A bill to authorize the Department of Lands and Natural Resources to assess fees on tourists visiting marine protected areas in order to fund conversation efforts passed the House of Representatives yesterday.
House Bill 19-105, authored by Rep. Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), passed with all 20 House members approving the bill, including amendments.
Under the measure, which now heads to the Senate for action, DLNR will be responsible for the development of a system of assessing fees for entry and use of marine protected areas, or MPAs, in the Commonwealth.
MPAs in the Commonwealth include Managaha Island, Bird Island, Forbidden Island, Sasanhaya Bay on Rota, and the Tinian Marine Reserve Area on Tinian.
Fees will only be assessed on nonresident visitors. Collected fees will be deposited in a “Marine Conservation Revolving Fund,” according to the bill.
The bill states that lack of funding for a Marine Conservation Section, as mandated by Public Law 12-2, has prevented the implementation of much needed management practices. Public Law 12-2 is an “unfunded mandate,” the bill says.
“The Legislature finds that the imposition of a marine conservation fee to be paid by tourists entering marine conservation areas is a reasonable, necessary, and worthwhile means to generate the necessary management of funds.”
Demapan introduced an amendment that sets aside a percentage of the fees collected to fund the CNMI’s $2 million commitment to the Micronesian Challenge, a multi-jurisdictional conservation strategy adopted by the CNMI, Guam, Palau, and the Marshall Islands in 2006.
It calls for 10 percent of fees collected to be deposited in a separate “CNMI Micronesia Challenge Fund.” Demapan’s amendment requires that, once the fund reaches $2 million, 10 percent of collected fees would be deposited into the “Marine Conservation Revolving Fund.”
Noting similar fees in other districts, the bill states that Hawaii currently charges $47.05 for entry into its Hanauma Bay Marine Life Conservation District, Palau requires visitors to pay $50 departure tax/green fee upon exiting the republic, and a $100 permit for entering its protected jellyfish lake, among other countries.