Community volunteers flock to clean MIHA wetland
Mattresses, cans of used cooking oil, a ’90s television—these are just some of the trash picked up last Saturday, April 9, at the MIHA wetland in Garapan.
Last Saturday, community volunteers—mainly from Grace Christian Academy National Honor Society—joined the Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality, the Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the Department of Public Works in cleaning up the wetland in Garapan as part of the Environmental Awareness Month celebration this April.
Wetlands are defined by the U.S. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) as “areas that are inundated or saturated by surface or groundwater at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil condition.”
Basically, this means wetlands are soil ecosystems typically covered with water enough to support vegetation.
EAM chairperson Angel Palacios told Saipan Tribune that the cleanup is being done not only to beautify the CNMI, but to keep the wetlands pristine.
“Think of the environment before you dispose or do any illegal dumping,” Palacios said. “We are doing a cleanup to beautify the CNMI, to keep our wetlands clean to preserve our endangered species. This is our island. [We need to] maintain our wetlands, keep it clean, make sure that they are doing what their purpose is, which is to clean runoff water and sediments.”
Just how important are wetlands? Here in the CNMI, and according to a study made for BECQ in 2019 by Wolfs Company, in collaboration with VU University Amsterdam and Brander Economics, the approximate economic value of wetlands is worth over $10 million annually.
Wetlands retain sediment runoffs, helping surrounding areas get the much-needed buffer from flooding and erosion, especially during heavy rains. They also provide a source of water for communities, a habitat for fish and wildlife, and a place for recreation and for people to relax.
The CNMI hosts over 20 wetlands, the largest of which is Lake Susupe. The MIHA wetland, where the cleanup was held, is located in the midst of a government housing project.
Restoring the MIHA wetland
“This is an area where there is government housing for people in need. But the other thing is, this is a wetland. It is in the middle of Garapan, a lot of which is historically wetland, and this still is,” DFW wetland biologist James Herndon said, referring to the MIHA wetland.
“There’s a lot of people that live in this area. We can restore the wetland, so when there are major storm events, we can also retain more water so that it doesn’t flood the city itself. It’s important to clean it because there’s so much trash in this wetland that it’s actually affecting the hydrology—the flow of water—and that contributes to flooding,” he added.
The biologist also highlighted the proximity of the wetland to the ocean. “The more contaminants there are in this wetland, the harder it is for the wetland to absorb them. Eventually, those contaminants [pollutants that come from all these trash] and the water does flow out to the ocean. We have a more direct line to the marine environment so protecting wetlands is good for our marine environment because it cleans the freshwater as it flows out to the ocean.”
Herndon is particularly interested in bringing back the Mariana Moorhens into the MIHA wetland, stressing that conservation and restoration efforts will be good for both people and wildlife.
Wetlands in the CNMI are under threat due to dumping and we can all do something to help.
Illegal dumping is the biggest environmental issue in the CNMI, according to CNMI Youth Congress vice speaker Liekeila’akata Iakopo, and she is appealing to all to make use of the solid waste management facilities available—the transfer station in Lower Base and the landfill in Marpi—to properly dispose of trash.
“It’s definitely my belief that we cater to what we will be in our future, and starting in the environment is definitely a step to that kind of reality. With the evolving of modern times, I feel that our homeland is being neglected, in a sense because of all the trash you see that just lays around,” she said.
Iakopo was one of the youth volunteers who participated at the MIHA wetland cleanup, along with about 20 members of GCA’s National Honor Society.
“Because we have a lot of new businesses coming in, and industries, a lot of them contribute to more use of products or plastics. They end up on the streets or in our beautiful jungles and it’s very sad to see,” she said. “It’s important for young individuals like myself and others to get involved and branch out, and look online on what’s the next event for [activities] like this. It’s free. All you need to do is bring yourself and bring your passion for our islands and your love for the community.”
GCA National Honor Society president Joyce Liv Francisco echoes Iakopo’s sentiments on youth involvement, adding that young people like them should find opportunities to help better the community.
“It is a very rewarding and fulfilling experience. It helps instill a mindset that we should always take care of the place we live in,” Francisco said.