Everybody loves the ocean. But how many of us really know about marine protected areas in the CNMI? Or about our very own Mariana Trench Marine Monument, a marine protected area that is internationally recognized?
A scientist from England, Danny Morris, sought answers to those questions and spent this July and August on Saipan gathering data on this topic.
Morris is working on his master’s degree at the University of York in England under the guidance of Dr. Callum Roberts and Dr. Julie Hawkins, leading researchers in the field of ocean sciences. These scientists study the ocean and marine life all over the world.
Roberts is an expert on coral reef biology and he also studies the relationship between humans and marine ecosystems. Hawkins researches the environmental benefits of marine protected areas.
Since the Mariana Trench Monument in the CNMI is one of the world’s most unique marine protected areas—having animals that are not found anywhere else—Morris wanted to learn how the CNMI felt about ocean protection.
According to Morris, the Mariana Trench Marine Monument is very special and it was the CNMI’s conservation ethic that drew him to Saipan to conduct his research.
“Having a highly diverse ecosystem with many species in the deep waters that are yet to be discovered by scientists is so unique,” he said. “And I wanted to see some of that for myself.”
The Mariana Trench was declared a national marine monument over eight years ago, and was one of the first very large marine protected areas on the planet. “I wanted to come learn about how that is viewed in the community,” Morris said.
While on Saipan, Morris interviewed over 200 U.S. citizens to gain a better understanding of their view of marine protected areas around the Northern Mariana Islands.
He spoke mainly to Chamorros, Carolinians, Filipinos, and other Micronesian ethnicities. People who were not citizens were not allowed to be surveyed.
He spent time in public places speaking to passersby. He asked general questions about ocean protection, and more specific questions on marine protected areas and the Mariana Trench Marine Monument.
According to scientists, at least 30 percent of the world’s ocean must be protected. While the Mariana Trench Monument seems to be a large protected area it is actually less than 5 percent of U.S. waters.
Scientists say that marine protected areas like the monument provides sanctuary to many marine animals so they can reproduce and move to other areas.
They also say that marine protected areas are important to safeguard fragile animals like corals, and to protect species that are found nowhere else.
Ignacio V. Cabrera, who chairs the organization Friends of the Monument, said he was happy to hear from Morris.
“It made me smile to know that these young scientists are taking an interest in what we have here,” Cabrera said.
When not doing surveys, Morris spent time with families in the community. Chailang Palacios and Bob Power hosted Danny at their home for several weeks.
“He’s a wonderful and polite young man,” said Palacios. “It was great fun for us to have him with us.”
He was also introduced to a variety of people including Agnes McPhetres, a co-founding chair of the Friends of the Marianas.
Morris is now in England finishing his thesis to complete his master’s of science degree in Marine Environmental Management. The results of Morris’ study are expected to be released in the coming weeks.