Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back on 2016

This is a good end of year photo.  I'm a lot fatter than I was at the start of the year.
2016 was my 12th full year of blogging.  The popularity of this page continues to slide in direct relation with the attention I give it.  I'm much more active on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram these days (and in that order).

I managed only 27 posts this year -- my lowest number in 12 years.  By far my most popular post this year was 10 Facts About Submerged Lands in the Marianas, followed by American coming in a distant second, with three other posts tied for third place: Rangerpalooza, Marriage, and EMKE Fan.  None of it was really groundbreaking stuff, and none of it was about science or conservation.

I do not seem to have as much time to write as I wish I had.  These days when I have a thought my first reaction is to shoot it off on Twitter.  I have ideas for things that could be longer, but never seem to manage the time to sit down and write them out.  With that said, I co-wrote and edited two reports for the ocean this year.  Pu'uhonua: A Place of Sanctuary (published in July) successfully made a cultural and biological argument for expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument; meanwhile, we don't yet know if National Marine Sanctuary Designation for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (released in December) will have the intended impact.  With both papers I got to work with scientists and science communicators who are at the top of their field and I think we pulled together some really strong arguments for the creation of large scale marine protected areas.  I especially liked working with Callum Roberts at the University of York, who is brilliant.  And I got to work with my longtime collaborator Rick MacPherson on both papers, and worked with Andrew Thaler for the first time, which was also great.

So anyway, over the years I've done a play by play of sorts to end my year in blogging, but last year I switched things up a bit and wrote a series of highlights.  I'm going to do that again this year, because this is my blog and the only person who I know for sure still reads this is my mom.

I learned to play the ukulele (poorly)
I bought an ukulele on a whim in February.  It was an overpriced, cheap soprano uke sold in the Honolulu airport as a means to take money away from tourists who don't know any better.  Guilty.

When I got back to Washington, DC, I found lessons on Youtube and started learning some of the basic cords.  I really enjoyed it, and tried to play at least an hour every day.  A month later I was back in Hawaii, was slightly better, and spent more money than I should have on an Hawaiian ukulele.

About a month later I figured out how to sing and play at the same time.  At first it was difficult.  It was hard enough to get my left and right hands to do different things, never mind read and make sounds with my mouth at the same time.  Unfortunately, my singing hasn't really improved, but it sure is fun to make a lot of noise!

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, then you've likely seen some of my terrible videos where I play some of the handful of songs that I know.  I'm sorry, I'm not better!

Playing ukulele has been the highlight of my year.  Watching someone dance when I play -- especially a kid -- is one of the best feelings I've ever had.  When I was in Saipan for Christmas I played at a few parties, and nobody threw any eggs at me.  My goal for the new year will be to improve my playing.  I have no hope for my singing.

Edz became an American citizen
This is something we've been working towards since we got married in 2011.  I should probably spend some time to figure out how much we spent on immigration fees, but it was in the thousands.  And now we're all done and don't have to deal with it.  Edz has a blue passport!

Edz and I had spent months waiting for for the citizenship ceremony to take place.  We completed and submitted all of the paperwork earlier in the year and Edz passed her citizenship test.  In the Spring we received notice that the government wanted more proof of our marriage, so we printed up a bunch of photos and sent in more financial paperwork.  Then we got the notice in June that the ceremony would be in July.  Mom, Kevin, and Tiana came up from Florida to be there.

Edz lost her father
Losing my father was one of the major milestones in my life and it's a loss I'm still coming to terms with 11 years later.  Edz took the first steps along her similar journey when her Dad passed away in May.  We got the message over Facebook messenger.

Edz flew out to the Philippines immediately and I followed her a few days later, arriving the night before the funeral.  We stayed up all night with the family and then buried him in the earlier morning.  We spent the rest of the day drinking and singing with her siblings and cousins.

I went to the State of the Union 
Delegate Gregorio Camacho "Kilili" Sablan surprised me in January when he asked me to accompany him to President Obama's State of the Union.  It was a real honor, and truly a once in a lifetime experience for me.  Michelle Obama and Corey Booker both stood out from the crowd.  Senator Booker was sitting on the Republican side and the light was reflecting of his bald head like a light shining down from heaven.  And then Michelle walked into the drab room in her yellow dress.

I don't really remember what Obama said, but I clapped at all the times I was supposed to clap.  The amazing thing for me was how intimate the State of the Union address is.  There are only about 1,000 or so people in the room and I felt like I could reach out and touch him.

I was a DNC delegate
On a whim I signed up to be a candidate for the election of delegates for the NMI Democrats first caucus to nominate a presidential candidate.  Surprisingly, I won.

In July I had the chance to travel to Philadelphia with other NMI Democrats to cast our ballots.  I cast mine for Hillary Clinton.  I hope this one is not a once in a lifetime experience, but rather something I get to do every four years.  I should have blogged about this experience, which I did not, but we did manage to get a lot of earned media.

We spent time with Kevin
Kevin came out to Hawaii for 10 days in June during the International Coral Reef Symposium.  In exchange for a couch and food, he offered unlimited, unpaid labor.  During the conference my employer was releasing the scientific paper for Papahanaumokuakea I reference above, and Kevin helped collect signatures from 1,500 scientists and graduate students in support of expanding the monument.  His labor involved a lot of carrying things and passing out clipboards.

They just hiked Koko Head
Kevin also came with me to talk to a retired Marine colonel about protecting the remnants of the Battle of Midway with the monument and during that conversation we were asked by the 70 year old jarhead if we wanted to "catch some air."  Two days later we jumped out of a perfectly good airplane with retired Colonel John Bates, one of the highlights of my year.

We spent time with Tiana
Tiana came up to Washington, DC over July 4th and stayed for Edz' citizenship ceremony.  Pokemon Go came out while she was here, so in addition to going all over the city to see the museums and monuments, we also caught lots of stupid Pokemon.

I got to know the Aloha spirit
I spent a lot of time in Hawaii this year.  I could look it up in my calendar, but I actually lost count of how many trips I made.  I do know from my Marriott Rewards account that I spent more than 90 nights there.

Coolest guy on the planet!
I've never spent much time in Hawaii.  I've been there, of course, but usually it was just as a layover between the East Coast and Micronesia.  This year I was able to visit Molokai and Kauai for the first time, and I hopped over to Hawaii Island, too.  But most of my time was spent on Oahu.

Edz came to Hawaii, too
I had the opportunity to help with the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  I made a lot of new friends, and had the chance to work with some old friends, too.

I'm still trying to protect the Marianas Trench
I spent a lot of time in Saipan this year.  I was there in February to speak at a tourism summit, hopped over in June while I was in Guam for APIL and the Festival of Pacific Arts.  And then in September Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres and Delegate Gregorio Camacho "Kilili" Sablan wrote to President Obama to ask him to overlay the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument with a National Marine Sanctuary.  I flew straight out to Saipan and ended up spending more than 50 days there to finish out the year (with a trip to the Netherlands for a science meeting and Washington, DC to meet White House officials in between).

Yup, still talking science and conservation to anyone who will listen
At the beginning of December we submitted an official nomination for sanctuary designation -- most of which I either wrote or plagiarized -- followed by a four island tour in which Rick MacPherson and Andrew Thaler talked to more than 1,000 students on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam about new science taking place in the Marianas Trench and the potential for mini-ROVs in science classes.  I tweeted most of the trip, but did not blog (I might yet).  Andrew, champion that he is, blogged the whole trip.

I went to a bunch of conferences
I started the year out by speaking at a tourism summit with students in Saipan.  It wasn't what I would call a conference -- but I shared the stage with the President of Palau for a few hours so it goes on the list.

So where did i go?  In February I went to a conference about the human dimensions of large scale marine protected areas in Honolulu.  Then in June I went to the Association of Pacific Islands Legislatures (APIL) in Guam and updated the members on the activities of the Pew Charitable Trusts in the Pacific.  I attended the International Coral Reef Symposium, also in June, in Honolulu, where I helped organize the scientific support behind the expansion of Papahanaumokuakea.  In August I was in St. John's, Newfoundland for the International Marine Conservation Congress, then the IUCN World Conservation Congress was in September, followed finally by the Pew Fellows meeting in the Netherlands in October.

That's more conferences than I ever want to go to again in a single year.  I'd be happy just going to APIL from now on (the best meeting in the world!)

I was a finalist in a photo contest
This photo was worth $500
This isn't really a highlight for me, but I got a $500 gift certificate to American Eagle after Edz submitted one of my photos into an Instagram contest.  I got a new pair of jeans and a few shirts out of the deal, and Edz took the rest.

I'm sure there's more
And that's enough.  All in all I don't subscribe to the widely held belief that 2016 was a terrible year.  Things worked out well for me and Edz.  We're both healthy, we get to do fun and exciting things, we both have jobs that we enjoy, and we have lots of people that we love.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Scientists Support UNESCO Nomination

Dr. Andrew Thaler (left) with Saipan Southern High School My Wave President Reynafe Aniga (center) and Rick MacPherson (right).
Early this December, the National Park Service announced that the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument made the short list for UNESCO World Heritage designation. Though hidden beneath the water’s surface, the Mariana Trench, a unique geologic and ecologic landmark and a natural treasure, dwarfs the Grand Canyon in scale and scope.

Yesterday, a cohort of 55 members of the deep-sea research community, representing 46 institutions and 19 nations, delivered a letter in support of the nomination.

“The Marianas Trench is one of the most well-known and spectacular geological features on the planet,” said Dr. Andrew Thaler, who recently visiting the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam. “Global recognition is long overdue.”

The Mariana Trench is more than a mile deeper than Mt. Everest is high and hosts Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth. It is also home to numerous sites of exceptional scientific value, including submerged volcanoes that host deep-sea hydrothermal vents, the largest documented mud volcanoes, coral atolls and fringing reef ecosystems that support apex predators like sharks and whales, as well as habitat-forming stony corals.

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument would be the first World Heritage site to include unexplored ecosystems, including geologically active sites that promise new species, scientific discoveries, and insight into biological processes in the deepest ecosystem on earth.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Deepest Ocean: Rick and Andrew on KSPN

Rick and Andrew were interviewed by KSPN's Chris Nelson for a 30 minute special that played on TV on Thursday, December 22. The interview is also posted to Facebook (and I'll eventually get it up to Youtube). Rick and Andrew spend the first 20 minutes talking about the science and geology of the Marianas Trench. I come on afterwards and spend about 10 minutes talking about some of the politics and history of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. We did the interview in one take, and nobody was wearing any stage makeup.


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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

LIVE from Underwater World of Guam

Rick MacPherson and Dr. Andrew Thaler gave a talk on conservation, science, and the Marianas Trench at the Underwater World of Guam on December 18, 2016.  Here's some poorly shot video of the talk:


This is a version of the talk that we gave no fewer than 20 times on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam from December 11-20. We talked to over 1,000 kids and I didn't count how many adults. We also gave a talk on radio and tv, and I'll get those online soon. Stay tuned!

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.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Monumental Timeline

Look at all those seamounts!
It is December 9, 2016 in Washington, DC right now; That makes the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument just one month shy of 8 years old. I've been advocating for the monument for almost 10 years, too.

I've spent most of the last three months in Saipan talking to the community about the proposal to create a Marianas Trench Marine National Sanctuary, and one of the questions I get is why has nothing happened in 8 years? Now, I've been working on this a lot over the years, so when I hear this, I take a deep breath, and start talking about everything that has taken place. I decided it would make sense to put some of these things down on paper, so that I can easily share it.

This is going to go to design to make it pretty, but here's a basic outline of the last 10 years of the Marianas Trench. It's pretty long, and actually leaves out a lot, including the legislation that Kilili introduced to put a sanctuary visitors center on Saipan, competing legislation that would put it on Guam, the meetings of the advisory panel, the politics to name the advisory panel, the visitors center workshops, the government meetings to develop the draft management plan, and I'm sure several other things. Like I said, it's an outline. If something is missing, leave me a comment and I'll plug it in.
January 2007
Pew travels to Saipan and Guam and meets with government officials, conservationists, and fishermen.

August 2007
Pew travels to Saipan and meets with CNMI DLNR Secretary and Office of the CNMI Governor.

January 2008
Pew hires staff on Saipan.

March 2008
Pew presents proposal for Marianas Trench Marine National Monument at the Office of the Governor.

July 2008
Friends of the Marianas Trench forms and begin collecting petitions in the community.

August 2008
Bush Administration announces comment period for possible ocean protections.

September 2008
Pew releases “The Deepest Ocean on Earth: A Scientific Case for Establishing the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.”

October 2008
Bush Administration officials visit Guam and Saipan and hold public hearings. Friends of the Marianas Trench publish their Vision Statement, with six goals related to Management and Enforcement, Culture and Tradition, Conservation, Education, Research and Exploration, and Economic Development.

November 2008
Friends of the Marianas Trench deliver 6,000 signatures in support of a monument to Bush White House. Barack Obama elected as the 44th President of the United States.

January 2009
Marianas Trench Marine National Monument declared. It 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 (EEZ) from north of Uracus to south of Guam. The Department of Interior US Fish & Wildlife Service and Department of Commerce NOAA Fisheries programs are named the lead management agencies.

April 2009
Friends of the Marianas Trench write to Delegate Gregorio Camacho “Kilili” Sablan asking him to introduce legislation that would: “(1) transfer the monument to the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries; (2) extend the existing boundaries to include the northern waters; and (3) close the entire monument to sustenance, commercial and recreational fishing (continuing to allow traditional indigenous fishing) as outlined in our Vision Statement.” The letter also addresses submerged lands issues, and offers a solution that was eventually accepted as a compromise between the federal and CNMI governments.

May 2009
Governor Fitial writes to Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar opposing Friends of the Marianas Trench suggestions, but asks for “prompt implementation…of the visitor’s center for the Monument.” The letter notes that the Department of Commerce National Marine Sanctuary program is not the monument’s manager.

June 2009
Friends of the Marianas Trench write to NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco to ask her to begin a sanctuary designation process in the CNMI.

August 2009
Dr. Lubchenco replies with a negative.

December 2009
Delegate Kilili writes to CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources Secretary Dr. Ignacio Dela Cruz to inform him of an $220,000 appropriation from the US Congress to be used “for educational programs on marine sanctuaries.”

February 2010
Friends of the Marianas Trench write to NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco again to ask her to begin a sanctuary designation process in the CNMI. The letter points out that the deadline to appoint an advisory council has passed, and that no progress has been made to development a management plan for the monument.

March 2010
Friends of the Marianas Trench write to Delegate Kilili to request that the $220,000 appropriate be used to develop and design a Marianas Trench Visitors Center, “resulting in a workable, concrete architectural plan and plans for hands-on exhibits, an aquarium, areas for scientific presentations, and other community interactions.”

April 2010
Dr. Lubchenco again replies with a negative, but promises that the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office will “explore ways that we can better develop a partnership with the CNMI government..(and) assist the CNMI in meeting some of its goals in marine protection, education, and research.”

May 2011
USFWS publish their first planning update on developing a management plan, four months after it was supposed to be finished.

November 2011
Request for Proposals for bids to conduct visitors center design plan goes out from CNMI government.

February 2012
USFWS publish their second planning update on developing a management plan, announce dates for public scoping meetings.

March 2012
James Cameron becomes the third human to descend to the bottom of the Marianas Trench.

November 2012
Barack Obama elected to a second term.

March 2013
USFWS published their third planning update on developing a management plan, which includes comments and questions received and their responses.

May 2013
Report on visitors center completed by Herman B. Cabrera and Associates. The $144,950 report suggests it will cost nearly $1/2 million to retrofit the Navy Hill Lighthouse to be usable for a visitors center. The report does not include any plans for exhibits, or renderings of a possible visitors center. The report recommends another location be used for a visitors center. The Friends of the Marianas Trench are disappointed with the cost and the content of the report. $47,419 of federal dollars were returned unused.

August 2013
Friends of the Marianas Trench write to Matt Brookhart to support the re-establishment of the nomination process for new national marine sanctuaries.

October 2013
Delegate Kilili writes to Acting NOAA Administrator Kathy Sullivan to request an assessment to manage the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument as part of the National Marine Sanctuaries network.

December 2013
Dr. Sullivan responds by writing that she has “asked ONMS and NMFS to develop a plan for greater ONMS involvement in the MTMNM.” She also encouraged the delegate and his staff to “continue working with NOAA on providing effective management for the MTMNM.”

September 2014
USFWS publishes their fourth planning update on developing a management plan, includes a schedule for Visitor Center Working Group Public listening session, published fishing regulations, and draft goals.

September 2016
Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres and Delegate Kilili write to President Obama requesting designation of a marine sanctuary.

November 2016
Donald J. Trump elected as the 45th President of the United States.

December 2016
Friends of the Marianas Trench submit a nomination to begin the designation process for a marine sanctuary. The monument management plan has still not been put forward for public comment.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Sanctuary Goals: Protecting the Marianas Trench

The Friends of the Marianas Trench in the CNMI Legislature in 2008.
On Sunday night I submitted a 20-page nomination to begin the designation process for a proposed Marianas Trench Marine National Sanctuary.

Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres and US Delegate Gregorio Camacho “Kilili” Sablan wrote to President Barack Obama in September 2016 to request that a sanctuary process begin in the Northern Mariana Islands for the marine areas of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Several island leaders have joined this call, along with 1,500 of our citizens. The Friends of the Marianas Trench took this request one step further and asked that during the sanctuary process, which will take several years and involve scoping and plenty of opportunity for public comment, the community have the chance to explore options for protecting additional resources as we initially identified in 2008, but also those discovered in the years since.

Conservation results in pre-mature aging.  This is what I looked like when I started work to protect the Marianas Trench.  That's my old college buddy and former San Vicente Elementary teacher, Diana.
The effort to protect the Marianas Trench is one month short of a decade-long journey for me, and of course, many others. Today I received notice that the nomination was accepted and is now under review by NOAA. What a great way to start the weekend!

A few of you will read this blog and wonder why do we even care? What do we hope to achieve?

The goals section of the nomination speaks to the hopes and dreams we have for the Marianas Trench. It's pasted below and consists of six sections related to Management and Enforcement, Culture and Tradition, Conservation, Education, Research and Exploration, and Economic Development.

The Mightiest Pen in the CNMI
This statement of goals strongly mirrors the Friends of the Marianas Trench Vision Statement from 2008, with just a few updates. The first draft of that vision statement was drafted by Ruth Tighe, who passed away a few years ago. As I drafted the nomination I thought of Ruth, and I'm thinking of her now. I like to think that she's looking down on us, proud and content that her words are still being used to make the world a better place.
Management and Enforcement, by which we mean not only management of the sanctuary once it is declared, but also the process of defining how the sanctuary would function once it is established.

The Friends of the Marianas Trench envision that the federal and local government officials will co-manage the sanctuary. We would like the Friends to be involved in this co-management; we are sure that there are innovative means for our members’ support and contribution. For example, we hope that the initial Advisory Committee for the sanctuary includes members of the Friends and other conservation-minded people who actively supported the designation of the sanctuary. Additionally, critical to these efforts are the necessary resources to enforce any protections. With this regard, we request assistance with the necessary equipment, training and support to properly enforce the designated area. We envision having boats for enforcement and patrol. In order to better manage and enforce the protections of the monument, we suggest that all vessels entering the sanctuary area should be required to carry a VMS and AIS tracking system and adopt strict invasive species prevention measures.

We believe that a permitting system would be appropriate for limiting and managing the types of vessels entering the sanctuary. This would help with enforcement because vessels entering without a permit would be suspected of illegal activities, and authorities would be alerted to their presence with the use of VMS, AIS, and other technologies. Research vessels and cultural practitioners will appreciate this system as it will maintain the integrity of the resource. Historically the Islands Unit of the monument has been rarely visited, but there is evidence of the occasional illegal foreign fishing vessel entering the area. The permitting system should be based on Saipan, and support for local people to apply for a permit, especially those related to cultural activities, should be provided using federal resources.

Culture and Tradition, by which we mean the lifestyle, practices and beliefs of the Chamorro and Carolinian peoples that have been handed down from generation to generation.

The Friends believe, first of all, that the Chamorro and Carolinian cultures and tradition must be treated with respect, and taken into full account in decisions that are made about the management and use of the sanctuary. We should take into consideration the precepts of our indigenous culture and tradition when deciding issues like, for example, sustenance fishing, canoe travel and other similar matters.

Our culture is also one of inclusion, and we hope to create a sanctuary advisory council that represents all people of the Northern Mariana Islands, beyond typical local government agency interest. In addition to the resource agencies, we believe that the Historic Preservation Office, Office of Indigenous Affairs, Office of Carolinian Affairs, and Office of Women’s Affairs should have a seat at the table. Additionally, we would like to see participation from conservation groups, fishing clubs, student groups, teacher unions, indigenous organizations, and businesses.

Conservation, by which we mean the protection and preservation of the marine ecosystems and their interrelationship with land ecosystems and indigenous cultures; and their continued presence and existence in the future.

The proposed sanctuary contains some of the world’s most unique habitats and unusual features, such as chemosynthetic and photosynthetic organisms living side-by-side, mud volcanoes, vent communities, and other natural wonders. One of these is volcanic coral reefs, which occur nowhere else in Micronesia. The coral reefs that exist there are flourishing and vibrant, and need protection to help guard our planet from the impacts of global warming and potentially act as a source of corals for other marine areas.

The Friends acknowledge that people of the CNMI and the world have historically relied on the oceans for food and other resources. We believe that the need for continued availability of our precious, limited marine resources does not conflict with conservation. We believe that creating the sanctuary will help increase the ocean’s abundance by contributing to the survival and recovery of depleted marine resources and biodiversity.

Education, by which we mean both formal and informal education, for students as well as the public, for residents as well as the rest of the world, in all relevant media formats, produced both commercially and non-commercially.

The Friends believe that funding should be made available to enable oceanography to be taught in schools, at the college and through lectures and programs for the public, and to ensure that pertinent education materials will be readily available, that careers in the marine and geological science will be encouraged, that opportunities for field trips for students, teachers, the general public and tourist should be made available.

We envision educational visitors’ centers, including a centrally-located facility funded under the auspices of the NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries Program that would be open to everyone that would contain displays of various sorts, offer education and outreach opportunities, and could have related items for sale. The island of Rota is particularly well-suited for an education facility. There is support from the local government and local elected leaders to manage and upkeep a facility for both local students and visitors.

The Friends believe that the visitors’ center would bring benefits not only to the local economy by attracting tourists, but also to the people of the CNMI, as it would showcase information about marine geology in general, about the sanctuary in particular, and about the CNMI and its indigenous history and culture; It would present, in a variety of formats, the results of marine research done in the area and relevant research done elsewhere; it would regularly present programs open to the public on matters related to marine life in general as well as marine life specific to the area, thus allowing the people of the CNMI, tourists, and other visitors, to benefit from the establishment of the sanctuary.

We believe that there are opportunities to collaborate with other institutions, including the Naval Historical Society, Smithsonian, Underwater World of Guam, and National Park Service to provide the community with exhibits and materials on exploration, research, history, and science.

It is our dream that this sanctuary will inspire and contribute to the first indigenous students receiving their Ph.D. in marine biology, deep-sea geology, or other related sciences.

There are 10,000 public school students attending 20 schools on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota and 1,000 students enrolled at the Northern Marianas College. There are also about a dozen private schools. We envision all of these students having at least an annual interaction with the programs of the proposed sanctuary. In addition to students visiting sanctuary facilities, we envision sanctuary staff conducting outreach directly to the schools.

Visitor arrivals surpassed 500,000 in fiscal year 2016, and the number of tourists is expected to grow. Visitors come mainly from Korean, China, and Japan, but also Russia, Guam, and the mainland United States.

Research and Exploration, by which we mean the process of studying marine life, geology and other sciences, and of data generation, as well as the products of such activity generated by scientists, teachers, or students.

The Friends believe the researchers and scientists who base their work on the sanctuary and its environs should be required to obtain permission prior to undertaking research in the area, and should share the information they garner with the local community through presentations at the Visitors’ Center, or in other forms and forums. They should make accommodations to take along local students and teachers on research trips, so that local students are encouraged to become scientist and researchers.

Researchers from Scripps Research Institute and Brigham Young University-Hawaii visit the Northern Mariana Islands each year and could collaborate with ONMS on research projects. Additionally, the Northern Marianas College has close ties with the University of Guam and University of Hawaii and there are a number of opportunities that could be explored, from classes taught locally on the sanctuary, to internships, and summer research projects for local students as well as visiting researchers.

NOAA Fisheries data shows that CNMI has the highest unique biomass in the US flag territories with endemism rivaling the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The habitat diversity of the region combined with proximity to the Coral Triangle results in high levels of biodiversity and endemism. For example, the 2016 expedition ‘Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas’ by the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer found hundreds of new species. The possibilities for exploration and new discoveries are staggering.

Economic Development, by which we mean assistance in improving the economy toward enabling the CNMI to become self-sufficient. The CNMI, being small islands with limited assets, will always be dependent to some extent on outside forces and influences, but certainly more is needed and can be done to increase independence.

There are many great economic benefits that we anticipate from the sanctuary. We envision a surge in the media attention from your designation of the Marianas Trench National Marine Sanctuary, which will attract more visitors to the CNMI. The CNMI relies heavily on tourism as its number one industry, and help to this sector of economy—whether from traditional or high-end visitors—will have a significant beneficial impact. The sanctuary will likely attract scientists and other researchers, who will contribute financially while visiting or living here. The operation of the visitors’ center and administration of the sanctuary will create jobs, both directly and indirectly.

The contribution that a sanctuary would make to the CNMI economy is in stark contrast to the present situation, where the only economic benefit that presently occurs from this significant resource is limited to illegal foreign fishing activities. Obviously, this current economic activity has little benefit to the CNMI.

The Friends believe that the federal funding provided for the management of the sanctuary and the associated increase in visitor spending are much more suited to the CNMI’s image in the world and more productive of tangible benefits when compared to fishing. The increased flow of traffic from Saipan, Tinian, and Rota to the sanctuary would also benefit the people of the CNMI in that it would make more feasible resettlement of the Northern Islands and provide transportation and communication with the “lower” Northern Islands.

More than 500,000 tourists visit the CNMI each year. The main source of arrivals come from Korea (43%), China (34%), and Japan (15%). The remaining visitors come from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Russia, Philippines, Guam, and the mainland United States. Even a small increase in visitor spending in regards to a sanctuary would have a significant impact on the CNMI economy.

There are numerous potential local partners in the private sector, federal and local government, and community that could support implementation of the goals of the sanctuary. In addition to the Friends of the Marianas Trench, the Mariana Islands Nature Alliance is very active in the community and has experience developing multimedia and social marketing materials to educate the community on the importance of marine protected areas. The Marianas Visitors Authority and the Hotel Association of the Northern Mariana Islands, who both supported designation of the monument would partner with ONMS to conduct outreach to visitors. Also, as previously noted, there are education institutions such as the Northern Marians College and CNMI Public School System that can form a bridge to connect to local students.
Call us stubborn or call us consistent, but we are determined to bring conservation and the benefits of protection to our shores.