Here's my letter to the editor which appeared in today's papers.
This week, most likely on Earth Day, barring any major breaking news stories taking over the air waves, NBC Nightly News will broadcast, in prime time, a national story about the Marianas Trench Marine Monument. Likely the story will be less rah-rah environment and more, how did we get here, what now and what are the challenges ahead? Regardless, the story illustrates an important promise kept.
While much work remains to be done to realize all the benefits touted and to effectively harness the full potential of the declaration, everyone who has had a hand in making the monument a reality should hold their heads high this coming Earth Day. Be proud; together we have taken a most difficult yet monumental first step on the way to preserving one of the most special and least understood places on our planet. To that end our children will thank us, for perhaps the most important of promises has been kept, the promise to do what we can now to save our oceans and the very existence of hundreds, if not thousands, of species, potentially even our own. By doing so we have also brought a tide of change to the shores of the CNMI.
In addition to this week’s NBC story, late last week Angelo Villagomez and Ike Cabrera traveled to San Francisco where, on behalf of the Friends of the Monument, they accepted the 2009 EPA award acknowledging commitment and significant contributions to the environment. Although getting a monument declared is not necessary to receive this award, as demonstrated by Beautify CNMI winning it in 2008, the fact remains, by receiving this honor twice in successive years we now have something very important in our corner - momentum. Even the critics must recognize that this round of press alone delivers not only on the promise to bring positive world-wide attention to the CNMI but it can also be the catalyst we need to re-brand the CNMI. That is, if we don’t screw it up.
During NBC’s visit a few weeks ago, I remember hearing someone saying this will be the first time since the 1990’s one of the big 3 networks has come to the CNMI to do a national TV news story. Back then ABC did their expose on our booming, less than glamorous garment industry and the accompanying issues with human trafficking and prolific prostitution. Of course, a story like that followed by years of corruption (aka Tom Delay and Jack Abramoff) can make for a difficult image to shake long after the factories are gone and the federal government assumes control of local immigration.
Now I know an image can’t be changed overnight nor will it be changed by one 3-minute spot on the national news. However, if we play our cards right, manage the monument with due diligence and ride this wave of media coverage over the coming weeks, months and years we can do it, one story at a time.
Case in point. Following the day of diving with NBC, including 4 very different dive sites in the Grotto, Naftan Point, Ice Cream and Ship Wreck, I asked reporter Ian Williams how his day had compared to other dive days he’d experienced around the world. He enthusiastically and whole-heartedly responded with “as good as or better than any I’ve ever had”. As our conversation continued we discovered his points of reference include some very high profile places in Asia including many in Indonesia, a country generally well known for some pretty decent diving. This without even setting foot anywhere near the actual area designated as a monument. Think of the possibilities for education and tourism when yet another of the promises is met. That of a world-class visitors center on Saipan complete with a walk through replica of the Trench and live video feeds from the many research expeditions and their crews of local students and scientists. The job has really just begun; let’s work together to keep the promises and reap the benefits for the sake of our children.
For a little more on NBC's visit to Saipan you can visit Angelo's blog here, as well as the Friends of the Monument (FOM) blog here. The Tribune also did a story. I will also be posting some photos and video once I see the story. Thanks to the internet we here in the CNMI should be able to watch it almost live. If we have to wait until next week to see it on the tape delay I'l be a pretty disapointed!