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