At the end of my original Coral Triangle Post I've taken a moment to address a few things that might relate to the marine monument currently being debated in the community.
Here's my original post on the Coral Triangle. By the way, "Coral Triangle" remains one of the biggest search engine key word searches people use to get to this site.
No, we're not trying to copy Bermuda and their famous triangle that seems to take planes, vessels and lives without warning.
No, in fact, we're talking about a region of the earths ocean described by the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) with this in mind...
"No other place on Earth is as rich and varied in marine life as the Coral Triangle. Spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Northern Australia, this extraordinary expanse of ocean covers some 5.7 million square kilometres. The Coral Triangle echoes the richness and diversity of the Amazon rain forest".
This map shows that most biodiversity occurs around Indoneisia and Papua New Guinea
However, the map below shows how the Northern Mariana Islands not only fall within the upper end of the triangle but they also establish a boundary line!
I realize the primary area of focus for the triangle is Indonesia and the surrounding countries but, it's important to note that we do sit within this important ecological zone.
We do in fact, contribute to the vast array of species this region accounts for. We have rare hard corals and other critters the scientific community recognizes as occurring here and perhaps no where else. In fact it was in my first year on Saipan that a group of researchers found 8 previously unnamed species of fish. See link here. Then on another survey this was a quote from the NOAA team after returning from the Northern Islands in 2003. See Tribune story here
“Many of these species are new records for these islands, as very few previous surveys have been conducted at most of these islands. Many species were also present in the size ranges at which they recruit from the plankton, or as very young juveniles,” the team said.
I think it's also important to note that in relative terms the scientific community has barely scratched the surface when it comes to surveying our vast waters especially up North. Who knows what else is out there just waiting to be discovered. We know there are plenty more dive sites around the Islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota that are worth discovering and going to on a regular basis. We also know that divers have witnessed the mating of two different species of nudibranchs a phenomenon that was previously just a theory but now thanks to Harry (The Nudibranch whisperer) it's been documented. Bottom line, when we say we are privileged to dive in some of the most diverse waters of the world it is true!
Now, isn't it just a little more appealing to live in the triangle that breeds diversity rather than swallow up ships and planes like a giant black hole. Perhaps just one more advantage we have over our Caribbean counterparts!
Coral Triangle & Marianas Trench = Synergistic Marketing!
Like I say, those were the original thoughts I had on the triangle when I first became aware there was such a theoretical boundary. Now, throw in the concept of having an internationally recognized "Monument of the Sea" including the deepest part of the world and it's easy to see how potentially powerful such a marketing combination could be. A monument designation with all the hoopla that would come form the Bush administration announcement would instantly and effectively focus positive attention on us from around the world. With ensuing federal funding from the NOAA sanctuary program this beacon of light in the pacific would likely shine for many many years if not forever and glow ever stronger with time. The spotlight and funding couldn't possibly do anything but benefit our tourism industry and the scientific community.
Take a close look at the map. Have you ever tried to go on a vacation, diving or otherwise, to one of the remote islands of Indonesia. With the exception of perhaps Bali, it's not usually to encounter flight delays or planes that just don't show up for days. If you go, prepare for an adventure and be very pleased if your travel time is any where close to what it says on your itinerary.
For our largest tourist markets Indonesia represents long, multiple flights while we offer single non-stop daily flights from both Seoul and Tokyo. With fuel surcharges going up for all flights but particularly noticeable for long haul trips we can also offer a more affordable and convenient excursions to the "Amazon of the Sea" than perhaps anyone else in the region. Now, build a world class visitors center with information on specie diversity within the coral triangle and the untouched wonders of the deep and yes, they will come AND yes, they will spend their money!
From a purely scientific point of view there has to be something said for lying on the edge of even an arbitrary boundary. I once had to do a paper for an economics class based on what happens in communities where artificial boundaries exist. Mine was pretty easy as I lived close to the US / Canada boarder where the "line" actually meant large beautiful homes on one side and fields of very little development on the other. My point is, if the boundaries of the Trench monument can be maintained so as to allow an entire ecosystem withing the Coral Triangle to go untouched by things other than mother nature it should provide a nice baseline for years of comparison to other less protected areas outside the triangle. A scientests dream come true I would imagine, especially in a world without many baselines!
The Pew sponsored economic study released a few months ago touched on how a stable, long term marine protected area would bring long term sustainable dollars from increased research and scientific voyages. With increased research (and research dollars) who knows what else they'll find, but one thing is true, they'll probably find more with more trips and more minds looking into it all! New species, cures for diseases........
Ultimately, if the local people demand a seat at the table, with any and all governing bodies deemed necessary to develop and maintain the park, than control of how it is used and how it will benefit the people of the CNMI will remain tied to local interests. Without the seat at the table and an open dialogue there is the potential to A) risk loosing a significant long term opportunity that would grow the islands economy and preserve a resource for years to come or B) have the monument designated without local input leaving everyone scrambling to get the needed balance and local control that can only come with meaningful participation from local representation.
The benefits are real and at hand NOW!