Friday, May 16, 2008

Marine Monument - The Benefits / It's Not All About the Fishing

Today’s article by the WESPAC reps is another indication of how too narrow a view makes it easy to miss the big picture. They say we don’t need a monument, that they are doing just fine regulating our waters. The letter goes on to talk about all the regulatory changes WESPAC has had a hand in and although it’s an impressive resume, for the purpose of the monument, it really does not matter.

But, before I explain why, let me first say that, specifically with regards to the CNMI waters, I’m not familiar with anyone suggesting WESPAC has not done a decent job. I can’t honestly say one way or the other. It has been pointed out that WESPAC has had problems with their recommendations and practices in other areas of the world but, again, none of that really matters in our case because it’s not just a fishing issue!

Especially when you look at all the potential benefits. Some benefits are more tangible than others. Some speculative, some dependent on just how much funding comes along each year. Some will have a global reach, some will affect local lives directly on a daily basis. Some may not be noticeable for 100’s of years when the area in question remains one of Earth's untouched natural wonders.

Little of it has anything to do with fishing.

Yes fishing is an issue. Or rather how we fish is an issue. Do we want commercial fishing fleets trying to sustainably harvest those waters or maintain them as they are for generations of islanders to experience as their ancestors once did? In my last post Marine Monument – Lets Talk eh! I tried to point out that it is more about balance and hedging our bets rather than pointing blame or fighting over turf. By allocating 1/3 of the asset to a certain management method while leaving 2/3 to be managed in a different way, we protect ourselves from the catastrophe that could happen should our current, all eggs in one basket, mentality fail.

Wait, I digress again. I said there was more to this than the fishing. That’s right, the benefits John’s been missing at the presentations and in the numerous letters written in support of the park.

1) Free, instant, worldwide recognition.
We are THE pin in the map. We won’t have the limelight forever but the pin will never fall out. To put this into perspective, I’ve sat in the room where MVA marketing people have looked at landing Survivor or the Amazing Race as their big ticket for our tourism industry. How do you think that would compare to National Geographic specials, Discovery Channel, hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, all with a positive spin. By the way, we will get this even if Congress didn’t fund a penny more than they do now and the “park” sat there as it does now.

But, this is just the beginning. What about when new scientific discoveries come from the increased research that is also likely. Imagine if one day it is a local kid from NMC (Northern Mariana College) who’s the first to discover a new species of deep-water nudibranch or films the mating ritual of gigantic squid from her submersible. I could go on and on about the increased and continued exposure this designation would bring, but there are many other benefits to talk about.

2) Protecting Our Planet – Conservation
Some don’t like this as a benefit. They see it as too fluffy and an environmental-Nazi like attitude. Or they just want to take it all now and don't care what they leave behind for their kids. But, luckily, as our planet suffers and the signs and symptoms become that much more obvious, more and more focus will fall towards how we can save what we have. To say it is becoming trendy to be environmentally conscious would be an understatement even now. Don’t think this type of thinking is important or that it can’t be positive for our islands then perhaps you need to sit down and have a chat with the President of Palau. He started the Micronesian Challenge and will be remembered forever for it. In fact, he may end up getting some sort of Nobel-type prize for his efforts in due time. I’m pretty sure designation of a marine monument site here would help the CNMI meet and exceed our own responsibilities for this challenge and perhaps even steal some of that spotlight from our neighbors.

3) Jobs
Yes jobs, real jobs. I realize this can’t really be promised until money is appropriated from Congress but two things have been pointed out by our Pew lobbyist during the presentations John’s slept through. First, the Congressional budgets being appropriated for the sanctuaries and the bodies that govern them have been increasing over the years and there is no reason to think this won’t continue. Hawaii received 18 million in its first full year. Shaking a stick at even half that seems pretty silly. Next, in each case where a monument or national park has been designated there has been construction of a world class, top-notch visitors interpretive center. In the case of the CNMI, this alone would be huge.

Given the distance to travel, it is unlikely that many tourists will actually venture to the physical monument boundaries. However, almost all visitors to our islands would pay to visit an interpretive center where among other things they would get to walk through a cross section of the Marianas Trench. If it were a free pass we’d still have the funding to run the center and jobs to offer our residents. MVA said there were 31,174 Saipan visitors last month. At 10 bucks a head that's $311,740 per month. But, you say, they won't all go. Ok lets take 150,000 a month, not including souvenirs and other ad ons, that's 1.8 million a year!

4) Increased research and opportunities for higher education.
It’s been seen in Hawaii already. Again, according to our Pew lobbyist, the number of research vessels conducting work there has significantly increased since their monument was established. NOAA sends a boat out here every now and again. It stops in port for a few days where crew get off while provisions and equipment for weeks out at sea are purchased and loaded. I don’t know exactly how much money each one of these types of surveys would bring in but something is better than nothing. Then again we just had a crew of 2-5 marine archaeologists on island for over a month and they ate out nearly every meal and rented condos at the Flame Tree Terrace so it really could add up to something more than nothing pretty damn quick.

Now imagine if the college could be on board with all of this. Along with the sense of pride that comes with being known for something special like the marine park, developing a world class marine sciences program would go a long way to ensuring kids graduate with sought after skills. Best of all once they graduate they wouldn’t necessarily have to go off island to find a job since they could be employed directly or indirectly through the park.

5) Submerged lands and co-management
I put this under a benefit even though this is one of the issues those against the monument are using to say it’s a bad idea. There was a court case back a number of years ago where it was ruled that the CNMI did not have jurisdiction over the waters out to the 200-mile limit. The state vs. federal fight over this has gone on with all the territories and the state of Hawaii. Nowhere has the state or territory ever gotten full control of the 200-mile limit. In the case of the CNMI right now, there is no ownership of the waters around the islands in question. The area is managed by Fish and Wildlife and the NOAA office here on Saipan and without a coast guard cutter it’s pretty hard for any of them to patrol, protect and enforce that vast an area.

Following a similar model to Hawaii the monument would be co-managed by the NOAA sanctuaries program and a local CNMI body. This would, in effect, give the CNMI a say in the waters it currently does not have ownership of. The status of the monument should also bring an increase in funding for protecting the area. Again no guarantees but do we really think they’ll designate a monument and then give us nothing? That’s kind of setting things up to fail, which I really don’t think is the intention. With the increased military build up in Guam I don’t think it would be a stretch for the Feds to agree to something that funds increased patrols in the area. I certainly doubt such a concept would be frowned upon by homeland security.

6) Cultural Preservation
This is always such an interesting concept. As cultures all around the world get swallowed up in the global mixing of the human race what defines a persons culture will become more and more difficult to determine and hang on to. If the idea is to preserve and nurture those things that are important to the indigenous peoples then they must be exercised and received by the younger generations with enthusiasm and pride. I didn't get to see a lot of the performances at this years Flame Tree Festival but, what I did see was many island cultural dancers going through the motions. When there is energy and pride these dances and the people performing them are a beautiful thing to watch. When there is no pride outside influences will win and no matter how strong the desire, otherwise traditional ways will become extinct.

Not that this next concept requires the designation of a monument but again it would make more sense with one. What if there was some type of voyage to the Northern island monument where traditional sailing and navigational methods were utilized and tested. In school, kids would eagerly take in what they could knowing they'll need the skills to make a journey of a lifetime. To fish for big fish along the way just as their grandpa showed them. Sound too corny and far-fetched? Maybe, but without implementing this type of concept it is only a matter of time before the traditional ways will be nothing more than black and white paper and a few color photographs thrown in for good measure.

7) High-end adventure tourism.
As I said earlier there is no reason to believe that the marine monument would see that many tourists enter its boundaries. However, depending on the final regulations and terms of use for the park it is possible that a profitable eco-adventure tourism program could be established or even the possibility of seasonal live aboard dive charters. Tourist paying for this kind of trip would likely be considered high end, just the type MVA is trying to market to now. Is it possible? Without a monument designation it would be a lot more difficult. It is a known fact that many potential tourists consider world heritage sites as a reason to venture to certain areas. This draw cannot be ignored especially in Japan, our largest tourist market. It should also not be ignored that there are many very well-off individuals that might just spend a bundle to put their own pin on their own map directly on top of us.

8) Where is Saipan?

Have you heard of the Marianas Trench Monument (MTM)? Yeah that’s right, in the pacific close to Japan! ....... You have heard of us then!

So, as you can see, even with just these examples it’s not all about the fishing. To the good folks at WESPAC please don’t take the loss of turf so personally. It’s not really that we all think you’re doing a horrible job; it’s just that we can all do better by looking at the bigger picture and perhaps even working together. The people of the CNMI deserve the opportunity to look at this proposal and make an informed decision.

Next up I’ll try to give my two cents worth on what I think is the biggest “issue” facing the monument as it tries to move forward into the psyche of the general public.

Why now!


Anonymous said...

Great post!

Saipan Writer said...

This is good.

It's easy to get tangled up in all the benefits because they do overlap and spill into each other--for example, a marine monument would bring in scientific research that advances the world's understanding, which in turn brings scientists here who add a bit to the economy, and they create some local jobs, that might prompt educational support & programs to fill those jobs, so our students would get better educations and stay and work here contributing to the economy and working in marine sciences, and the scientific studies get published in National Geographic and elsewhere, and thus improve our image and make us better known, which in turn feeds tourism, etc....

As I said, you do a good job sorting through the benefits and making it clear, it's not all about fishing.

Looking forward to the next installment!

lil_hammerhead said...

I hope you're going to submit this to the papers Mike. Please do.