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Conservationists defend Marianas Trench Monument

HAGÅTÑA — While CNMI officials see the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument as an impediment to economic opportunities and a threat to traditional fishing practices, the marine sanctuary has hundreds of thousands of defenders in the United States.

The Marianas Trench sanctuary is among the 27 national monuments under federal review by the U.S. Department of the Interior based on President Donald Trump’s April 26 multiple executive orders.

Loren Pinski of Montana urged the Department of the Interior to maintain the protected status of the Marianas Trench.

“Under the Antiquities Act, this piece of land was declared an important part of our country’s heritage and needed to be protected and preserved for all generations,” Pinski wrote in the Federal Register. “By keeping this land protected we are saying that some of our land can be valued simply because of its uniqueness, beauty, heritage and habitat. The land protected by the Antiquities Act is a very small part of federal land and will not adversely impact the economic development of our economy.”

Ninety-eight percent of Americans are in favor either keeping the national monuments intact or expanding them in the future, according to the Center for Western Priorities, which analyzed a random sample of comments posted on the Federal Register website.

The Department of the Interior had received nearly 1.5 million comments on the federal website when the comment period ended on July 10. In an official announcement earlier, the department said it had also received more than 500,000 snail mails and e-mails commenting on the president’s order for the reassessment of all presidential designations or expansions of marine sanctuaries under the Antiquities Act made since Jan. 1, 1996.

The review will determine whether the designation or expansion was made without adequate public outreach and coordination with relevant stakeholders; and determine whether each designation or expansion “appropriately balances the protection of landmarks, structures, and objects against the appropriate use of federal lands and the effects on surrounding lands and communities.”

CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres said the U.S. government has failed to live up to promises made during the creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in 2009.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the governor said although fishing and mining are prohibited in the protected area, “there had been no increase in patrols to discourage illegal fishing, nor has a visitor center been built which was supposed to help make up for the loss of access to natural resources.”

Torres said it is time that the monument is reassessed.

American conservationists, however, are not in favor of shrinking any of the national sanctuaries nor recalling their designation.

“In particular I have a concern regarding Marianas Trench, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. America can no longer foul the waters of this planet’s oceans seeking short term gain,” Joan Hearing wrote. “The thought of having even part of any of these monuments destroyed in order to extract minerals, oil, gas, timber, etc. shows the short-sighted greed of those who would suggest this idea.”

The Mariana Trench is the deepest known point in the world’s oceans, deeper than the height of Mount Everest. The protected area covers 95,216 square miles of ocean.

Javier Guevara, of Hawthorne, California, said the Mariana Trench should remain protected. “What can be discovered inside the trench is immeasurable and should be preserved for more research about new sea life. If they mine, they will destroy the land potentially killing all the soon to be discovered sea life.”

Denise Turgeon of Lewiston, Maine, warns against opening up the Marianas Trench to degradation. “Marianas Trench includes the Sulfur Cauldron, a phenomenon so rare, the only other pool of molten sulfur that has been located is on one of Jupiter’s moons. The monument’s biologically diverse waters also support unique corals and a large population of sharks.”

An anonymous online commenter noted that the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, one of the sanctuaries under review, “is one of the last havens for threatened marine wildlife in the world, including sea turtles, whales, sharks, and coral reefs.”

The Pacific area, according to the commenter, “contains the most widespread representation of many species of coral, seabirds, and shorebirds compared to anywhere else on the planet. Due to its protection, it has become a refuge to coral reefs. Reef systems have been able to grow into an expansive system and contain a larger biomass of reef fish relative to unprotected reef systems near populated areas.”

Another anonymous commenter said the national monuments and public lands and waters “help define who we are as a nation by telling the story of our historical, cultural and natural heritage. I am extremely disappointed that President Trump has signed an executive order that attempts to undermine our national monuments. Attempts to roll back protections for national monuments would be both illegal and terribly misguided.”

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/97107-conservationists-defend-marianas-trench-monument

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