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:



REMINDER: March 31 virtual public meeting: Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary Nomination

Agency to accept public comments through April 25, 2022

On Jan. 21, 2022, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries initiated a review of the Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary nomination, which was set to expire on March 13, 2022, after five years in the sanctuary nomination inventory. The announcement included an opportunity for public comment.

NOAA has not initiated a designation process for this site. NOAA is seeking public input on whether the nomination of Mariana Trench should remain on the inventory of sites for potential national marine sanctuary designation.

The purpose of the five-year review is to determine if the nomination remains accurate and responsive to the 11 criteria on national significance and management considerations. 

Following a request for additional time to provide comments, NOAA reopened the public comment period through April 25, 2022. The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries will then determine if the Mariana Trench National Marine Sanctuary nomination will remain in the inventory for an additional five years. 

NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries will hold a virtual meeting on Thursday, March 31, 2022, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.  ChST (Guam/Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) / Wednesday, March 30, 2022, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. HST (Hawaiʻi).

To register, please visit

Written comments must be received by April 25, 2022. Comments may be entered on the Federal eRulemaking Portal: Submit electronic comments via the Federal eRulemaking Portal and search for Docket Number NOAA-NOS-2022-0005.

To comment by mail: Kristina Kekuewa, Pacific Islands Regional Director, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, 1845 Wasp Blvd., Honolulu, Hawaii 96818. To comment by email:

For more information about the nomination or five-year review process, visit


Learn More about our Ideas for the Marianas Sanctuary

Kristina Kekuewa
Pacific Islands Regional Director
NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries
1845 Wasp Blvd.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96818

RE: Marianas 5 Year Review

Dear Regional Director Kekuewa,

The Friends of the Monument submitted a proposal for a Mariana Trench National Marine
Sanctuary and it was accepted onto the inventory of possible sanctuaries on March 13, 2017. This letter makes official our request to renew our nomination for an additional five years. In this letter we provide updates to the 11 sanctuary nomination process criteria, which we believe strengthens the nomination. Once the nomination is renewed, we ask the federal government to move forward with scoping for a designation immediately.

In our 2017 nomination we quoted CNMI Constitution, Article I, Section 9, “Each person has the right to a clean and healthful public environment in all areas, including the land, air, and water.” We start our renewal with this quote again, to remind our community that a healthy ocean is a guaranteed constitutional right that we all have to work towards achieving. We invite the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in as partners in helping to deliver this constitutional right to our citizens.

Our surrounding waters were first identified as a possible national marine sanctuary in the
1990s and our name appears on the first ONMS site evaluation list. In 2008, the Friends of the Mariana Trench made our request for a sanctuary official in a letter our organization sent to then-President George W. Bush. We copied this letter into the Goals Description of our 2017 nomination and it includes six vision categories: Management and Enforcement; Culture and Tradition; Conservation; Education; Research and Exploration; and Economic Development.

Before considering the specifics of the 11 criteria updates, we offer three overarching
comments: First, we make no substantive changes to our nomination, but request to amend our proposed name. Our waters are home to the iconic Mariana Trench, the deepest trench in the world’s ocean. This is something to be proud of, and we want to include it and keep it in our nomination. But we would like to bring greater attention to the stewardship of the people who have called this place home for more than 4,000 years and ask that the name reflect our heritage. We offer the name Ma’tingan Le’metawh National Marine Sanctuary.

Second, we want to stress the importance of co-management for the proposed national marine sanctuary, and ask that during the designation process, the proper CNMI government agencies and/or Indigenous representatives are included in both management, decision making, and advisory roles.

And third, we want to be clear that we are not proposing any additional restrictions for small fishing vessels home ported in Guam, Saipan, Tinian, or Rota, nor do we think our proposal will affect any existing commercial offshore fisheries. We do, however, want to address foreign and illegal fishing with the sanctuary. We would prefer that the proposed borders of the sanctuary emerge with extensive community engagement during the process of designation, and we have provided significant scientific information detailing the geographic and biological riches of our surrounding Exclusive Economic Zone.

Sanctuary Nomination Process Criteria and Considerations

National Significance Criteria 1: Natural Resources and Ecological Qualities
The 2017 nomination brought attention to the geography and biology that exists in the full US Exclusive Economic Zone around the Mariana Islands, including areas within the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument and close to some of the inhabited islands (based on discussions we had with local leaders at the time).

The Mariana Islands and surrounding waters are a geological and biological hotspot called the Ring of Fire. Coral reefs ring our islands, while volcanoes and seamounts surround the iconic Mariana Trench, the least explored and deepest ecosystem in the ocean. We cited a 2016 peer reviewed survey of global ocean priorities for marine biodiversity which identified the Marianas as the top marine conservation priority within the United States (Jenkins and Van Houtan, 2016).

We highlighted the unworldly creatures that have been discovered in our waters in recent years, but what is even more intriguing is that which we have yet to discover. We highlighted the natural resources and ecological qualities of potential sanctuary areas in a sixty page report as an addendum to our 2017 proposal.

2022 Update
The Friends of the Mariana Trench partnered with young Indigneous scientists to commission an update to our report to document discoveries made in the last 5 years. The paper is submitted as appendix I to this comment letter and focuses on four areas: Marine mammals; coral reef ecosystems; fish and other wildlife; and Mariana Trench. The details within this document highlight how the last five years of discovery and research strengthen the case that our surrounding waters are of global and national significance.

National Significance Criteria 2: Maritime Heritage Resources
The 2017 nomination highlighted the seafaring tradition of the Chamorro and Refaluwasch
peoples and the cultural and historical connections between the heavily populated, large islands in the south and the sparsely populated, smaller islands in the north. It also drew attention to the history of European explorers visiting our islands during 500 years of colonization, as well as World War II era Japanese and American aircraft and naval vessels whose final resting places are in our waters.

2022 Update
The nascent movement to reinvigorate the voyaging and wayfinding traditions in the Mariana Islands is blossoming. The sanctuary program has an opportunity to play a role in this growing movement to reclaim our maritime heritage and culture. There is a new generation of navigators and voyagers who can combine their understanding of traditional ecological knowledge to inspire a new generation of ocean stewards in our islands.

We could also bring attention to the treasure hunters looking for gold from wrecked Spanish galleons such as the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, whose treasures are currently stored NMI Museum of History and Culture.

The sanctuary could also play a larger role in our cultural and historical understanding of our connection to, stewardship and ownership of ocean resources. A study by Gruby et al, 2017 looked at how Palauans are applying traditional ocean management concepts to the EEZ for the very first time, and this is something that can also take place in the Marianas.

National Significance Criteria 3: Economic Uses
The 2017 nomination reported that there were no economic uses in the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, but that there was some limited subsistence fishing.

2022 Update
There is hope for the development of cruise line tourism to the Northern Islands and/or
adventure eco-tourism, but it hasn’t taken off yet. Low impact, sustainable ecotourism would benefit our islands, especially as we emerge from the two year Covid pandemic.

In 2018, the CNMI government announced at an international fisheries meeting the intention to pursue subsidies to develop a commercial fishery, but this has not materialized. There has been no industrial fishing in the US waters around the Mariana Islands since 1983 when President Ronald Reagan declared the US Exclusive Economic Zone.

National Significance Criteria 4: Publicly Derived Benefits
The 2017 nomination focused on the existence value of the Islands Unit of the Mariana Trench Monument in relation to both Indigenous identity and biological conservation.

2022 Update
Maintaining our surrounding waters for culture and science would benefit future generations, and act as a window into the past so that we can better understand what our islands and ocean were like before the advent of military colonialism, industrial fishing, plastic pollution, and climate change. Our surrounding waters are large enough and healthy enough to support both the world’s best managed fisheries, and conservation and cultural goals, and we see this as a vision for our waters. We want to support the economy to meet the needs of today, while also ensuring that we are passing down our cultures and natural heritage to our children.

The pandemic has made it obvious how reliant our economy is on tourism, and we need to
improve our branding as a climate-friendly, sustainable destination surrounded by waters
teeming with life. The sanctuary can provide data and information at local tourism hubs and
design education programs for both visitors and locals.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench work closely with the Northern Marianas College and see opportunities for the sanctuary to engage in and support citizen science, the planned NSF research hub, and Indigenous and cultural preservation in our ocean science programs.

The goals of the proposed sanctuary are also in line with the CNMI Comprehensive sustainable development plan which shares the goals of the United Nations’ SDG14. Federal and local agencies engaged in fisheries management, coral reef conservation, and marine protected areas can coordinate to ensure a healthy, sustainable ocean as guaranteed by the CNMI Constitution to all of our citizens.

Management Consideration 1: Research in Marine Science
The 2017 nomination focuses on the biological and geological deep sea research since the
Marianas were first identified as a possible ONMS site in the 1990s.

2022 Update
As the last unfished wildernesses in the United States, the US EEZ around the Marianas
provides opportunity to study healthy fish populations, especially during this time of climate crisis.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench are currently developing several social science research
programs, and there could be a role for the sanctuary. For example, we are bringing together elders and youths to share Chamorro and Refaluwasch traditional knowledge, to explore how to use this in ocean conservation. We are also looking at communication gaps between generations and communities in our islands, cultural blending of new information, and reviewing the exchange of knowledge in traditional ways.

There are opportunities to expand deep sea marine exploration and research. There has been a steady increase in the number of dives to the trench in the last 10 years and an absolute explosion in the last three. Not all of the discoveries or exploration is being shared with our community, or the American public, and the sanctuary could mandate that it is shared.

We hope that there will be future study towards better understanding the effects of plastic and PCBs in our ocean, and how this affects our food security and sovereignty. Several studies in recent years have found pollutants in the trench, which is surprising, because it is the most difficult place in the world to get to. We need to understand how these pollutants are harming our people and our surrounding ecosystems.

Management Consideration 2: Opportunities for Education
The 2017 nomination highlighted the 500,000 annual visitors to the Marianas, and that
government agencies, education institutions, and business are interested in capitalizing on a NMS designation. In the years following the monument designation there had been an increase in the amount of research done in the region.

2022 Update
The Friends work with students from the Northern Marianas College as part of our programs, and connect students to a group of ocean elders, so that they can teach and learn from one another. We are also studying communication gaps in our community to better engage our citizens in ocean stewardship.

Education programs for tourists and locals alike will be a unique destination offering, and could play a role in our community and economy recovering from Covid. Our community is also underserved when compared to other American communities, and partnering with our local organizations and agencies provides an opportunity for the US government to support
Indigneous-led conservation initiatives.

Management Consideration 3: Current or Future Threats
The 2017 nomination identified climate change, deep sea mining, and illegal fishing as the
major threats to the proposed sanctuary.

2022 Update
Our ocean faces more threats than ever. In the Marianas our lands and waters are threatened by increased military activities. In the last five years there have been heightened tensions with China and military threats from North Korea. We are also increasingly concerned about selling US waters to foreign fishing, as the CNMI Marine Conservation Plan still includes a loophole that would allow WESPAC and the CNMI governor to lease our waters to foreign companies and governments, like China.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented economic downturn in our community, with tourism arrivals dropping to nearly zero for two years. Now we face the threat of inflation, which is further exaggerated by our isolated location and the Jones Act, which restricts which vessels can deliver goods to our ports. We are also concerned about plastic pollution and food security.

Management Consideration 4: Unique Conservation and Management Value
The 2017 highlighted strong support for marine protected areas in the Northern Mariana Islands, but limited resources to implement them.

2022 Update
A study in 2017 explored public perceptions of ocean conservation, marine protected areas, and the Mariana Trench Monument on Saipan. The study by Danny Morris of the University of York found that the people in the CNMI support MPAs, and when asked how much of the Mariana Islands ocean space should be protected, the average answer was 57%. There were less positive responses when asked similar questions about the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, but they were still overwhelmingly positive. Presentation on the research:

Management Consideration 5: Supplementing or Complementing Existing Regulatory and
Management Authorities

The 2017 nomination described how the Marianas would benefit from increased capacity to conduct educational and research programs.

2022 Update
We envision a Marianas where we have the world’s best managed fisheries and the most
important protected areas. We would like to see increased coordination of existing fishing
activity, fishing regulations, coral reef sanctuary, and proposed sanctuary rules to enhance
management. We also repeat that we aren’t suggesting fishing regulations for the sanctuary.

Our people have a proud fishing tradition and we support the current regime which keeps
foreign vessels out of our waters. We urge the CNMI Governor, WESPAC, and NOAA Fisheries to remove the loophole from the CNMI Marine Conservation Plan which could allow future foreign fishing. We also applaud the CNMI Governor, WESPAC, and NOAA Fisheries for currently banning longlines close to shore (0-50 nautical miles) and purse seines in our full EEZ, and hope that these restrictions remain in place to support our local fishermen.

Due to the lack of fishing in our offshore waters, they may qualify as an Other Effective
Conservation Measure (OECM), as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The sanctuary could play a pivotal role in keeping our healthy ocean durable, along with other ocean management regimes and laws in our region. We think our waters should count as an OECM towards the goals of President Biden’s America the Beautiful Initiative, as our waters are the last unfished wilderness in the United States.

Management Consideration 6: Partnership Opportunities
The 2017 nomination suggested partnerships with local government agencies and
environmental NGOs.

2022 Update
The Friends of the Mariana Trench have received technical and funding support towards
achieving 30×30 in our waters and designating the sanctuary, particularly from the National Ocean Protection Coalition members and the Packard Foundation. Also, parallel to the creation of the America the Beautiful Initiative, we have been in contact with other Indigenous-led sanctuary proposals in the Pacific and hope to create a partnership with them. Here are a list of ongoing partnerships that could engage with the proposed sanctuary:

  • The Packard Foundation is supporting our intergenerational ocean conservation corps, several MPA and fisheries science projects, and 30×30 communications and outreach.
  • We have started discussions with the Blue Nature Alliance about an opportunity to stand up policy to benefit all our people.
  • We are partnering with the Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance to plan workshops to address how to finance the Micronesia Challenge for the CNMI, which has a goal to effectively manage 50% of our marine resources.
  • 500 sails has sailing and swimming programs for local community members and are a signatory to our support letter.
  • We have a partnership with the Northern Marianas College and their environmental club to improve environmental literacy and work on other conservation projects.
  • We are partnering with the CNMI humanities council and a group of ocean elders to document, preserve, and pass down traditional ecological knowledge, stories, traditions, and culture to future generations.
  • Project HOPE is an ANA funded campaign which brings elders and youths together to protect the ocean

Consideration 7: Community Support
The 2017 nomination describes the political and community support for a national marine
sanctuary from 2008 to 2016 and includes a list of letter writers and supporters.

2022 Update
The CNMI government renewed their commitment to the Micronesia Challenge and joins a
region-wide commitment to effectively manage 50% of our marine resources. All government resource agencies and many NGOs, businesses, and community members are engaged with achieving this goal.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench participated in the quarterly meeting of the Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship Stakeholders working group hosted by the CNMI House Committee on Natural Resources and presented to over 50 members of the House Committee, executive branch offices, local and national NGOs, federal agencies, local businesses, scientists, and concerned citizens about the five year review. We also hosted a watch party to participate in the virtual public listening session. Letters of concern and support are posted to the Federal Register.

While public surveys and scientific research have found overwhelming support for ocean
conservation in our community, the support is not unanimous. Vocal opposition has been raised by John Gourley, Vice Chair of the Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council, who attended both of the meetings described above. Despite the Friends explaining in careful detail our vision for the proposed sanctuary, Mr. Gourley and his WESPAC colleagues made several accusations about fishing access and permitting, while also lamenting their disappointment regarding the pace of the implementation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. We share many of the same concerns and have been surprised that we are being accused of supporting things we never did. We believe that the concerns raised by Mr. Gourley and WESPAC are addressed in our renewal documents, and believe that the best way to protect our ocean is to work together.

Friends of the Mariana Trench Call for 30 Day Comment Period Extension

The Friends of the Mariana Trench wrote to the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries today to formally request a 30 day extension to the public comment period for the 5 year review of the proposed national marine sanctuary in the Mariana Islands.

“We think our community needs some additional time to understand the small changes we made to the nomination,” said Joleen Salas, senior staff of the Friends of the Mariana Trench.   “First and foremost, we do not seek any changes to how our fisheries are currently managed.  Second, we want to focus our proposed sanctuary on our cultural heritage, and not the Mariana Trench.  And third, co-management with our local government and inclusion of our Indigenous peoples in management is mandatory.”

“We were very intentional not to make any recommendation on where the sanctuary should be located because we feel that it should emerge from the community, not just from us,” said Salas.  “The Friends is confused about the statements surrounding the 57% closure, we have no idea where this came from and we want to get to the bottom of this. We back the community in wanting to clarify this.”

The Friends found the first public comment period to be helpful as several important issues were raised by community members.

“The elders in our community that I’ve spoken to are passionate about research and education to benefit younger generations. Fishermen have also expressed they want to be able to pass our proud fishing tradition down to future generations without the complications of a permit process and we agree with them.”

The Friends submitted an 18 page comment letter highlighting how the water surrounding the Marianas meet or exceed the criteria to be recognized as a national marine sanctuary (  All comments are available for review on the Federal Register. The Friends encourage the community to share comments or concerns.

The ocean is our oldest ancestor and the ultimate provider. It is a source of sustenance, a place of celebration, and a pillar of our traditions. Through the ocean we are connected across our islands and across time — to those who came before us and those yet to come. As an island people, it is a blessing to be able to rely on the ocean in more ways than one.

“We support and encourage community participation. We are available to assist with the commenting process and guide you to helpful resources,” said Salas. 

“We are the descendant caretakers of our surrounding ocean. The ocean is our inheritance. It is our responsibility to participate in its management.”

Please visit the Friends website at, or message them via WhatsApp at (670) 483-3668 or email at

We Support “No” to 57% But Say “Yes” to Research & Education

The Friends of the Mariana Trench were asked to respond to claims that we are trying to close 57% of the EEZ around the CNMI. It’s not true. The Friends are focused on research and education. We are happy to share our 3-Year Strategic Plan where you can see our priorities. If you want to learn more, please visit our website (, message us on WhatsApp (670-483-3668), or send us an email ( with your concerns and we will happily provide you with any information available to us.

The current public comment period is to identify whether there are any changes to the 11-criterion set forth by NOAA Sanctuaries. The Friends asked a Chamorro marine science Ph.D. candidate to look at the science completed around the Mariana Trench since 2009. The findings are significant and deserve to be considered for additional research opportunities. The Friends are not proposing any closures to indigenous access with the EEZ nor changes to existing fishing regulations. We do, however, believe that the proposal supported by Governor Torres and Congressman Kilili accepted by the NOAA Sanctuaries Office in 2017, should remain on the inventory list for future possible designation which would bring ocean and marine science research and education resources to the people of the Marianas.

We believe in the preservation of our culture. Our people have always lived off our lands and waters. We have always understood that the land and ocean can provide sustenance for our families. It is our honor to perpetuate this legacy. We want our children to inherit abundance and we believe that conservation management of our resources done correctly can provide for them indefinitely. We believe in providing support to allow traditional knowledge to coexist with Western-style research and the recording of research science findings. Through this model, we can share our knowledge and translate culture into research outcomes which will, in turn, provide our youth with the skills to maintain the gifts that our islands have provided to us for generations. We believe that science and research can be beneficial in helping us to carry our best practices forward.

We request that NOAA Sanctuaries keep the Mariana Trench nomination in the NOAA Sanctuaries inventory. Moreover, we look forward to participating in the designation process, should it occur at some point in the future. The following points are of utmost importance:

  • Our geographical location is unique, however, our indigenous scientists’ capacity in our own home is limited. We want to see support for our people to practice science for our people and community
  • Our people have practiced conservation for 3,000 years. Revitalization of traditional practices in support of our livelihood is prime
  • We are passionate about blending our traditional practices with Western-style science research to effectively manage our natural resources now and for our future generations
  • It is imperative that the people of the Marianas will be given equal co-management of any federally designated sanctuary spaces
  • Equally imperative is that the sanctuary designation is not a decision between governments but is a community-developed conservation space
  •  We do not have any substantive changes to recommend for the nomination, but we do believe that the community should make any decisions that involve fishing and that the federal government should honor this. We support fishermen/women in our community who want to maintain access and fishing rights
  • We strongly believe that the sanctuary name should be changed to reflect our indigenous peoples and not those who have colonized our islands over the last 500 years

To learn more, watch this video.

Friends recognize the NOAA Sanctuaries public outreach efforts

NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries office is seeking public comments related to the 5-year review of the National Marine Sanctuary designation for the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. The Environmental Sustainability and Stewardship Stakeholder Meeting conducted by the Natural Resources Committee in the House chamber hosted NOAA Sanctuaries to give attendees the opportunity to comment or ask questions yesterday, February 1, 2022.

As the original nominator for the sanctuary designation, the Friends of the Mariana Trench presented its plans for the renewal process and shared its three overarching points for the public’s consideration.

First, the Friends are not planning to make substantive changes to the nomination but will propose changing the name. The Mariana Trench is world famous but today it seems more appropriate to put more emphasis on the stewardship of the people who have called this place home for more than 4,000 years. To this end, the Friends are interested in hearing from our community for renaming suggestions.

Second, the Friends want to stress the importance of co-management with the federal government in any proposed National Marine Sanctuary. There should be significant discussion about which CNMI agencies and/or indigenous groups should be engaged in co-management.

Third, the Friends are not proposing any additional restrictions for small fishing vessels homeported in Guam, Saipan, Tinian, or Rota, nor will the proposal affect any existing commercial offshore fisheries. It is important, however, to address foreign and illegal fishing within the sanctuary if the nomination is moved to the next step (designation).

The ocean is our oldest ancestor and the ultimate provider. It is a source of sustenance, a place of celebration, and a pillar of our traditions. When the ocean thrives, our traditions thrive too.

It’s in this spirit that we welcome NOAA Sanctuaries efforts to provide opportunities for public participation in the consideration of the Mariana Trench sanctuary nomination 5-year review.

NOAA Sanctuaries is hosting a virtual public meeting on February 12, 2022, at 10:00 am ChST. To register for this event visit

Alternatively, if you would like to meet up and with us, the Friends are hosting a watch party at the Marianas Alliance of Non-governmental Organizations (MANGO) resource room. We will meet a little bit early to answer questions and hang around after for those who want to talk about it more. Refreshments and snacks will be available. If you would like to attend the watch party, please RSVP to Joleen Salas at (670) 483-3668 (call, text or WhatsApp) or you can send an email to

Friends welcome opportunity to comment on Sanctuary nomination

Ocean advocates in the Marianas are welcoming an opportunity to provide comments on a review of the nomination for a national marine sanctuary in the Northern Mariana Islands.

“We have asked for a seat at the table when it comes to managing our natural resources,” said Representative Sheila Babauta. “And this is the federal government inviting us to participate.”

When opportunities to participate in federal processes like this occur, the Friends of the Mariana Trench have organized workshops and meetings to help the community be involved and have their voices heard. During this comment period we are working with scientists and community members to provide updates to our nomination, which we first submitted in 2016.

If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at or call (670) 483-3668.

Communications Manager – Hiring Part Time


Are you interested in ocean conservation activities and the preservation of culture? Do you have a passion for communications? If you are passionate about community development and have an entrepreneurial spirit, then this might just be the job you’ve been dreaming about but thought too good to be true!

The successful candidate will have a bachelor’s degree in journalism, public relations, communications, marketing, or related field plus a minimum of 5 years of relevant experience. You will have significant experience working with multiple forms of media and membership services. You likely have experience starting a business, civic club, or project from the ground up. Your job will be overseeing, executing, and managing communications for the organization and several of our projects as well as developing and implementing organizational strategies. You will know the importance of deadlines and be responsible for developing, managing, and implementing multiple task schedules.

Requirements – A passion for our mission to help educate everyone in our community learn about ocean and marine science and the urgent need to care for our precious resources. Excellent communications skills and superb organizational skills. Others would say that you have a positive “can-do” attitude and that you were their favorite, productive team player. You will be able to demonstrate proven experience with self-motivation and the ability to work without supervision. You are not asking what to do next but devising ways to accomplish goals in a manner that the Executive Director can approve of easily.

Get the position description using the QR code or click on this link for the PDF.
Comms Mgr Position Description

The QR code to the right will take you to the position description. If you are interested, send an email to with the subject line “Comms Manager”. Indicate why you are interested and attach your resume. Also include three references and their contact info. Preference given to individuals who are fluent in Chamorro and/or Carolinian Languages. This position is funded by a grant from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation.

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