the local community college would allow it to apply for federal grants and these will be a much-needed financial boost to NMC, he said.

The CNMI Legislature came out with a joint resolution in April, urging the council to designate Marpi as the site of the visitors center because of its easy access to tourists and residents alike.

Recently, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) made known his preference for the visitors center to be on Rota, to make the island the ecotourism hub of the Commonwealth.

Architect Herman Cabrera just finished a study that plans to use the old Japanese lighthouse on Navy Hill as the site of the visitors center.

Published in the Saipan Tribune

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Pacific Islands Forum Wraps

The future looks bright in the Marshall Islands.
I just returned home from the Marshall Islands after attending the 44th Pacific Islands Forum.  The focus of this year's meeting was climate change and a Majuro Decree on Climate Leadership was agreed and signed.  My role was to promote the important work the Pacific is doing on shark conservation, especially in the Marshall Islands.  I have posted photos from the meeting to The Saipan Blog Facebook page.

The shark twins
I was helped in this endeavor by my friend and coworker, Luke Warwick.  We met with delegates from across the Pacific and ran into some old friends.  My favorite six degrees of Saipan Blog moment came when I ran into Roland Quitugua chatting with Joe Iosua.  You guys know each other?  Small ocean, indeed!

Luke and I also managed to talk to a few reporters about the great work the government of the Marshall Islands, particularly the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, is doing to implement and enforce their shark protections.  Here is some select media:
Tiny state big on shark protection, New Zealand Herald.
Syndication: Islands Business, Pacific Islands News Association.

Marshall Islands sends message with disposal of confiscated shark fins, AFP.
Syndication: South China Morning Post, Taipei Times, Australia Network News,, Taipei Times, Raw Story, Bangkok Post, Yahoo, The Sun Daily, MSN, Asia One, Talk Vietnam, The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka), Hanoi Times, Vietnam Times, Arab Today, Navegalo, RTL.

Pacific ramps up shark protection as Asian demand for fins drop, Radio New Zealand International.
Syndication: PIDC East-West Center.

China’s Anti-Corruption Crackdown is Saving Sharks, International Business Times.

Shark fin demand drops as Chinese government cracks down on spending, Australia Network News, print and live radio interview.

Shark fin decline linked to China corruption crackdown, AFP.
Syndication: Radio Australia, Australia Network News, The Malay Mail, Yahoo, MSN, South China Morning Post, Borneo Bulletin, China Daily, Asia One, The Himalayan Times, The Standard (Hong Kong), Asia News, Khaleej Times, Pakistan Daily Times, Islands Business,, Pacific Islands News Association, Rappler, Bangkok Post,, New Straits Times (Malaysia), Jakarta Globe, Bikya News, Star Africa, The Sun Daily, Fiji Times, Business Standard, Manila Times, Sina English, several Chinese and Vietnamese language outlets.

China Corruption Crackdown Leads To 70 Percent Drop In Shark Fin Demand, Economy Watch.

Shark fin soup off the menu: China’s crackdown on extravagant banquets gives sharks a second chance, The Independent.

Friday, September 06, 2013

In response to Arnold Palacios

As one of the framers of our Constitution, my father knew the value of our natural resources to our culture and argued for permanent protections for Managaha, and the three northernmost islands of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas. He taught me that it is the responsibility of every indigenous person to ensure that these islands are passed down to the next generation in the same condition in which they were passed down to us.

That's why I worked so hard alongside The Friends of the Monument and The Pew Charitable Trusts to help create the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

It is an indisputable fact that the people of the Northern Marianas support environmental protection and it is no wonder that there was such a tidal wave of support for the creation of the Marianas Trench Monument.

When the monument was declared on January 6, 2009, then Governor Benigno R. Fitial, then Senate President Pete P. Reyes, and then House Speaker Arnold Palacios led in celebration 6,000 local residents, 500 students, and 206 businesses. As I recall, Governor Fitial was so elated he hugged President George W. Bush right after the signing.

In a letter to the editor, former Representative Cinta M. Kaipat wrote that the goals of the monument were to “create federally funded local jobs, give a needed boost to our struggling tourism industry, bring positive worldwide attention to our shores, and most importantly, protect three of our islands and their surrounding waters for generations to come.” (Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Saipan Tribune, May 1, 2008)

Much has been accomplished toward achieving these goals. In the last five years there has been positive media attention for the islands, renewed interest in scientific exploration of the area, and a federally funded NOAA office opened in Garapan. But work still needs to be done. Everyone must come together to move ahead with creating the visitor center and bringing to fruition the economic promise of this impressive marine reserve.

In 2009, the same year the monument was declared, Delegate Gregorio Sablan earmarked $220,000 in the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriation Act (HR 3288) for the design of our visitor center. It was a proud moment. Our first representative in the U.S. Congress passed one of his first bills.

The Friends and Pew worked with the Delegate’s office and with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the recipient of the funding, to draft a grant to the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources to “develop a process for engaging input from the public to create a visitor and education center that will incorporate our existing marine protected areas and the new Marianas Trench National Monument.” (Delegate Sablan, Letter to DLNR Secretary Ignacio Dela Cruz, December 30, 2009)

The plan was to develop an architectural blueprint so that Delegate Sablan, along with the Friends and Pew, could ask the U.S. Congress to fund the construction. Although progress stalled at the local level, today we have a new governor, a new DLNR secretary, and from what I understand from media reports, soon we’ll have a new architectural plan for a monument visitor center. This is excellent news, and everyone who had a hand in its completion deserves congratulations.

Soon it will be time to take the plan to Washington, and I know the Friends, Pew and our elected officials will do all they can to help. But there is no guarantee that federal funding will be available. In the meantime, the Friends continue to work with the community on outreach and education. Pew has supported these efforts and continues to engage with CNMI leaders at the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, Micronesian Chief Executive Summit, and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

The people of the Northern Mariana Islands should be proud of what we have accomplished. From the Micronesia Challenge, to the Marianas Trench Monument, and most recently our leadership in global shark conservation, the world is taking notice. Let’s welcome them with a visitor center worthy of these efforts.

Angelo Villagomez
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Washington, DC

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pacific Shark Conservation Titans Collide

I ran into the voice of American Samoa shark conservation, Joe 'J-Smooth' Iosua, at the Pacific Islands Forum this morning! Joe voiced the Shark Defender public service announcements and was one of the campaign managers that led to the 2012 protection of all sharks in American Samoa.

This is the first time Joe and I have met, although we've done work together for almost two years.

Angelo Villagomez and Joe Iosua
Representing the Pacific
Bringing the Gangnam Style
It's great to see so many shark conservation leaders here this week, including Minister Tony deBrum, Stefanie Brendl, Luke Warwick, Henry Puna, and Willy Kostka.

Oh, and Joe is also the genius behind American Samoa Gangnam Style.  That's the true reason I wanted to meet him.

11 Portraits of Majuro

The Pacific Islands Forum kicked off a few hours ago.  Although I am Chamorro, I am blessed to be on the Marshall Islands delegation and have full access to everything.  I've been shooting up a storm with my camera.  Here are some portraits of just a few of the thousands of Marshallese helping to kick off this amazing annual event.  I won't put captions to allow you to try to figure out what they are doing on your own.  And if you want to see more photos from PIF, check out the Facebook page for The Saipan Blog.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The Pacific is leading the world in shark conservation

I'm on a boat!
"The Pacific is leading the world in shark conservation," Angelo Villagomez, a shark specialist with US-based conservation group the Pew Charitable Trusts, said Sunday.

Villagomez was in the Marshall Islands to discuss shark sanctuaries with leaders at the Pacific Islands Forum, the annual summit of Pacific heads of state.

"Pew is working with islands that have sanctuaries on enforcement, implementing best practices, and conducting research."

The nearly 300 purse seine fishing boats now plying tuna grounds in the Pacific are required to have independent observers on board and with "100 percent observer coverage, enforcement of shark bans is as good as it will get," Villagomez added.

"The islands now have eyes on the water and in the ports."

Since banning shark fishing in its waters in 2011, the Marshall Islands has arrested two foreign vessels for having shark fins on board and fined them more than $100,000.

"During the next two years, our goal is to create a united Pacific front on sharks," Villagomez said.

"We are seeing a reduction in demand from China. Hong Kong is also showing a significant decline in consumption," he said.

However, he said the decline in shark fin demand over the past year was not directly linked to increasing shark protection by Pacific island governments.

Instead, it was related to the Chinese leadership's crackdown on graft and opposition to extravagance.

"It's not to do with conservation. It's related to a Chinese government anti-graft crackdown, which has cut back on dinners where shark fin soup was featured on the menu," Villagomez said.

"The culture is (also) changing in Asia among younger people. They aren't eating shark fin soup as much."

Historically, high demand in the Asian market has fuelled shark-finning by fishermen on commercial tuna vessels in the Pacific.

But finning is slowly being shut down as the number of islands legislating shark sanctuaries grows.

Villagomez will be meeting this week with Pacific leaders to discuss extending the number of shark sanctuaries.

Published by AFP on Monday, September 2, 2013