Members of the Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council gathered yesterday for its inaugural meeting, marking a historic and defining milestone since the group’s creation following the designation of one of the nation’s largest marine monuments three years ago.
As interest and excitement build up, however, council members and regular folk are all too aware that it is just beginning and that the volume of work remains substantial, even as the first of the two-day meeting proved to be productive, according to participants.
Gov. Benigno R. Fitial welcomed the advice-giving body composed of U.S. Department of Defense’s Roy Tsutsui, U.S. Coast Guard’s Morgan Roper, CNMI’s Arnold Palacios, Benigno M. Sablan, and Dr. John Joyner.
The meeting, held at the Azucena II Room of Fiesta Resort & Spa in Garapan, also saw the attendance of officials and representatives of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In his opening remarks, Fitial laid down his expectations for the 96,714 square miles of the nation’s most pristine marine environments, with the fulfillment of the six key components of the Marianas Monument Agreement and the promised “full traditional indigenous access and practices in the Islands Unit.”
Fitial also sought the “full cooperation and support” of the national government for the conveyance up to 3 miles of nearshore submerged lands for all islands in the Commonwealth. He requested the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Department of Interior to “honor” their role in the agreement to develop provisions that would authorize mineral exploration and extraction and other activities that would bring in income for the CNMI.
“We have many difficult challenges facing us and I have instructed the [advisory council] members to immediately start work in achieving the monument vision mutually agreed to by the people of the Marianas and the Bush administration,” said Fitial.
Part of the meeting was the election of council officials. Chosen were Sablan as chair, Joyner as vice chair, and Roy Tsutsui as secretary/treasurer. Palacios also officially received his appointment to the council yesterday.
Tuesday’s meeting concluded with five action items that the council members will need to work on and report about today.
Superintendent Susan White of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Pacific Reefs said that the council was finally able to organize itself, although the process of finally convening the body took longer than expected.
“This is the foundation on which the rest of the advisory council will continue to operate,” she said.
Lisa Ku’ulei Croft, deputy regional administrator for NOAA NMFS, said the council will be working on establishing the frequency of its meetings.
Sablan, for his part, said that with the inaugural council meeting comes the “beginning of understanding” of the importance of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.
“We’re moving forward to make our people not only understand but really appreciate the context of a proclamation of this magnitude and its advantages for many future generations,” he added.
Palacios, who is also the secretary of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, noted the need to engage the community in the planning and implementation of the management plan for the monument.
“We are certainly looking at the interest of the Commonwealth notwithstanding national interests,” he said.