By EVONNIE CAMACHO
Special to the Saipan Tribune
Hafa Adai CNMI! My name is Evonnie Camacho. I graduated from Mount Carmel High School in 2011, and am entering my second year at the Northern Marianas College. I am currently working toward my degree in Liberal Arts. Thereafter, I plan on furthering my education and obtaining a degree in Natural Resource Management or Marine Biology in Hawaii.
Growing up in the Pacific, I’ve realized how important our marine life is to our people and continue to appreciate the unique opportunity to experience the biodiversity so easily. Coral reefs play a major role in our ecosystem, tourism, and lifestyle. The Coral Reef Initiative summer internship is a program within the Division of Environmental Quality, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Coastal Resources Management, Mariana Island Nature Alliance, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This summer, I was selected to work as a Community and Education Outreach intern at the Mariana Island Nature Alliance. MINA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of diverse natural resources in the CNMI. Our objective is to sustain the natural environment to ensure the island's way of life.
Throughout this summer program, I worked under the supervision of Sam Sablan and my mentors, Frank Villagomez and Shirlynn Perez. Mr. Villagomez is our program manager for “Enhancing the Managaha Experience” at the Managaha Marine Conservation Area, while Ms. Perez is our Project Leader for the “Laolao Bay Tasi Watch” Project. The Managaha Marine Conservation Area (MMCA) project involves the community and visitors to further promote sustainable behaviors within the conservation area and proposes a variety of learning programs for locals and tourists to protect our biodiversity and adapt to climate change. The Tasi Watch project is an outreach program that was developed to build and strengthen local capacity involvement for near-shore marine management in Laolao Bay.
As part of the Community and Education Outreach Program, my duties are to create and translate outreach materials for brochures, poster boards, and power point presentations. I am also tasked to write press releases for every training MINA has. Furthermore, I manage the MINA Facebook accounts for both MMCA and Tasi Watch, and help conduct our CoralWatch activities. CoralWatch is a non-profit organization initiated at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia. In addition to my duties at MINA, I summarized a proposal for the Coral Reef Conservation in Laolao Bay and collected information on how to kill fire and manage barbecues. I used this information for a board that we plan to post at Laolao Bay. Additionally, I am currently working on a newsletter.
For the MMCA project, we have been conducting CoralWatch activities at Managaha on a weekly basis to monitor the health of our coral reefs and to increase our understanding of coral bleaching. This program is committed to help maintain and conserve the coral reefs and to ensure that present and future generations may enjoy the natural wealth and beauty of our ecosystem. Coral bleaching is the whitening of coral due to a loss of symbiotic algae living within the coral tissue. In healthy coral, algae supplies energy and provides color. During bleaching events, corals eject the algae from their tissue which changes the color of the coral. As corals expel more algae, the corals become lighter in color. During CoralWatch, we use a Coral Health Monitoring Chart that has six different shades of four colors on each side. We match the lightest and darkest color of the coral with one of the colors in the chart along with the coral type. CoralWatch was one of the activities I enjoyed because at the same time, I encountered a variety of species and marine life that I was unfamiliar with.
For the Tasi Watch project, we had some volunteers assist us in conducting multiple baseline surveys at Laolao Beach, Ming Yang Store, and Kagman Market. These surveys targeted fishermen, beachgoers, and local residents to estimate their knowledge of ocean acidification, coral bleaching, recycling, global warming, and the rules and regulations of poaching and littering. The outcome of the survey shows us whether we have met our goal in educating the community to lessen their impact on the fragile ecosystem. As I conducted the surveys, I realized how little the Laolao Bay community knew about coral bleaching and global warming. This inspired me to increase my efforts to foster community watch and outreach efforts. On top of conducting surveys, we did beach clean ups to measure the amount of recyclables, picnic items, fishing items, and other trash gathered at Laolao. After the clean-up, we weighed them separately using a scale and hoped for a decrease in trash collected from the bay. We also held outreach activities at Laolao Bay that involved learning stations opened to the community. These stations were meant to provide education on the preservation of coral reefs and the beautification of our coastal waters and their surroundings.
During this internship, I also had the opportunity to participate in events held by other agencies within the Coral Reef Initiative such as lagoon surveys. Through this, I had the chance to learn the scientific names of sea grass and algae as well as their importance to our coastal waters.
This CRI internship has opened many doors for me and helped me gain a great deal of knowledge and experiences that are beneficial for my contribution to the CNMI. This program has influenced me to increase my efforts, in order to improve the aesthetic value of our island. When this internship ends, I aim to continue working on these projects as a volunteer and gain as much competence as possible that will be useful to my future career.