Friends of the Mariana Trench: Enrollment extended for Project HOPE

The Project HOPE leadership continues to adjust on a weekly basis to accommodate circumstances. Project HOPE’s latest registration deadline is October 22 to allow for more students to get involved. Additionally, due to low response at the originally selected schools, the program is being opened for all PSS Saipan middle school 7th graders for the Fall SY2020-2021 and all activities will be held at the Guma Sakman on Fridays. The original plan was to focus on only three PSS middle schools initially and to give the FOMT the opportunity to build capacity, then new schools could be added in subsequent years.

Project HOPE (Healthy Ocean & People Empowerment), an ocean science program underscored with local, cultural relevance, is 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. The Friends of the Mariana Trench (FOMT) is diligently working with PSS and other community leadership to recruit students for Project HOPE. There is still time to register your 7th grader!

Like most people, places, agencies and programs, Project HOPE’s schedule continues to adjust accordingly with the latest available information. The program was initially planned for Spring SY2019-2020 for 6th graders from Tanapag, Dandan and Chacha middle schools. When COVID rules created new norms, FOMT put the Spring program on hold and attempted to engage with parents and students for a summer program. When that did not work out, FOMT shifted again and aimed for the SY2020-21 Fall semester. SY2020-21 Fall will be focused on 7th graders because they would have missed the opportunity from the previous school year. SY2020-21 Spring will be available for this year’s 6th graders. 

“Our third attempt to engage was supposed to be the first week of October, but we had to delay and wait to hear how the new austerity Mondays decision would affect PPS,” said Project Coordinator Joseph Villacrusis. “Project HOPE’s schedule was built around austerity Fridays, providing students with after school learning opportunities on Fridays and Saturday mornings. We had to postpone our start to wait for PSS’s decision about which day would be their austerity day.”

“Our enrollment numbers have been affected by the new normal with COVID causing PSS to go to mostly virtual learning. It’s a lot for parents to deal with and now, with the change of the austerity day being Monday, there’s that much more to figure out,” said FOMT Assistant Project Coordinator Jessielynne Quitano.

Project Director Laurie Peterka shared, “There have been a lot of setbacks and adjustments to getting Project HOPE up and running. It seems like every other day we are working on new contingency plans, but we will do everything we can to make sure the PSS Saipan middle schoolers get the chance to try our program.”

Inspired by the desire to improve Saipan’s 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 are planned to 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. 

“I want to once again thank PSS principals for working diligently alongside FOMT to ensure that students and parents can easily register for Project HOPE,” added Villacrusis. “Anyone interested in registering can call me or view the project information and forms on the our website.” 

For more information you can contact Joe Villacrusis at (670) 483 – FOMT (3668) or visit the FOMT website at or email us at


Friends of the Mariana Trench Announce New ANA-funded Program: Project HOPE

The Friends of the Mariana Trench (FOMT) is excited to finally get to engage at selected PSS middle schools. 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. 

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.

“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 conservation teams consist of Ocean Elders, college students and 6th graders. FOMT is pleased and grateful to acknowledge our inaugural year’s ocean elders, Antonio U. Piailug, Cecilia K. Selepeo, Edson Limes, Joseph A. Omar, Frances Sablan, and Diego and Vicky Benavente. 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, Wileen Mongami and Mathew Richardson.

Project HOPE will consist of approximately 12 weeks of activities, with teams meeting twice per week. FOMT’s Outreach Specialists team will engage in two-hour sessions every Friday at our three participating schools (Tanapag Middle School, Chacha Oceanview Middle School, and Dandan Middle School), followed by a three-hour session every Saturday at the Guma Sakman in Susupe. Teams will also participate in a stewardship project of their own creation, which will span the duration of the program. Project HOPE will conclude with a five-day ocean camp held from December 26-30 in coordination with MINA and 500 Sails.

FOMT has structured all its small group meetings as well as the ocean camp 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.

“We’re grateful to our partners at CHCC and PSS for helping us design our activities so that they’re aligned with island-wide COVID-19 protocols,” said FOMT Assistant Project Coordinator Jessielynne Quitano. “It takes cooperation across our community to allow these programs to continue while preserving the safety of our students and their families.”

Because the global outbreak of COVID-19 prevented FOMT from initiating the program in Spring 2020 as planned, our Fall 2020 program will be for 7th grade students (Spring semesters 6th graders) and our Spring 2021 program will be for SY2020-21 6th grade students.

“I want to thank PSS principals 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.”

There is no cost for student participation. Registration is open through October 4th. You can obtain information from your school’s principal or contact Joe Villacrusis at (670) 483 – FOMT (3668). Orientation will be held on October 9 & 10 and is mandatory for all participants.  For more information, you may also visit our website at or email us at


It was a Success! Workshop on Building Board of Directors’ Skills – Provided by National Wildlife Refuge Mentors

In June, as a result of a successful application for mentoring assistance, we were visited by Cheryl Hart (also a Board member of the National Wildlife Refuge Association) and Barbara Volke through a grant sponsored by the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Friends Mentoring Program.. They provided an ambitious program over four days, covering board member duties, developing a vision and mission statement, as well as helping us develop an action plan to carry forward after the workshop. We were joined by Tammy Summers, the new Project Leader, currently stationed in Guam, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Mariana Islands Refuges and Monument Complex which includes the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and its associated Refuges. Many of you may know Tammy as she has previously worked in CNMI on sea turtle conservation issues. We congratulate Tammy on her new position and are looking forward to collaborating with her and her staff on important ocean conservation issues facing the Marianas. 

After 10 years since the Monument designation, we are now working on updating our vision and mission statements and developing a strategic plan that will carry us through the next decade. Other action items include increasing our website and social media presence, and to continue to provide outreach programs for the community. Barbara and Cheryl will be helping to guide us for another 12 months as we work through our action items. Here are some of the comments from the participants of the Building Board of Directors’ Skills Workshop:

The functional exercises for capturing everyone’s point of view was useful and created animated discussion. As they say, the devil is in the details and the group exercises really helped bring a few things into focus. I especially enjoyed doing the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis. Though I am familiar with this tool, it was great to have an outside facilitator structure the dialogue. It made for a better outcome. I would have liked a more tangible outcome, but the action item list at least gave us priorities for the many things we already knew that we need to address.

I liked that I was able to understand the organization better, and it helped me realize how I can help given my limited capacity.”

…what I liked the most about the workshop was the part where each one of us had to tell a story on why the listener has to support/join our cause or mission and try to persuade or convince them on our story.

I liked that I was able to join remotely even if it was only for part of the Program. I am excited to help with the grant writing so we can get some new projects going!

I was most excited about getting to become better acquainted with the members of the Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument. I am looking forward to working with them to inspire future CNMI marine scientists.

It was a privilege to work with the dedicated Friends of Marianas Trench Board members and the FWS Project Manager as one of their mentor team. They are passionate about their mission to protect this unique area and to help others develop a conservation ethic that will ensure its preservation for future generations. I sincerely hope others will join them in this critical endeavor.

Who are the NWRA Friends? The NWRA Friends are among the most powerful voices that speak on behalf of their local refuges and the National Wildlife Refuge System (Refuge System) in their communities and even with decision-makers in Washington. The NWRA successfully mobilizes friends groups and private citizens to address the challenges facing our national wildlife refuges and marine monuments. The NWRA provides training workshops, communications networks, partnerships, and advocacy to help generate support for public lands and vital wildlife habitats at the local and national levels. According to NWRA, more than 230 Friends organizations work in support of wildlife refuges across the nation, with 36,000 volunteers contributing 1.4 million hours a year to the Refuge System. With Refuge System funding declining, the need to recruit and train additional volunteers is more pressing than ever! 

We are excited about bringing additional support from partnership activities with the NWRA Friends to CNMI in the future. As a result of another proposal submission to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, several board members of Friends of the Mariana Trench, along with our USFWS partner, Tammy, will be attending a peer-to-peer workshop in September to learn from and share our story with other Pacific Region-based Friends groups. 

Thanks to everyone for taking time from their personal schedules to help make our workshop possible. Special thanks to Barb and Cheryl for endeavoring to work with us with our complex circumstances. Thanks to Tammy for getting onboard quickly and making it to Saipan to attend. Thanks to Dave for securing the conference room. Thanks to Ike and Edson for the ice chest and drinks. 

Are you interested in joining us as we move forward? All you need is a love for the ocean and its abundant resources! There are no membership dues. Use our online membership inquiry form or contact us at to apply for regular membership for the Friends of Mariana Trench. 

Ten Years of Scientific Research Conducted in the Mariana Trench: A brief summary

DEAR Friends of the Mariana Trench,

When we are out and about in the community when often make references to the increased volume of research in our Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. In a recent board discussion, we thought you might enjoy a few more details “about all this additional research” that has taken place since the declaration of the monument. It’s also fitting as we are observing the monument’s 10-year anniversary, that everyone might like to know what’s been going on down there!

The following was prepared by Dr. Larisa Ford, FOMT board member and recently retired National Wildlife Refuge manager for the Guam and Mariana Trench refuge complexes.
Since the Mariana Trench was declared a Marine National Monument ten years ago, scientific research has been conducted not only by United States researchers from universities and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) but also groups from Japan, Korea, China and Russia. Special Use Permits issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in coordination with NOAA and CNMI DLNR are required for research conducted within the Monument boundaries. Foreign entities must also be granted approval for their research via the U.S. Department of State for activities conducted within the larger U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Mariana Trench has been a major source of new and interesting discoveries and we thought this was a good time to provide a brief summary.

Over 3,000 research studies have been published in the last decade concerning some aspect of the Mariana Trench, almost half of those studies included the discovery of new species of bacteria from the Trench or studies explaining unique characteristics of these bacteria. Bacteria living at extreme depths produce specialized enzymes that help them exist in the deep sea. These enzymes may have commercial application for development of chemicals and medicines and may have potential to help degrade plastic and toxic compounds (Fang and Kato, 2010; Sekiguchi et al., 2011; Morohoshi et al., 2015).

Of course, the diversity of fishes within the Mariana Trench and the fishes’ adaptations to living at great depths have also been an area of intensive study. For example, a new species of snailfish, Pseudoliparis swirei (see photo), has been described and collected from 6,898 to 7,966 m in the Mariana Trench, and may be the deepest fish that has been collected with verified depth data (Gerringer et al., 2017). Other animals have been studied in the Mariana Trench including, from large whales (Fulling et al., 2011) to unusual enzymes in sea cucumbers that could be used for pharmaceuticals (Li, et al., 2019), to the small, world’s deepest dwelling animal- an amphipod (lan et al., 2017).

Another significant area of study includes the formation of the Mariana Trench itself and related geological properties, volcanic activity and island formation. Various environmental factors have been reported to affect the development and structure of the trench including tectonic processes, depths, slopes, as well as, bottom sediment thickness (Lemenkova, 2018). Other researchers have concentrated on studying the hydrothermal activity at the seafloor and how this activity contributes to the ocean chemical makeup, how seafloor spreading centers are important in providing a variety of elements including minerals to sediments, and how these processes effect the distribution life around hydrothermal vents (Reagan et al., 2013; Ishibashi et al., 2015; Kojima and Watanabe, 2015).

Finally, a few researchers have reported on various economic and social aspects of resources of the Mariana Trench and the Marine National Monument declaration. Studies included analyses of historical and current use of the waters, culturally significant events and the implications of associated regulations, attitudes about marine protected areas, and suggestions for improved collaboration between local partners (Iverson, 2010; Richmond and Kotowicz, 2015; Kotowicz, and Allen, 2015; Kotowicz et al., 2017).

Hopefully, this summary has reinforced the uniqueness of the Mariana Trench and the value it holds for all of us and fills you with pride that the people of the CNMI is one of the protectors of this great and amazing resource.

You can see “10 Years Of Science And Stewardship In Pacific Marine National Monuments“in our Pacific Marine National Monuments from NOAA Fisheries Service here.
We plan to continue keeping everyone updated on new information coming from the Mariana Trench through outreach events and our blog (

If you want to learn more about the Mariana Trench or want to learn how to protect ocean resources, please send an email to us at

You might also be interested in becoming a member and can find our membership survey here.


  1. Fang, J., & Kato, C. (2010). Deep-sea piezophilic bacteria: geomicrobiology and biotechnology. Geomicrobiology: Biodiversity and Biotechnology, 47-77.
  2. Fulling, G. L., Thorson, P. H., & Rivers, J. (2011). Distribution and Abundance Estimates for Cetaceans in the Waters off Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands1. Pacific Science, 65(3), 321-344
  3. Gerringer, M. E., Linley, T. D., Jamieson, A. J., Goetze, E., & Drazen, J. C. (2017). Pseudoliparis swirei sp. nov.: A newly-discovered hadal snailfish (Scorpaeniformes: Liparidae) from the Mariana Trench. Zootaxa, 4358(1), 161-177.
  4. Ishibashi, J. I., Tsunogai, U., Toki, T., Ebina, N., Gamo, T., Sano, Y., … & Chiba, H. (2015). Chemical composition of hydrothermal fluids in the central and southern Mariana Trough backarc basin. Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, 121, 126-136.
  5. Iverson, T. (2010). The Economic Impact of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 15(3), 319-338.
  6. Kojima, S., & Watanabe, H. (2015). Vent fauna in the Mariana Trough. In Subseafloor Biosphere Linked to Hydrothermal Systems (pp. 313-323). Springer, Tokyo.
  7. Kotowicz, D. M., & Allen, S. D. (2015). Results of a survey of CNMI and Guam residents on the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
  8. Kotowicz, D. M., Richmond, L., & Hospital, J. (2017). Exploring Public Knowledge, Attitudes, and Perceptions of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Coastal management, 45(6), 452-469.
  9. Lan, Y., Sun, J., Tian, R., Bartlett, D. H., Li, R., Wong, Y. H., … & Tabata, H. G. (2017). Molecular adaptation in the world’s deepest‐living animal: Insights from transcriptome sequencing of the hadal amphipod Hirondellea gigas. Molecular ecology, 26(14), 3732-3743.
  10. Lemenkova, P. (2018). R scripting libraries for comparative analysis of the correlation methods to identify factors affecting Mariana Trench formation. arXiv preprint arXiv:1812.01099.
  11. Li, Y., Kong, X., & Zhang, H. (2019). Characteristics of a Novel Manganese Superoxide Dismutase of a Hadal Sea Cucumber (Paelopatides sp.) from the Mariana Trench. Marine drugs, 17(2), 84.
  12. Morohoshi, T., Tominaga, Y., Someya, N., & Ikeda, T. (2015). Characterization of a novel thermostable N-acylhomoserine lactonase from the thermophilic bacterium Thermaerobacter marianensis. Journal of bioscience and bioengineering, 120(1), 1-5.
  13. Reagan, M. K., McClelland, W. C., Girard, G., Goff, K. R., Peate, D. W., Ohara, Y., & Stern, R. J. (2013). The geology of the southern Mariana fore-arc crust: Implications for the scale of Eocene volcanism in the western Pacific. Earth and Planetary Science Letters, 380, 41-51.
  14. Richmond, L., & Kotowicz, D. (2015). Equity and access in marine protected areas: The history and future of ‘traditional indigenous fishing’in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Applied Geography, 59, 117-124.
  15. Sekiguchi, T., Sato, T., Enoki, M., Kanehiro, H., Uematsu, K., & Kato, C. (2011). Isolation and characterization of biodegradable plastic degrading bacteria from deep-sea environments. JAMSTEC Report of Research and Development, 11, 33-41.

Friends of the Mariana Trench 2018 – A Year to Remember!

Dear Friends of the Mariana Trench,

Ordinarily you hear from the Friends of the Mariana Trench chairman, Ike Cabrera. In one of our recent meetings he asked if perhaps, this time, I could give you a review of the projects the Friends spearheaded in 2018. We really had an amazing year!

In the first decade since the Mariana Trench was declared, the most exciting development has been the new discoveries found in the waters surrounding our islands, something we want to share with our people. To accomplish this, the Friends organized several outreach projects to educate our community on the uniqueness and importance of our ocean using the newest science and technologies.

Let me mention here that we are in the midst of a membership drive, and I encourage you to reach out and inquire about joining. Local partnership and support are the most important building blocks for the success of our organization. Also, strong membership allows us to work together and rely on each other to create and complete projects that help teach our children about ocean conservation. We could use your help in organizing activities like these next year and into the future.

Our largest project last year was the underwater robot workshop we organized with co-funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, with in-kind contributions from OpenROV, Blackbeard Biologic, and the Northern Marianas Trades Institute (NMTI). The Marine Ecology via Remote Observation Workshop was facilitated by Dr. Andrew Thaler and Dr. Stacy Baez, visiting scientists from Blackbeard Biologic and Pew, respectively. The scientists conducted two workshops over two weeks and trained 8 community leaders and 18 students from Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam on how to build, operate, and maintain low cost open source remotely operated vehicles. Local organizations and government agencies, including the Okeanos Marianas, NMTI, BECQ, MINA, and University of Guam, were given their own undersea robot at the end of the workshop to be used for their own research and educational programs. Since the completion of our workshop, these instructors and students have since expanded their research and initiated further new projects using their robots.

This project embodied the concept and inclusiveness our organization wants to continue promoting in our community. This project demonstrated collaboration between public and private entities, it ranged in its diversity and reach, both geographically and culturally as well by backgrounds and the varying ages of our participants, and the outcomes were multiple by design – trade skills using tech, capacity building, and tangible resources that stay in the community.

While the robot workshop was targeted towards STEM educators, practitioners, and students, our second project was for the wider community. In 2017 we came up with the idea of launching a photo exhibit of the Mariana Trench. The monument is intangible for many people because it is so far away; it’s hard to connect with what you cannot see, touch, or visit. However, in recent years photos and videos have emerged from the American, Chinese, and Japanese researchers exploring the trench. One of these research cruises was the NOAA Okeanos Explorer cruise, which explored the deeps of the Mariana Trench in 2016.

Together with the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, we selected 50 of the best images taken from the NOAA research cruise and asked followers on our Facebook page to identify their favorites. We also encouraged people to ask questions they had about the many unique creatures. We then worked with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy who donated the framing of the 32 most popular photos and whose scientists provided answers to all the research questions our followers had. These answers were converted to photo descriptions for the photo exhibit. Once this was accomplished, we engaged with the Hotel Association of the Northern Marianas (HANMI) and the Marianas Visitors Authority to partner on creating a traveling photo exhibit hosted in HANMI hotel lobbies and, upon request, available for outreach in our community. We cannot bring everyone to the monument, so we brought the monument to everyone! We also organized a similar photo exhibit co-sponsored by and hosted at the of Underwater World of Guam in Tumon. This project also embodied the concept and inclusiveness our organization wants to continue promoting in our community. This exhibit is currently at the Fiesta Resort & Spa lobby and free to the public. If you get a chance, I highly recommend visiting!

While the robots’ workshop and the photo exhibit were our signature projects this year, we have also been working closely with the US Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge Service (NWRS) Guam office and the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA). NWRS Guam co-sponsored a Mentoring Grant for the Friends facilitated by the NWRA. The grant’s focus is to help Friend’s groups organize, re-organize and develop a strong foundation in preparation for becoming a formal partner with the NWRS. This year, our organization tackled several housekeeping items internally while also working with our mentors to visual and prepare for a future working relationship with the NWRS. Additionally, we worked with a NWRS intern and staff member for 10-days in July 2018. We guided these folks in conducting outreach at public events, including a Rotary Club lunch, the Sabalu Market, the Street Market and the Liberation Day parade. The NWRS staff also worked closely with the Friends of the Library during this visit to add a science camp to their summer activities. It was a great experience for the NWR staff to see the interest and engagement from the people of the CNMI!

Hopefully, this recap fills you in on anything that you’ve missed about the Friends activities last year. We are very hopeful and excited for an equally active 2019. We also hope that the second decade of the monument is as exciting as the first, and that the management plans we’ve been advocating for finally come to fruition.

If you are interested in becoming more active in how we protect our oceans and if you want to learn more about the Mariana Trench, please email to You may also be interest in our Ocean-lovers Survey.

Ocean-lovers Wanted!

Dear people of the Marianas,

We sincerely hope that whatever was your experience with Super Typhoon Yutu, that you are finding your way back and that life is getting back to some kind of normal for you and your families. In the aftermath of ongoing recovery from Super Typhoon Yutu, we humbly ask you to work with us to do what is possible to keep pushing our vision to protect the ocean.

Through the years, we’ve always considered everyone who cares about the ocean as already a member of the Friends of the Mariana Trench, but today, as our organization grows we need to take the next steps in formalizing our membership. We are conducting a membership drive and ask those who are interested to join us. If you are an ocean-lover, please email us at to request an invitation to our application process.

This time last year, our organization was selected to receive a mentoring grant from the National Wildlife Refuge Association (NWRA). We also attended a workshop hosted by the NRWA to give us a chance to learn from other Friends’ groups in the Pacific. In this workshop we were able to identify our challenges and refine a possible pathway for the near future. The next workshop will take place in Alaska later this year.

Working with the NWRA staff, we identified that we are experiencing a typical organizational life-cycle, which is common for NGOs who are 7-10 years old. The NWRA staff indicated that this is not new and that they have a toolbox for exactly this purpose. It’s also why it’s so important for us to network with other friend’s groups in the Pacific. We can share our experiences and learn from each other.

Two NWRA board members were assigned to our Friends group. They are helping mentor us and helping us identify a capacity building plan. We have monthly calls to discuss the progress on our objectives. One of the objectives of this project is recruiting fresh members and formalizing our membership process. Once we reach our target, then the NWRA will send these mentors to help us with training and further planning. We are excited for our mentors to visit us in the next couple of months and for them to help us set out a strategic plan for the next few years. We hope that as an ocean-lover, you too can be a part of this.

Becoming a formal member means that you will help decide the kinds of projects we work on – projects that fit with our vision statement. You can help with planning and staffing outreach events to provide marine conservation education to our community, you can write articles for our blog, you can help design education tools and activities, and you can be an active volunteer at events that we coordinate with the community. As a volunteer you would decide what kinds of projects you want to be involved with and how much time you want to volunteer. We are looking for members with all different kinds of backgrounds who share the common vision that our ocean is our most precious natural resource. We need to help our children and our grandchildren realize the value of what we have so that they can continue to protect it when we are no longer able to do it for them. It is our responsibility to foster the next generation of ocean-loving stewards.

I will leave it here for today. Our next letter or article will talk about our projects and ideas. If you are interested in becoming more active and to help us, again please email or fill out our member application survey here.

As always – si yu’use ma’ase, olomwaay, salamat po, thank you, and God bless

Ignacio V. “Ike” Cabrera

I Akgak

Two Paths Forward for Ocean Protection

Dear people of the Marianas,

I am writing today to carry on from my letter last week. Sadly, for the last 10 years, NOAA Fisheries and the US Fish & Wildlife Service have not been able to live up to the expectations of our community. They have had the mandate to come to our islands and deliver conservation. They were supposed to hire staff and engage us with the management of the Mariana Trench, but to date, they have not. For the last decade, all we’ve gotten is waiting, waiting and more waiting. What are they waiting for? The CNMI is tired of waiting. We are ready already.

As I mentioned before, I think we must really concentrate ourselves on what to do now. We can be disappointed, but we cannot give up. For the benefit of our natural heritage and our children, we must make sure the next “monument-decade” is not a repeat of the last. The Friends of the Mariana Trench have been discussing this in our meetings this year and so far, we’ve come up with a couple of things.

In my last letter, I talked about some of the problems with the way the executive order is written. Most importantly, the executive order didn’t include NOAA Sanctuaries as the monument manager. This is important because I want you to understand that what we have is first “the monument that is” and then second, “the monument that could be”. There is the monument that we envision one day having (managed by NOAA Sanctuaries), but there is also the monument that exists today (managed by NOAA Fisheries and USFWS). It is my hope that we continue towards working towards the monument that we want and get the most out of the monument that we have. And hopefully one day we will have all the federal programs from NOAA Fisheries, NOAA Sanctuaries, and USFWS benefiting our community – as happens today in Hawaii, American Samoa, and the Florida Keys, and they didn’t have to wait 10 years.

The way we see it, there are two approaches we can take and see if we can get any movement. First, we want to keep pushing to get the management plan released. Second, we want to continue trying to work with our CNMI leadership to get them to reconfirm their support for the sanctuary program.

First, there is a missed opportunity between our local government and the federal government, which is the Mariana Trench Advisory Council (MTMAC). One way we can try to push for getting the management plan out is using the MTMAC. This council is made up of representatives from our local government and the federal government, and over the years representatives from Guam have even been invited to participate. It’s a place for us to come to the table to discuss our mutual interests and issues. Just like we use the Covenant 902 talks, we can encourage our leadership to use the MTMAC the same way. Our leadership could use the MTMAC to ask the federal government to push formal requests and responses. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think that the MTMAC has met in quite some time – like maybe as much as 3-4 years. If we had active, well informed and well-suited members – appointees without conflicts of interest – on the MTMAC, maybe the CNMI could enjoy the benefits that the National Wildlife Refuge has to offer. While these won’t be the same programs and benefits we would get with NOAA Sanctuaries, it would be a step forward. We’ve seen how working with the federal government in these types of councils helps us move forward. The CNMI government needs to try to make the MTMAC work to get us what we were promised. This is our first approach.

Our second approach is continuing to build towards being selected for the NOAA Sanctuary program. To achieve this, might mean that we have to wait for an administration change. In the meantime, we can show our interest and support by making ourselves visible to the NOAA Sanctuaries. We can continue to do projects, write letters, and talk to each other about marine conservation. The more we are active, the better the chance that we can get the monument we want. Every citizen who cares about our ocean and the future of our people and our culture should call on our leaders to bring the sanctuary program to our islands

These are a couple of things we’ve come up with and welcome your ideas for reaching our goals too. If you are interested in becoming more active and to help us more hands on, please email to

As always – si yu’use ma’ase, olomwaay, salmat po, thank you and God bless

Ignacio V. “Ike” Cabrera

I Akgag

Mariana Trench: More Waiting

Dear people of the Marianas,

I have promised to keep you informed about the Mariana Trench MNM and here is the latest information I have recently learned. The nomination to the bring the sanctuary program to the CNMI is stalled. I think it’s important for the community to understand how important it is to have the NOAA Sanctuaries as our monument manager. The best way I can think of to share this with you is to give you the history. For some of you, I might be repeating myself, but for others, I hope that this would give you a better understanding.

Ten years ago, in October 2008, the Friends of the Mariana Trench wrote a letter to then President George W. Bush and asked him to designate a marine national monument. We specifically proposed, “that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through its National Marine Sanctuaries Program, be the federal agency that administers, co-manages, and enforces the monument, along with the CNMI.” I quote this from our original vision letter to Bush on October 15, 2008.

We made this “Vision Statement” for a proposal. It described our hopes and goals for management and enforcement, culture and tradition, conservation, education, research, and economic development. It is widely published on the web or if you haven’t already seen it, you can also contact me, and I will give you a copy. The letter was drafted through the effort of several members of our community and it took 3-4 weeks for us to complete it. We discussed a lot and worked hard to make sure that all voices were included.

10 years ago, when the monument was declared by Proclamation 8335, we celebrated and hoped that this was the beginning of our journey to achieve our vision. But, when we had the chance to read the details of the monument declaration, we immediately noticed that it didn’t follow our vision statement proposal. Our first concern was that the CNMI was not given “co-management” and the NOAA Sanctuaries office was not given management of the monument. Instead, NOAA Fisheries and US Fish & Wildlife Service were made the managers and the monument was to be managed “in consultation with” the CNMI. It was in 2009 that the Friends wrote to newly elected Delegate Sablan and asked him to help correct these issues. We knew the monument as it was declared would never result in the benefits we had all hoped for. We have been saying this for a decade now.

For the next 10 years, we spent our energy trying to convince the Obama Administration to bring the NOAA Sanctuary program to the CNMI. Then the same when the Trump Administration began. We have a paper trail documenting these communications and would be happy to share the letters. We first approached the federal government in 2009, and the NOAA Administrator told us no. We approached them again in 2010, and again they told us no. In 2013, Delegate Sablan approached the Administration. By now four years had passed and there hadn’t been any progress on the monument. They again said no, because the monument management plan was due out “next year.” That was five years ago. Then in 2016, Delegate Sablan and Governor Torres approached the Administration again; and this time they listened. The White House asked the delegate and the governor to submit an official nomination, and they in turn asked us to write one.

So, in December 2016, as the Chairman of the Friends of the Mariana Trench, we submitted a nomination for a Mariana Trench Marine National Sanctuary – something we’ve been working towards for more than a decade. The process to nominate a sanctuary is transparent and open and is outlined on the NOAA website ( NOAA Sanctuaries accepted our nomination in March 2017. The nomination is now on the inventory of possible sanctuaries (which can be viewed online). The next step is to begin a sanctuary process, a transparent and open process that engages the community on how they want ocean conservation to take place in our community. When this process begins, NOAA Sanctuaries has told us that they would open an office and hire local staff – something that after 10 long years USFWS and NOAA Fisheries have not done.

As we have said from the time of the original proposal, the vision of the Friends for the Mariana Trench monument is not possible without the partnership of NOAA Sanctuaries. The agencies assigned by the Proclamation 8335 in January 2009, NOAA Fisheries and National Wildlife Refuge, do not have the same mandate or mission to do the activities or set up a visitor’s center like NOAA Sanctuaries does. While the Friends have very good working relationships with both assigned agencies, it doesn’t matter how much we try, they don’t have the mandate or authority to help us get those things that we envisioned. This is why we continue to ask NOAA Sanctuaries to accept our nomination. Like many people in our community, including our lawmakers, we too want to see the vision come true.

However, despite our decade of advocacy, in June of this year the Trump Administration decided not to start the sanctuary process in our community. The reason given by NOAA Fisheries officials in Hawaii is that the monument management plan is coming “next year” – this is the same excuse they’ve used every year since 2013 and it blocks us from the sanctuary nomination going forward.

There are likely several reasons why the sanctuary process is not starting, but it really does not help that our local government sends the federal government mixed signals about our goal to protect our ocean. Governor Torres says he wants the federal spending of the sanctuary program, but then he stands next to Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke and says he wants to open our waters to industrial fishing boats – boats that would compete with our local fishermen.

So yet again, we find ourselves stuck. We are not going to achieve our vision of conservation with the current monument, but the federal government will not fix the monument because they say NOAA Fisheries and USFWS are going to publish a management plan “next year.” Yet, they haven’t done their job in 10 years, haven’t hired any local staff in 10 years, and the $1 million annual budget has been used to support operations in Honolulu for the last 10 years. This needs to change.

I will leave the story here for today but promise that I will give you more updates during the coming weeks. There are some things we need to think about and discuss and I look forward to your continued support. If you are interested in becoming more active and to help us more hands on, please email to

As always – si yu’use ma’ase, olomwaay, salmat po, thank you and God bless

Ignacio V. “Ike” Cabrera

I Akgag