Thursday, December 22, 2016

Nominating the Marianas Trench for UNESCO

In parallel with nominating the Marianas Trench as a national marine sanctuary, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument is undergoing the process to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  I've written about these before.  World Heritage Sites are basically the ultimate checklist of the best things man and God have created on the face of the planet.  I've got an out of date list of the ones I have visited.  I should update it one of these days...

Anyway, back in February I was in Hawaii for a conference when I ran into my cousin Richard Seman, who is the secretary of the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources.  Richard was working with Susan White at US Fish & Wildlife Service and Heidi Hirsch at NOAA on submitting a nomination for the monument to UNESCO.  He asked me if I'd take a look at it to see if I had anything to add.  I bounced it over to Laurie Peterka, and we both added a few paragraphs on the biological and cultural components.

The two governments took over from there.  The nomination was submitted to the agency that's handling the submission to UNESCO and they reviewed all of the nominations and decided that nine of them could move to the public comment period, which is taking place right now.  The comment period ends on December 27, and I imagine they will try to submit the nominations for all nine to UNESCO soon after.

This is a very prestigious recognition if it goes through.  It's probably still a few years from happening, because after the United States makes their submission to UNESCO, they then do their own review before accepting it.  But this is a once in a generation opportunity for Americans.  We don't offer up nominations to UNESCO very often, so we need to take advantage of this now.

The Friends of the Marianas Trench want to bring some attention to this, and submitted the following press release which should publish today:
Marianas Trench could be recognized for its Outstanding Value to Humanity
The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument could be nominated to be added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)World Heritage List.

Federal officials in Hawaii with US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA worked with locals including Richard Seman, Genevieve Cabrera, Cinta Kaipat, Ignacio V. Cabrera, and Angelo Villagomez to submit the nomination in early 2016.

“Residents of the Marianas have long known that the natural resources surrounding our islands are spectacular,” said Villagomez. “Now our very own Marianas Trench could be recognized as one of the most significant features on the planet.”

Nan Madol in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, and the Rock Islands in Koror, Palau were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2016, 2010, and 2012, respectively. The list contains 1,052 locations in nearly every country and includes the most iconic historical, cultural, and natural places on the planet from the Great Wall of China, to the pyramids of Egypt, and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii.

The proposed listing on UNESCO could be a boon to tourism and would literally put the Northern Mariana Islands on the checklist of the best places to visit on the planet.

“The Japanese tourist market is very aware of the UNESCO World Heritage List,” said Aya Matsumoto, a resident of Saipan with nearly three decades of experience in tourism. “Japan has 20 World Heritage Sites and they are all very popular places to visit. If we had a World Heritage Site, like those in Palau, FSM, and Marshall Islands, the Japanese would want to visit.”

UNESCO seeks to encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity. World Heritage Sites are places that have special cultural or physical significance.

“I see the UNESCO listing as helping to bring us closer to achieving the goals we set 10 years ago regarding the monument,” said Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chairman of the Friends of the Marianas Trench, an organization that has advocated for cultural and natural resource protection for nearly a decade. “We know that progress has been slow, but we’re starting to see some of those benefits.”

Part of the mission of UNESCO’s World Heritage mission is to “encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage.”

The pending nomination was announced on the Federal Register December 9 and there is a comment period until December 27. Residents of the Northern Mariana Islands who support the listing can contact the Friends of the Marianas Trench at and they will add your name and comment to their submission.

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