Saipan kicked off the International Year of the Reef on Friday when governor Ben Fitial signed the proclamation designating 2008 as the year of the coral reef!
As part of the proceedings government and non-government agencies dedicated to protecting the aquatic ecosystems were asked to set up displays to raise awareness about what we have and what each organization is doing to help protect our resource for generations to come.
Marianas Dive early birds, myself, Mark and Bruce were the first to arrive and set up, thus, the primo location next to the entry way and the food!
The proceedings got underway shortly after 9AM when Teny Topalian from NOAA introduced the dignitaries including Dr. Joyner from CRM who read the proclamation.
Whereas, coral reefs are of outstanding beauty, have long been connected to our subsistence and culture, provide a home for thousands of reef organisms, are known for their medicinal value, protect our shoreline from large storms and erosion, provide the foundation for our eco-tourism industry, and
Whereas, coral reefs are threatened by human impacts such as improper watershed development, sedimentation, marine debris, nitrification from sewage discharge,
over-fishing, boat groundings and anchor damage, chemical spills and global climate change, and
Whereas, the CNMI government and numerous community based organizations have implemented projects to reduce the threat of human impacts such as marine monitoring, bio research, re-vegetation and tree plantings, community awareness and outreach projects, public service announcements, community forums and workshops, development and distribution of marine educational resource materials, and
Whereas, there continues to be a need to increase awareness and understanding of coral reefs and to further conserve and manage our valuable coral reefs and associated ecosystems, and
Whereas, we the people of the Commonwealth have a responsibility to protect our coral reefs for future generations,
Therefore, I, Benigno R. Fitial, Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, do hereby proclaim 2008 as International Year of the Coral Reef. I urge all citizens to become aware, knowledgeable and action oriented towards the protection and conservation of our invaluable coral reefs.
In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this 18th day of January 2008.
That's the governor above and the Lieutenant governor below giving his remarks about the value of our coral reefs. He was followed by a tag team state of the reef address by John Starmer of CRM (below) and Dr. Peter Houk from DEQ.
CRM, DEQ and DFW are the three main governmental agencies responsible for monitoring and enforcing the rules and regulations affecting our waters. These three agencies have rarely seen eye to eye, it was interesting that both DEQ and CRM scientists gave presentations but not so of DFW.
All in all, two solid presentations with a primary message of conservation in order to ensure future generations can count on the sea for years to come. Many aspects of coral reef ecology were discussed including pressures such as global warming, population increases, improved harvesting techniques and others. Possible solutions such as improved enforcement for, and expansion of, marine protected areas were presented.
Really the only disappointing thing about the event was the lack of people, specifically the general public and school kids attending. The crowd was made up mostly of employees from the government agencies closely involved with the reef, as well as the MHS My Wave club. It seems to me with such an important message AND the governor in attendance that there should have seen a much higher turn out. The TV press didn't even cover it and news photographers missed the actual signing! MVA did not have a single representative!
Above the lieutenant governor visits with members of My Wave club during one of the breaks.
Following the formal speakers the floor was opened to those wishing to give a personal testimonial about the reef. Lino Olopai is never one to pass on the opportunity to address a crowd and to speak about how things once were. Extremely proud of his Carolinian descent Lino is always quick to point out that in the olden days when only traditional fishing practices were used many of the concepts presented by the experts today follow models his ancestors adhered to many, many years ago. Things such as marine protected areas were known simply as areas you were not aloud to fish because an elder told you so. Things such as not fishing during the July full moon when the coral spawns were respected!
Unfortunately, the reality of today's Saipan is that there are many more mouths to feed and many different cultures trying to live off of the sea. Traditional fishing practices to one group may not be so traditional or have much meaning to others.
After the speakers and before lunch attendees had the opportunity to visit various displays set up around the theater.
DEQ's non-point source pollution model.
Kathy Yuknavage from CRM showing off her new zories and the next event in the line up of activities for IYOR 2008 - Take the Right Route day - March 7th - everyone is encouraged to car pool or use some other form of transportation and in general reduce your carbon foot print for the day.
She was very popular but not as popular as Nate the snake guy! 28-SNAKE. If you see a snake kill it! What's with the terrestrial guy getting all the traffic.
Next time were bringing in a live Whale Shark! We may not have had the same numbers as the snake whisperers but we did have interest in our booth and our group. Below, Joe Kaipat discusses things with Mark James of Underexposed. Mark's the one who did the Marianas Dive year to date slide show and made our booth what it was with all the great photographs!
The truth of the matter is the booth and the display really didn't get high reviews until Rose showed up! Here she is with her three Amigos. Mike, Mark and Dennis.
All in all a great job on getting the word out about this group and our goals to not only improve the dive destination but also to increase the awareness and ultimately the number of people who dive our waters including local kids.
Of course who could forget Mr. Bateman and a couple of hot chicks!