By Mark Rabago
Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), who is currently the acting governor of the CNMI, opposes a proposal to overlay the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument with another protected designation—this time as a marine sanctuary—and wants Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to rescind his letter supporting the move.
“I’ve avoided talking publicly about it because after talking with the governor I found out late that he’s supporting this. But I have a totally different perspective…I want the governor to rescind his letter supporting the designation of the Marianas Trench Marine Monument into a marine sanctuary,” he said yesterday on Capital Hill.
“So what is that going to improve? Why is the marine monument, with supposedly all its restriction for conservation, can transpose to a better situation by making it and calling it now a marine sanctuary? What’s the difference?” he asked.
Palacios, who used to be a Lands and Natural Resources secretary and worked for years at the Division of Fish and Wildlife, said the Marianas Trench’s marine sanctuary designation would only build on what the marine monument designation successfully did to the people of the Marianas, which further restricted their rights to fish in the area, among others.
“What’s going to happen is the new proposal expands the boundary of the original monument. The island units will supposedly go all the way up to the 200-mile zone boundary instead of 50 miles. Right now, with the monument in the open oceanic areas you can still fish for pelagic fishes—migratory species like tuna in the water column. If the sanctuary kicks in, it proposes that we will no longer be able fish within the water column. So what is it are we trying to do here other than put restrictions and boundaries and expand these boundaries and call it now a marine sanctuary.”
Torres and Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) wrote to President Barrack Obama in September 2016 requesting that the government start the sanctuaries process for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument through the Sanctuaries Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
According to the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy project, becoming a national marine sanctuary would provide the monument with a more robust conservation and management profile as well as bring more resources for education and community engagement in the Northern Mariana Islands.
It said the CNMI Legislature has written to the President in support of the governor and the delegate’s request, as has nearly every other elected official in the Commonwealth.
Last month, Marianas Conservation member John Gourley wrote to Obama to dissuade the outgoing president from designating the Mariana Trench as a marine sanctuary on top of being a national monument.
In his letter Gourley said once the Mariana Trench is declared a marine sanctuary on top of being a marine national monument, it will require those who wish to fish or mine in the area to obtain permission from the federal government twice—one for the trench being a national monument and another for the trench being a marine sanctuary.