A year to remember!

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. 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 eight 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, Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, 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 toward 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 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 by the 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 robot workshop and the photo exhibit were our signature projects this year, we have also been working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife National Wildlife Refuge Service Guam office and the National Wildlife Refuge Association. 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 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 marianamonument@gmail.com.
 
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Laurie Peterka is a member of the Friends of the Mariana Trench.

LAURIE PETERKA

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