‘NMI can’t afford to close beaches’

Chris Concepcion, the managing director of the Marianas Visitor’s Authority. (Bea Cabrera)

Two world-famous tourist destinations in neighboring Southeast Asian countries—Boracay in the Philippines and Koh Phi Leh in Maya Bay, Thailand—will close down for several months due to environmental concerns.

Marianas Visitors Authority managing director Chris Concepcion agrees with the decision but doesn’t see the same thing happening in the CNMI.

Since Boracay and Koh Phi Leh are both popular beach destinations that are quite similar to the CNMI, their closure opens up more opportunities for tourists to come here instead, he said.

“However, I don’t think it’s possible for us to close down the island for six months or for any period of time because our economy here is heavily reliant on the tourism industry,” he said.

“Seventy-two percent of the CNMI economy depends on tourism. …Closing any part of our islands is not feasible, but it is definitely something that we can look at, see best practices that we could learn from and adopt to execute in the CNMI. The efforts that are being executed for protecting Boracay and Koh Phi Leh islands are good and admirable for us to emulate,” he added.

Tagged as one of the best islands in the world by Conde Nast Traveler magazine in 2017, Boracay is set to close on April 26 to October of this year because its famous clear blue water has become what Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte describes as a cesspool.

Koh Phi Leh Isalnd, meanwhile, was featured in a Leonardo di Caprio movie The Beach in the 1990s and continues to attract tourists from all over the world. It will be off limits to tourists for six months starting this June. The closure is an attempt to reverse prolonged damage done to the marine environment.

According to Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance executive director Roberta Guerrero, Saipan is very much like the Philippines and Thailand, lined by beaches and coastlines that are part of the life and livelihoods of the locals and a big draw for tourism.

“Being that Saipan is a popular tourist destination, people should be more aware of the environmental impacts that arise with population increase and rampant development. The famous Jelly Fish Lake in Palau had to be closed for a time because of the negative impact of too many visitors is a prime example of over-use of a natural resource in our own region,” she said.

“With more visitors and more human impact comes more waste, which in turn results in a less sustainable environment for our food source and climate change protection,” she added.

Northern Marianas College Environmental Club president Victoria Matsunaga said the people of Saipan can work together to further understand the strong connection between the land and the sea through education and outreach programs.

“What we do on the land will always affect the ocean and the species that inhabit it,” she said. “…Keeping our trash off the ground and out of our waters, we can remind ourselves and teach children about how our actions impact everyone’s well-being and…translates to…jobs and a sustainable economic growth.”

Matsunaga said an example of an outreach would be to require tourists to watch a video before they arrive in the CNMI about coral reef safety and how to avoid negatively harming the shores and oceans before they arrive.

“It’s part of the education and outreach program that expands to everyone who either lives here or comes for a three-day visit. Our beaches on Saipan, Managaha, and many other places in the northern, southern, and eastern areas of Saipan are meant to be enjoyed by everyone,” she added.

Guerrero believes that locals and tourists must work together to keep Saipan at its most pristine state.

“Tourists must respect our island by following simple rules against littering and leaving their trash and personal hygiene needs along our coastlines and in our jungles,” she said.

“The negative impact that over-use and insufficient planning and protection put in place affects our oceans and coral reef ecosystems cannot be overstated. The CNMI can… prevent such closures from ever happening by being pro-active now before we reach the point of no return,” she added.

Bea Cabrera Cabrera
Bea Cabrera O’Malley, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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