Fresh eyes: These sacred lands I know as home

Summer of 2019 marks the third consecutive summer I’ve lived on Saipan with family, supporting local as well as non-local businesses, honoring the history of our magnificent sites, and enjoying the most sacred beautiful beaches in the world, along with landscapes and trails untouched for hundreds of years. There is something so very special about Saipan. I remember growing up that many teachers and other professionals would come here for work; it’s so nice to run into them still because they’ve come to appreciate Saipan as it deserves. “There is no place like home” has such a deep meaning to me. This year’s Liberation Day parade stirred up so much emotion because of the joy and celebration of resiliency. In the past few years, as a people, there have been much you’ve endured and so much you have overcome! You deserve all the care and recognition for your strength and humility.

The more I explored my island home of Saipan with fresh perspectives and lenses, the deeper my appreciation grew for my heritage, but something else other than its beauty and history compels to defend it. The more I treasure what I see, the more I see a need protect our treasure. The more I feel an urge, the more I see a demand for someone to stand up against littering. The garbage all over the island is a local issue as well as a global concern. According to a Washington Post article titled, “By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans, study says,” the article states, “It coagulates into great floating “garbage patches” that cover large swaths of the Pacific.” “It has wound up in the stomachs of more than half the world’s sea turtles and nearly all of its marine birds, studies say.”

This is our land! This is our home! We deserve a clean place to live, play, and enjoy the true qualities of life.

I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s psychological and we believe in diffusion of responsibility. Could we suffer from the bystander effect? Have we become provincial? Though I can add more possible reasons to excuse the littering, I believe that maybe we just don’t know where to begin. Being that I was born and raised on Saipan, I can also say, many of Saipan’s appeal and magnificence can easily be taken for granted. Perhaps we assume it’s the government who needs to fix it. Take into account they have tried and are trying. But we need to do better.

In July 2016, the Legislature amended Public Law 6-37, The Commonwealth Litter Control Act of 1989. From there evolved Public Law 19-53. This law authorizes eight agencies such as, BECQ, Commonwealth Health Care Corp.’s Bureau of Environmental Health, Department of Public Lands, Saipan Mayor’s Office, Department of Public Works, and Department of Lands and Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Recreation to cite anyone littering. Anyone cited may pay fines from $200 to $5,000.

Though this law is a start, it is apparent that little to no citations are given as needed. As I would walk from Micro Beach to Inos Park, I would fill up bag after bag, picking up trash from the shorelines. After the weekend, there would be more beer cans, plastic bags, straws, balloons, water bottles, etc. to pick up. I then realized that even if I could champion hundreds to a thousand beach cleanups a year, this would only be a temporary fix. Therefore, I asked myself, “How can I change the minds of those who don’t see this as a problem?” “How can I reach those who allow the trash to be left behind after a beach day with the family?” “How could we teach the tourists before they arrive that we see as important keeping our island clean?” “How could I get (more people) involved to make the biggest difference?”

If we are unified in the idea that each of us can preserve our land, we will do exactly that: Preserve the land we are truly beyond blessed to be a part of.

I decided to address my concerns through this letter as well as offer some solutions. I believe that if it is at the forefront of our minds, we can slowly but surely clean up the trash all over Saipan. We can beautify, maintain and, most of all, honor our land. Changing our thinking will change our actions and I call each person, each ethnicity, each nationality, each person living on and visiting our island to fight this battle with me. Offering awareness is where I choose to begin, but it isn’t where I’ll stop fighting for our precious land, animals, and our children who will inherit this sacred place. We may be a small island, but we are the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands. We are home to such an array of cultures and fascinating people. We are the resplendent hidden gem of the most powerful nation in the world. We too, can change the world!

I have numerous ideas such as adding positive signages. I was appalled to see a “Do Not Defecate” sign on Mt. Tapochau. I think more proactive signs, as opposed to reactive signs, will make an even bigger impact. We need more trash bins. The government already employs staff to clean up after us, but there aren’t enough trash bins on island for us to clean up after ourselves at of our most visited sites. I hope to see bins out of sustainable or recycled goods over plastic bins. I would love to introduce a video to MVA to educate tourists before entering Saipan. We have to start somewhere; we can all start today!

The following are some solutions I offer; the first solution is to start:

– Because we do not have a recycling plant on island, start using less.

– Use fewer plastic bags; we don’t need them. A few cities have banned plastic bags. They are thriving! San Francisco is now looking to also ban plastic bottles.

– Use reusable bags or keep boxes in your trunk for loading and unloading.

-Start using reusable water bottles as much as you can; use fewer plastic bottles.

– Start using biodegradable items (bags, boxes, cups, etc.)

– Start managing your own compost at home or at your business. (My dad does this already and we use the rich soil to plant beautiful house plants.)

– Start forgetting the straw. Drink from a cup or open the juice box. Reusable straws are available as well.

– Go paperless.

– Start teaching children the importance of cleaning up and preservation.

– Start educating your family on this global plastic problem and getting creative in more ways to make it fun and effective.

I truly appreciate every single aspect our home provides and offers. There are endless possibilities here for all of us. I most especially love the openness to evolve and improve. My affinity for what I wish to help preserve is not only from my own personal attachment to Saipan, but above all, I know firsthand that there is no beauty, hospitality, and resiliency such as ours more than anywhere else in the world. Look around! It took Saipan less than one year to recover from super typhoons! Not one but two of them! I have visited cities in the mainland who have yet to recover from hurricanes 10 years ago. People from around the world come together to help our people, from sending shipping containers filled with donations to watching everyone on island help their neighbor clean up and rebuild. Together we are mighty.

We see now how to never underestimate what we can do as a whole. There is something special about Saipan. I hear it and say it all the time. Let’s love it, preserve it, and honor it by caring for it and keeping it clean.

Naomi Tudela
As Teo, Saipan

Contributing Author
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