Ignacio V “Ike” Cabrera | Founder / Chairman Emeritus

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Founder / Chairman Emeritus

Born and raised in Saipan, Ike is a founding member of the Friends of the Mariana Trench and served as the FOMT Chairman from 2008 to 2020. In early 2021, the new board named him Chairman Emeritus. Before he retired, he was the secretary for Department of Environment Quality from 1979 to 2000. In his retirement, he founded Cabrera Enterprises Services in 2001, which is active to this day. Ike was previously a board member of Marianas Resource Conservation and Development Council from 2004-2012. He also served on the Pacific Basin Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) board from 2004-2007 and the Saipan/Northern Islands SWCD from 2001-2007. Today, when he is not working on his farm, he is still actively involved with SWDC, particularly with watershed projects.

Dr. Larisa Ford | Secretary

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Dr. Larisa Ford is retired from the Department of Interior and in her last post served as the Project Leader for the Mariana Islands Refuges and Monument Complex, and Superintendent of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Dr. Ford is a remote Board Member and resides in Texas. She has been passionate about ocean resources her whole life and even received an Oceanography Award during her senior year in high school. She pursued a B.S. in Marine Biology at Texas A&M University at Galveston and then completed a Masters in Microbiology focusing on diseases of cephalopods. She continued her education at at Lousiana State University and received a PhD in Veterinary Microbiology with a minor in fisheries. Later she also completed a Master’s in Public Administration – Environmental track – Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi. Dr. Ford has over 40 years of experience in marine biology, aquaculture, fisheries, aquatic animal health, wildlife conservation policy, national federal policy, and federal budget formulation and implementation. She has worked throughout the United States and collaborated with scientific projects in Germany and Russia. Her interests include travel, fishing, bird watching, and volunteering to help with environmental stewardship and outdoor education projects.

Franco Santos | Vice-Chairman


Vice Chairman

Franco Santos was born and raised in Saipan, where he spent a decade working in the tourism industry and acting as a fundraising consultant for several charitable organizations. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Management and Accounting at the Northern Marianas College and participated in the 2015 Pacific Games in Papua New Guinea for the CNMI Golf Team. He is currently employed at the Saipan Chamber of Commerce as the Financial and Data Management Coordinator and continues to enjoy his time on and in CNMI waters. As a local fisherman in a leadership role for Friends of the Mariana Trench, he finds it important to conserve and protect our oceans, not only for future generations, but also for the livelihoods of all who will benefit.

Sheila Babauta | Chairwoman / Treasurer

Sheila Babauta Chairwoman & Treasurer

Chairwoman / Treasurer

A daughter of the CNMI, Sheila Babauta is passionate about contributing to a brighter Marianas. At the age of 29, she gained the trust and confidence of her community in Precinct 4 and began serving as a member in the 21st CNMI House of Representatives. Sheila continues to serve in the 22nd CNMI Legislature and currently holds key leadership positions as Chairwoman of the Natural and Cultural Resources Committee, Vice-Chairwoman of the Education Committee, and Floor Leader of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation. She believes that responsible management of our natural resources is essential to improving our quality of life in the Marianas and ensuring future generations have access to these resources.

Taking Conservation Outreach Digital

The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t stopping anytime soon, and neither are we; in response to our changing workspaces, FOMT is proactively seeking ways to channel this worldwide catalyst for change into developing stronger, more flexible, and more effective digital outreach methods that better serve conservation efforts in the CNMI.

(June – December 2020)


The Declaration for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument mandated a management plan be developed and published in 2011. Marine protected areas have been shown to only provide biological and social benefits when they are implemented and funded, and this cannot happen without a management plan.

(2011 to present)

NWRS – Friends Service Agreement (2010 – 2022)

While the friends no longer have the friends group agreement, we still find the opportunities to collaborate with NWRS.

Project HOPE

Healthy Oceans & People Empowerment (HOPE) is an ocean conservation program that allows sixth-graders, college students, guided by ocean elders and other ocean experts to join forces in protecting their home. 

(2019 – present)

Friends of the Mariana Trench Welcome Opportunity for Community Participation in Ocean Conservation

(Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands) – The Friends of the Mariana Trench, a local organization dedicated to the conservation, preservation, and protection of flora, fauna, and geological features of the ocean, welcome the opportunity to comment on the draft management plan for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

“Our islands, our ocean, and our culture are the tangible things we pass on to future generations,” said Representative Sheila Babauta, Chair of the Friends.  “Community engagement and local input will improve our stewardship of the Mariana Trench, and our organization is committed to working with our partners in local and federal government to ensure our voices are heard.”

The draft management plan and environmental assessment for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument was made available for public comment on February 24, 2021.  The 90-day comment period ends on May 25, 2021.

“We are the long-time stewards and owners of the Mariana Trench,” said Friends Vice Chair Franco Santos.  “We commend the work of the agency staff at CNMI Department of Land and Natural Resources, NOAA Fisheries, and US Fish and Wildlife Service for giving the community the opportunity to have a voice in the management of our natural resources.”

The Friends of the Mariana Trench plan to provide expert commentary on the draft management plan and work with community members who wish to learn about and comment on the plan.

“We also plan to help community members submit their own comments, so that their individual voices are heard as a part of this process,” added Representative Babauta.

For more info: https://www.friendsmarianatrench.org/

The Friends of the Monument formed in the Spring of 2008 to express the voice of the local community and consists of a cross-section of indigenous and resident people of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who are dedicated to the conservation, preservation and protection of flora, fauna and geological features of the oceans; and the proper management of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. The organization was a recipient of the 2009 EPA Environmental Award for their community outreach work supporting marine protected areas.


A New Board, A New Generation for Friends of the Mariana Trench

Saipan, CNMI – 2021 promises to be an exciting year for the Friends of the Mariana Trench (FOMT), which will be overseeing its various projects and grant-funded activities through a newly seated Board of Directors, including incoming chairwoman and treasurer Rep. Sheila J. Babauta and incoming vice chair Franco Santos, as well as returning member and secretary Dr. Larisa Ford. The Friends are delighted to bring such talented leadership onboard and look forward to collaborating on projects that promote environmental conservation in the Marianas community.

It is with earnest gratitude that the FOMT thanks and commends the service of its retiring board members; Mr. Edson Limes, who offered invaluable insight to the Friends as a cultural practitioner and fisherman, and former chairman and treasurer Ike Cabrera.

The Friends would like to further recognize former Chairman Ike’s fourteen years of devotion to the FOMT as chair and founder. Under his leadership, the Friends were able to achieve their many ambitious goals, including incorporating as a non-profit, campaigning for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, and, most recently, launching the first session of the Administration for Native Americans (ANA) grant-funded Project HOPE; Healthy Oceans & People Empowerment.

Mr. Limes and Mr. Cabrera will be sorely missed, but the Friends look forward to their continued participation in everyday stewardship and hope they will avail of FOMT’s exciting upcoming programs and services for the ocean-minded community. The FOMT board will be working alongside Executive Director Laurie Peterka to fulfill its mission: to inspire and influence ocean stewardship in the region by providing opportunities for the world, our community, and especially the youth to learn about ocean conservation and the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.