Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sanctuary Outreach to Schools

Talking science and conservation on Saipan
I'm curled up on a bed in a hotel room in Guam, exhausted from 10 grueling days of public presentations with Andrew Thaler, Rick MacPherson, and Trusty the remotely operated vehicle.  Rick and Andrew took off for the mainland a few hours ago, and I'm going to stay in this bed for a few more hours until it's time to fly home to Saipan.

We had an incredible 10 days visiting schools, community groups, and government offices on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam to talk about science and conservation in the Marianas Trench and the proposal to overlay the monument with the sanctuary program.  We couldn't have done an outreach trip like this 8 years ago -- because nearly all of the species discussed in the deep sea portion of the presentation were discovered this year!

I'll play some catch up on this blog over the next few days.  In the meantime I'll leave you with a link to Andrew's Open Explorer blog that tracked our outreach efforts over the last two weeks.  We also had a great article in the Marianas Variety, which has been picked up by some of the regional media outlets:
Petition for Trench Sanctuary Designation Gains Momentum
SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, December 20, 2016) – Inspired by growing support for their petition, advocates lobbying for the sanctuary designation of the Mariana Trench Marine Monument expressed confidence President Obama will take action before he leaves office in January.

Jonita Kerr, associate professor of science at Guam Community College, said reports related to the petition for the Marianas Trench sanctuary designation were submitted to the White House during a delegation’s trip to Washington D.C. from Nov. 28 to Dec. 2.

“As President Obama gets ready to leave office, we hope that he will approve the national marine sanctuary designation and begin the process that will benefit the residents of the CNMI, Guam and the world,” Kerr said.

An environmental activist and advisor of the GCC Ecowarriors student organization, Kerr helped author a position paper making the scientific and cultural justification for designating the Mariana Trench a marine sanctuary.

“A national marine sanctuary would provide the means to deliver outreach and education to showcase the wonders of the monument. It would also provide research and climate change mitigation opportunities, as well as protect the sea floor from mineral extraction for generations to come,” Kerr said.

Kerr joined the CNMI delegation led by Rota Sen. Paul A. Manglona; Saipan resident Ignacio ‘Ike’ Cabrera, chair of the Friends of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument; and Harry Blalock, owner of Axe Murderer Dive Tours in Saipan, in hand-delivering a petition signed by 1,500 people from the CNMI and Guam, along with letters of support from elected officials and nonprofit organizations, for the sanctuary designation.

“I was honored to be a part of this group of passionate ocean protection advocates,” Kerr said.

The group met with White House officials on the Council of Environmental Quality, and with representatives of the Department of Insular Affairs, Department of the Interior, NOAA Sanctuaries, NOAA Fisheries, and the Department of Commerce. They also met with Matt Herman, Chief of Staff for Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo, and U.S. Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan of the CNMI.

The sanctuary designation would also provide funding for a visitors’ center on Rota, and protection and management of the Monument.

Established by President George W. Bush on Jan. 6, 2009,The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument protects over 95,000 square miles of seafloor and waters in the Mariana Archipelago under federal jurisdiction. The monument consists of three units: the Islands Unit, which protects the seafloor and waters around the three northernmost Mariana Islands, Farallon de Pajaros or Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion; the Volcanic Unit, which protects the seafloor surrounding 21 volcanic sites of exceptional scientific and conservation value; and the Trench Unit, which protects the seafloor east of the archipelago inside the US Exclusive Economic Zone from north of Uracus to south of Guam.

The Trench Unit is the only marine monument in the Pacific that is still awaiting Obama’s approval.

Besides legislative resolutions and official letters from CNMI officials, the petition is backed by the community organizations.

In a Dec. 5 letter to Obama, the Friends of the Marianas, a coalition of CNMI conservation groups, urged the president to “forego the usual sanctuary process and direct the Secretary of Commerce to begin a sanctuary designation process immediately.”

“The Marianas Trench is the ‘Grand Canyon’ of the ocean, including the deepest known areas on earth. The active volcanoes and thermal vents found in the area support life under some of the harshest conditions on the planet. The waters of our archipelago’s northern islands are also among the most biologically diverse in the Western Pacific. The greatest diversity of seamount and hydrothermal vent life yet discovered on the planet has been found in the Marianas Trench,” the coalition said.

A National Marine Sanctuary designation, the coalition said, would help advance conservation and protect the area from illegal fishing and overfishing, as well as oil, gas, and mineral exploration and extraction.

“At the same time,” The Friends added, “it would protect the natural heritage of the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinian people while helping to promote its continued economic contribution to the local, state, and regional economy. A sanctuary would also enhance science and monitoring, expand ocean education and awareness, and provide a transparent and inclusive management process.”

In addition to letters of support, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it has also received a petition with 102 pages of signatures. Each page had the capacity for 20 signatures, 76 pages were fully completed and 26 pages were partially completed with signatures,” NOAA said.

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