Since the decline of the local garment manufacturing industry, the CNMI has struggled to revive its economy and reinvent its image in the eyes of the world. Now we have that chance with the White House considering the waters around our northern islands as the site of a future national marine monument—a golden opportunity to capitalize on one of our region’s greatest assets, the fragile and unique ecosystem of our oceans.
History is full of economic success stories born out of environmental preservation efforts. Take Kalispell, Montana. Founded in 1891, Kalispell began as a station stop on the Great Northwestern Railway. After the railway sought to promote Montana’s wilderness as a tourist attraction, it lobbied Congress for help and in 1910, President William Howard Taft signed legislation designating the nearby wilderness as Glacier National Park. Today, Kalispell is known as the "gateway" to Glacier with a thriving tourism economy—Need a hotel near Glacier? You’re going to Kalispell. Need gas to tour the park? Stop in Kalispell. You get the idea.—and has grown to become the largest city in its region of the state.
Countless places throughout the world share the same story. Look at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, near Grand Teton National Park, or Banff, in the Rockies of Alberta, Canada. Ecotourism has brought them significant economic growth, jobs and a promising future. With a national marine monument, the CNMI could have the same.
A more direct comparison to bear in mind is the Papahanaumoku National Marine Monument in Hawaii established by President Bush in 2006—a key step in fostering his so-called "blue legacy" of ocean conservation—which draws $10 million in annual funding alone, according to a recent study released by the Pew Charitable Trust, the organization that is spearheading the monument campaign here in the CNMI.
Economic statistics on the Hawaiian monument are scarce right now, the study notes, but just one 15-person trip by tourists into its waters results in $75,000 worth of spending. The same study found that a monument here in the CNMI could spur up to $10 million in tourism spending each year, and create hundreds of new and much needed local jobs.
Yet perhaps more important than the economic impact of a marine monument is the dire need to preserve our ocean waters for the future. The world’s oceans are now threatened with a slow death due to over-fishing and pollution. Ocean scientists have warned, for example, that if these problems continue at their current rate, 90 percent of the world’s seafood supply will be depleted by 2050. Already, a continent-sized swath of water in the Pacific is engulfed by a swirling mass of plastic garbage that threatens marine life and litters beaches, a problem with no foreseeable solution in sight.
Meanwhile, global warming is taking its toll on ocean life in the CNMI and worldwide. A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on the nation’s coral reefs revealed that researchers in the CNMI recently had to add ocean acidification—a process that occurs when ocean waters absorb carbon dioxide, prompting changes in pH levels that can harm a variety of aquatic species—to the list of threats facing local corals as atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise.
Pew is also poised to release a scientific report in the coming days composed of never before revealed data showing the proposed monument’s waters are a hotbed of biodiversity and rare geological activity, placing greater urgency on the need to safeguard them for generations to come.
The Saipan Tribune is first and foremost a community newspaper. Our commitment is and always will be to do right by the people of the CNMI. And it is in that spirit that we are giving our endorsement to the proposed national marine monument. The proposal is the right plan at the right time, and was put forth for the right reasons. A national marine monument will benefit our local tourism economy and preserve a beautiful environmental gem. It is our hope that President Bush will establish the monument to give the CNMI the economic boost it needs and the environmental protections its waters deserve.