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

Commenting on the Management Plan: A Step-by-step Guide

Time is going by quickly – take action today!

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Draft Management Plan is out for public comment until July 26, 2021. Which means as of today, we have about less than a month left to comment on the Plan.

The Monument is not an underwater statue, but rather an ocean sanctuary. In a world brimming with threats to our oceans, the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument is a safe haven for marine life. The amount of untapped resources in the Monument are dwarfed by its untapped potential to advance our understanding of life on Earth. 

And we in the Marianas are its fortuitous guardians.

It is crucial that we use this federal comment period to share our thoughts on the Draft Management Plan. Managing the Trench would simply be incomplete without input from our indigenous people, whose years of knowledge encompass a deep relationship with the ocean.

How do I write a public comment?

Step 1. Get to know the Monument and the Draft Management Plan. Find out how you feel about the federal government’s approach to managing this important marine protected area. You can read more about the Monument here and view the actual Plan here. Our website is another great place to learn about the Draft Management Plan.

Step 2. Check out this sample language to help you get started on writing your public comment. Feel free to use this template and include your own thoughts about the Plan:

“I support the adoption and implementation of a management plan for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. I support the six goals stated in the current plan. The final version should reflect a plan to best achieve and support those goals. 

Throughout the history of the Mariana Islands and its people there has been a tradition of protecting and preserving our ocean to maintain balance and be sure our ocean can heal and continue to provide. The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument and the management plan are an opportunity to continue that tradition. 

[If applicable: As a _________ (indigenous Chamorro/Carolinian/other oceanic people) I support the Monument and the management plan because it aligns with the history of designating sacred and protected spaces to allow our ocean and its creatures a chance to heal.]

It is essential that a final management plan be adopted and implemented, and that it: 

  • Be current and reflect current science and all that we know today, not rely on data from 10 or 15 years ago
  • Ensure accountability and transparency by affording people easy access to information such as permits and guaranteeing local oversight and regular opportunities for evaluation of management actions
  • Be fully accessible to all CNMI communities with summaries and fact sheets translated into Chamorro and Carolinian 

The ocean sanctuary and the management plan will secure an essential lifeblood and provider for all the people of the CNMI and for every generation to come. I encourage the swift adoption and implementation of a plan that aligns with the goals of the draft plan and the priorities listed above.”

Step 3.  Keep track of the Friends of the Mariana Trench’s social media pages. In the very near future we’ll be announcing some opportunities to learn how to submit a public comment on the Plan.

Follow us! We’re on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Chairwoman Sheila Babauta to speak at Capitol Hill Ocean Week

Friends of the Mariana Trench is pleased to announce that board Chair and Precinct 4 Representative Sheila Babauta will be representing the CNMI as a speaker for Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) in Washington, DC. 

“We are part of the Pacific, therefore any conversations happening around ocean health, ocean sustainability, ocean recovery,” said Representative Babauta, “These are conversations we really need to be a part of because we have such an intimate connection with the ocean.”

CHOW is an annual conference in Washington, D.C. that has been convening members of Congress, Administration officials, state and local governments, scientists, scholars, business executives, nonprofit leaders, and the public for an annual dialogue on ocean science, policy, and conservation for the past twenty years. 

According to organizers, “Chow 2021 will focus on building a more racially equitable and just movement for our ocean and Great Lakes.”

“This year’s conference is an opportunity to examine how systemic racism negatively impacts conservation, science, and policy, and how strengthening justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion will improve the sustainability of our ocean, coasts, Great Lakes, and the communities that depend on them.”

Rep. Babauta will represent the CNMI on a panel titled “Strengthening Resource and Climate Change Engagement in the U.S. Territories”.  The Honorable Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan will also offer opening remarks at this year’s virtual session.

“I am very excited about the invitation from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation,” Rep. Babauta said about the event. “I am looking forward to engaging in dialogue about how we can better protect our oceans and really share our experience and our relationship with the ocean here in the CNMI.”

The panel will also feature representatives from the other US territories: Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Voice your support for our ocean: Comments needed on the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Management Plan

This deep-sea holothurian was observed swimming on Dive 05 at Fina Nagu Caldera D.
(NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Deepwater Exploration of the Marianas)

Check out the video: HERE

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. Show up and be heard at any of the following virtual public information sessions:
Tinian, June 2

Call-in option: US Toll +1-415-527-5035; Access code: 199 773 3862
Rota, June 3

Call-in option: US Toll +1-415-527-5035; Access code: 199 284 6500
Saipan, June 8

Call-in option: US Toll +1-415-527-5035; Access code: 199 320 4912
Guam, June 10

Call-in option: US Toll +1-415-527-5035; Access code: 199 558 2463
All four meetings will be held from 5:30 – 7:00 p.m. ChST.

Use Webex meetings password: trench

For information on how to join a Webex meeting, visit the Webex webpage or the Webex Help Center.
Visit the NOAA Fisheries and USFWS webpages for more info.

Preparing your questions for Management Plan Info Sessions | 6/1/2021

Virtual info sessions for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument Draft Management Plan are happening over several days during the next two weeks!

Do you want to know more about the Management Plan, but don’t know where to begin? You can start with topics that matter to you the most — whether it’s fishing, culture, or science.

Follow these steps to find out how the Management Plan affects your priorities:

  1. Click here to open the Draft Management Plan.
  2. Open the Search tool:
    1. On Windows: Type Ctrl + f on your keyboard.
    2. On Mac: Type ⌘ + f  (or Command + f) on your keyboard
  3. The Search tool opens a small window on your screen where you can enter the word(s) you want to find. Type in any subject of your choice – the tool will highlight all parts of the Management Plan where that word appears!

Even if you have no questions about the Management Plan, we invite you to learn more about the Plan at any of the upcoming virtual info sessions. Check out this blog post for the full schedule and meeting links!

Project HOPE Returns for Spring!

The Friends of the Mariana Trench (FOMT) are excited to announce that student registration has been extended to April 9th for Project HOPE (Healthy Ocean & People Empowerment), an ocean science program for CNMI sixth graders funded by a grant from the Administration of Native Americans (ANA) and made available through a partnership with PSS.  There is no cost for student participation. Registration is open through April 9th. Orientation will be held April 12th and is mandatory for all participants.  Learning will begin on April 19th.

Project HOPE learning sessions will take place weekly for approximately 8 weeks of activities. ENRO students together with ocean elders will work closely with outreach Specialists that will engage 6th graders in six-hour hands-on learning sessions every Monday at the Guma Sakman in Susupe. Students will also participate in a stewardship project of their own creation, which will span the duration of the program. Project HOPE will conclude with week-long ocean camp held June 14-18 in coordination with MINA and 500 Sails.

“The goal of Project HOPE is to make a crucial and complex subject like ocean conservation more accessible to our students,” said FOMT Executive Director and Project HOPE Director Laurie Peterka. “We believe that by creating fun, hands-on ocean science activities and incorporating local community members from multiple generations, we can help our students envision themselves as the CNMI’s next wave of ocean protectors.”

Project HOPE learning teams consist of Ocean Elders, college students and 6th graders. FOMT is pleased and grateful to acknowledge those who are continuing or joining us for our second cohort. Returning for a second round in our ocean elders circle we welcome back Antonio U. Piailug, Joseph A. Omar, and Frances Sablan and joining us for Spring will be Oscar Sablan and Tony Pangelinan. In support of our ocean elders, Project HOPE sessions will be facilitated by NMC Environment & Natural Resource Organization (ENRO) students Dhalian Alvarez Salas, Catherine Tanseco Calma, Eloise Lopez, Anela Duenas, Richelle Ramon, and Mathew Richardson.

“I want to thank PSS principals and science teachers for working diligently alongside FOMT to ensure that students and parents can easily register for Project HOPE,” added Project Coordinator Joseph Villacrusis. “Anyone interested in registering can contact FOMT or find the appropriate information and forms on the FOMT website.”

Inspired by the desire to improve our 6th graders’ ACT Aspire test scores, Project HOPE uses experiential learning to increase students’ understanding of experimental results, inferences, evaluation of models and analyzing data. Our weekly ocean science learning sessions also combine traditional cultural methods and STEM principles to promote ocean conservation stewardship; local elders with a lifetime of ocean expertise participate in ocean science activities right along with CNMI 6th graders.

Weekly engagement sessions as well as the ocean camp are structured with appropriate social distancing protocols in place to protect all participants’ health as much as possible. Our COVID-19 protocols are based on CDC, CHCC Public Health and PSS guidelines. These guidelines worked well in our Fall session and we are confident that they will continue to serve the needs of our program, especially protecting all the individuals involved.

Because the global outbreak of COVID-19 prevented FOMT from initiating the program in Spring 2020 as planned, the Project HOPE Fall 2020 program was open to 7th grade students (SY 2019-20’s 6th graders) and our Spring 2021 program is for 6th grade students.

You can obtain information from your school’s principal or contact Joe Villacrusis at (670) 483 – FOMT (3668). For more information, you may also visit our website at or email us at


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:

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.