Friends of the Mariana Trench Encourage Community Involvement

The Friends of the Mariana Trench invite the community to learn about the proposed national marine sanctuary and to participate in the five-year review process.  The comment period was recently extended an additional 45 days at our request, and our community has until April 25 to learn about the proposed sanctuary, and to help determine whether our waters continue to meet the criteria of National Marine Sanctuary designation.

The sanctuary nomination was made in 2016 at the written request of Governor Torres and Delegate Sablan, but the official nominating documents were written and submitted by the Friends of the Mariana Trench, with support from Angelo Villagomez, a Chamorro conservation advocate who lives and works in Washington, DC (Angelo is the son of the late Justice Ramon G. Villagomez).

The 2016 nomination is available online and the Friends encourage the public to review it.  The great thing about the five-year review process is that it allows for edits to be made to the nomination.  During the first comment period, the Friends compiled changes suggested by the community, engaged with Chamorro scientists to review, and document new science in our waters, and submitted them to the federal government on March 3.  That letter can be reviewed in the News Feed on our website or at this link:

Most of the changes were small, but we made 3 overarching changes: (1) We want to change the name of the sanctuary to reflect our cultural heritage, and to help avoid confusing the sanctuary with the monument, which is a different federal initiative, (2) We stressed the importance of co-management of the proposed sanctuary at the governance, management, and advisory level, and most importantly (3), we want to celebrate our proud fishing tradition and are not proposing any restrictions to our local boats.  We are, however, explicit that we do not support fishing by foreign vessels in our waters, a position informed by our interactions with family and the community.

Now that the comment period has been extended, we have the opportunity to make additional edits.  And with the help of Mr. John Gourley’s public outreach efforts, we have already identified one important edit: We want to change the language around proposed permitting for vessels.  We do not want there to be permit requirements for local boats, but when foreign researchers or billionaire adventure seekers come into our waters, we want our local people to know about it, and we want local people to have the ability to restrict their activities if they are harmful.  Again, this position is based on conversations we have had with friends and the community.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench is a grassroots organization based on Saipan and consists of indigenous women and men. We appreciate the interactions we’ve enjoyed with our community through last year’s outreach events such as DCRM’s Ocean Fair Saipan & Rota, The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Management Plan Watch Party Saipan & Tinian, Taste of the Marianas, Hafa adai – Tirow Summer Jam, Project Liffang and at the recent International Women’s Month event at the NMI Museum. In addition to conducting our programs funded through our 501c3 status, we strive to be present at community events to provide outreach on our projects and programs, our monument, our organization, and our vision – Healthy Oceans, Healthy Communities. We aim to provide the latest information on our website so that our community can be informed and aware of the available opportunities to get involved. Everyone is welcome!

The fastest way to reach us is to call or send a WhatsApp message to (670) 483-3668 or send us an email at We are very responsive. If you haven’t seen the public announcement by NOAA Sanctuaries, please be advised that there will be a virtual meeting hosted by the Federal Government on Thursday, March 31, 2022, from 12pm to 3pm ChST.  The Friends encourage the public to register and attend. You can register here:


Friends of the Mariana Trench Celebrate Public Participation in Management Plan

The Friends of the Mariana Trench thank the community for engaging in the recent public commenting process for the draft management plan for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

We also congratulate the CNMI government on its robust response to the draft management plan. The Friends were impressed and heartened by the thoughtful comments written by our elected officials and government agencies. Finally, we thank the local and national NGOs, scientists, and former federal government employees who took the time to participate.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for our community to participate and comment on federal documents when given the opportunity,” said Sheila Babauta, Chair of Friends of the Mariana Trench and Chair of the CNMI legislature’s Natural Resources Committee. 

“I’m so grateful for all the efforts by the Friends of the Mariana Trench to gather, educate, and assist community members during the comment period of the draft management plan.”

US Fish and Wildlife Services and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first released the draft management plan for the Monument in February of this year. The Friends ensured professional reviews of the draft by scientific experts and community development consultants. The collective input was condensed into a key take-aways reference sheet geared toward the public and offered information about the plan’s content, strengths, and weaknesses. 

“We often say we want a seat at the table,” Chair Babauta said about federal plans for the Northern Marianas. “This is one way to take advantage of that and voice your concerns, state your support, or ask questions.”

The Friends leveraged their website and social media to spread awareness of the Monument draft management plan and commenting process; hosted watch parties on Saipan and Tinian to allow community members from all islands to participate in federal virtual meeting sessions; performed outreach at the Ocean Fairs on Saipan and Rota and during Project Liffang, an entrepreneurial fair hosted by the United Carolinians Association in collaboration with the Carolinian Affairs Office and the CNMI Women’s Association; and held twelve public comment workshop sessions.

The Friends also received capacity support from the members of the National Ocean Protection Coalition and the Blue Nature Alliance in support of engaging the community during the comment process.

“Aside from our national partners, we would like to thank the Marianas Alliance of Nongovernmental Organizations and their staff for making their resource room available for our daily workshops,” said executive director, Laurie Peterka. “Last but definitely not least, a BIG shout out to all of FOMT staff for their hard work in organizing the watch parties, providing outreach booths at events, and presenting at the workshops too!”

Public Commenting Workshops

The Marianas Trench marine protected area is an ocean sanctuary that honors our traditions, our shared connection and our obligation to our ocean. The marine protected area secures our lifeblood and our provider, for us and for every generation to come.

Right now we have a unique opportunity to voice ourselves and stand up for our ocean. The federal government has published a draft management plan and is asking our people for input. This opportunity to shape the protection of the Marianas Trench marine protected areas is a once-in-a-decade window, and it is crucial that our community is heard. 

Friends of the Mariana Trench are hosting workshops to help our community with preparing their own public comments. The Friends are here to help you get your voice counted. 

Select a date and time that works best for you and register today

T/TH11am – 1pmN/A
SAT/SUNN/A10am – 2pm