The CNMI has a new environment ambassador! Nineteen-year-old Maria Lael Terlaje of San Vicente is this year’s Miss Earth Northern Marianas, and she has a clear mission—to call for love and kindness toward Mother Earth.
Terlaje topped a slate of five candidates during the virtual pageant, which was held last Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan ballroom and broadcasted on social media.
As the CNMI’s winner, Terlaje will represent the CNMI at the international pageant, which will start on Sept. 21, 2020, and the finals will be on Nov. 29, 2020—all done virtually.
As an environmental advocate, Terlaje champions love and respect for the islands by inspiring the community to preserve and conserve its natural resources, and work toward helping achieve the goals of the Micronesian Challenge, which is to preserve the island’s marine and terrestrial resources.
In a brief question-and-answer, the new Miss Northern Marianas Earth candidly admits that she was not that educated about the environment while growing up, that she used plastic, and that she did not even know and understand climate change. “I educated myself and, when I understood the impacts that humans were making, that motivated me to make me make a change,” she said.
Speaking of human impacts on the environment, this year’s Miss Earth sees illegal dumping as a serious issue in the CNMI. “When I would go on hikes or just go on walks in the beach, I would see these big bags of trash just hidden in the jungles.”
When these garbage bags are opened to find out where they came from, they are usually filled with receipts and boxes labeled with businesses.
“I think that the environmental issue is [in] not educating these businesses on why we shouldn’t just leave bundles of trash hidden in the jungle [so] we can’t see it, or [not] affect us in the future. The changes that I want to see is educating them and incentives that we can make,” she said.
She does not believe in punishments. Instead, she is pushing for educating “environmental criminals.”
“Education really is the equalizer in society. With education, we build strength, we build a closer society, and, rather [than] punishment, [we can] give incentives and educate people because I think education is important. If we educate our criminals, then they will want to change, they will want to understand, and they will want to be better,” she added.
Terlaje believes communication and education are keys to being an effective leader, especially with her new role, and believes that the pageant not only promotes local involvement, but is a great platform to invite the youth to make a difference. “My life has changed, especially joining Miss Earth. I do more, I live a better and a greener life, and I’m so grateful for that.”
Aside from winning the Miss Earth Northern Marianas title, Terlaje also won most of the special awards, including Miss Friendship, the No Makeup Challenge, Environmental Award, Best in Native Costume, Best in Swimsuit, and Best in Evening Gown.
Reigning with, and supporting Terlaje in the Miss Earth advocacy are this year’s Miss Air Julia Biton (first runner up), Miss Water Zoe Stephanson (second runner up), Miss Fire Kaitlin Borja (third runner up), and Miss Ecotourism Arianne Cabrera (fourth runner up).
Terlaje is the second ever Miss Earth Northern Marianas, and is 2019 Miss Earth Northern Marianas Leisha Deleon Guerrero’s successor. The ‘beauty pageant with a cause’ is brought to the CNMI by Exquisite Productions.