Letter to Obama


Hafa Adai Mr. President: We extend our warmest greetings from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the territory of Guam. As conservation minded individuals who live in the Marianas archipelago, we are respectfully writing you to express our concern with the ongoing environmental campaign that would overlay a marine sanctuary status on the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

Designation of the [marine monument] was controversial in 2008 and remains so even today. Under the pretense of conservation, U.S. mainland politics took away our access and extraction rights over vast areas of the ocean that have traditionally been used (or could be used) by Mariana communities for thousands of years. This was accomplished via the Antiquities Act, a 110- year old federal law that has nothing to do with marine conservation or fisheries management. Nowhere else is this approach to marine resource management more insensitive to local culture and traditions than in the Western Pacific. We relive this controversy every time a community member must seek written permission from the federal government, in the form of a permit, to travel or fish in ancestral waters.

Pew orchestrated and funded the deceitful Marianas Trench monument campaign in 2008. The Pew monument plan was rejected by CNMI and Guam elected leaders, island residents, as well as other leaders in the Micronesian region. The current MTMNM is the end result of local input from CNMI island leaders who designed the monument to be more in harmony with Pacific island culture. It stands unique among all the other numerous marine national monuments in the Western Pacific.

As per Presidential Order 8335, the MTMNM is co-managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Almost immediately after the monument was designated, USFWS seized sole management authority over the trench and volcanic units by incorporating them into the National Wildlife Refuge System. Despite the constant assurances from Pew and the CEQ chairman for a meaningful co-management role by the CNMI government, the promise never materialized.

Pew has again come to the Marianas and is making the same promises they made in 2008—promises they cannot guarantee. We are being told that the MTMNM needs yet another layer of federal bureaucracy to add to an already ineffective management system comprised of two other federal agencies. Mr. President, what we don’t need is more federal management authorities meddling in the MTMNM. What is needed is for us to work with the current federal management authorities and to hold them to a higher standard.

This letter was prompted by a prolonged and growing frustration among Mariana Island communities over the arrogant posturing by Pew in Mariana Island affairs. The ongoing campaign for a sanctuary overlay on the MTMNM is being managed by Pew and typical of their modus operandi, community residents were completely left out of initial discussions and are being told only part of the story. Their lack of integrity shines through when they requested you to “…forgo the usual sanctuary process and direct the Secretary of Commerce to begin a sanctuary designation process immediately in the Northern Mariana Islands.” Marianas Conservation does not support short-cutting the marine sanctuary process and we wish to inform you that Pew and the Friends of the Mariana Trench do not necessarily represent the people of the Marianas. All the documentation presented to you concerning a sanctuary designation has been carefully crafted by Pew to make it look like the sanctuary process has broad political and grassroots support—it doesn’t.

On behalf of the island communities in Guam and the CNMI who believe in the sustainable use of our marine resources, please do not initiate the sanctuary process for the MTMNM. Let us address the MTMNM shortfalls on our own with the existing federal management authorities. As always, we sincerely appreciate you taking the time to hear our own concerns and wish you luck in your future endeavors.

John Gourley
Marianas Conservation

John Gourley

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