Friday, September 30, 2016

An Adventure in New Zealand

"To win, you have to believe you can do it. You have to be passionate about it. You have to really "want" the result - even if this means years of work. The hardest part of any big project is to begin...” - Sir Peter Blake’s last log aboard the Seamaster before he was shot by pirates in 2001.

I had the amazing opportunity to be one of the first Pacific delegates to the Sir Peter Blake Trust 2016 Youth Enviro Leadership Forum (YELF for short) in April. I was able to travel to New Zealand (Wellington, Nelson, and Auckland) and had the time of my life while learning heaps of new things.

From the moment I set foot in New Zealand, the breathtaking flora and fauna, city lights, and enchanting scenery immediately made its mark on me. I knew at once that this beauty must be preserved.

This year’s YELF focused on pest eradication, ocean health, and biodiversity. Aside from the workshops and adventures, we went all around Nelson developing deeper connections with our new friends as well as deepening our understanding of our planet.

Before the forum began, I was hosted by Bronwen and Ashleigh, two lovely ladies from The Pew Charitable Trusts. They showed me and my fellow Pacific delegates around the city of Wellington. We visited Wellington Zoo where we got a behind the scenes look at what goes on at The Nest Te Kōhanga, the zoo’s hospital and was greeted by a recuperating penguin. Later, at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa we were able to see cultural and historical Maori artifacts as well as the museum’s Pacific collection.

On the first day of the forum, we touched down at Nelson on the South Island. After settling in, we quickly got into groups and headed out to do volunteer work as part of Serve for NZ’s ANZAC day campaign. In Australia and New Zealand, ANZAC Day is similar to our Memorial Day. At the end of the day, our cooking skills were put to the test as we had a MasterChef Challenge, complete with judging from NZ MasterChef Winner, Tim Read. I must digress, being surrounded by my Kiwi peers, it was a bit off a culture shock.

We had the opportunity to truly be immersed in Maori culture. We visited Whakatu Marae and I had my first Hangi lunch- a traditional Maori cookout where food is cooked in a pit oven with heated rocks. After that we headed off to Brook Waimarama Sanctuary where we learned about their efforts in pest eradication. The friendly ranger explained to us the Sanctuary’s efforts of pest proofing the area to help save the native species from stoats and possums. Rather than use controversial 1080 aerial poison, they plan to use brodifacoum to get rid of the other. Unlike 1080, brodifacoum is more environmentally friendly as it does not dilute and affect water supplies. It also has an antidote in case of accidental poisoning. Another way they catch pests is with the use of traps. Although time consuming, traditional traps are still effective in reducing pests. Recently, the sanctuary’s latest project is installing a pest free fence over the entire area. The fence features a very fine mesh that extends underground to prevent burrowing.

One place that we were fortunate to go to was Cable Bay. At the marine reserve we did the usual recreational activities of kayaking and snorkeling. However, it was anything but usual. One lucky group encountered a pod of orcas as they were kayaking the chilly waters. Another group was able to see seals. Looking underwater as we snorkeled proved to be a spying game of sorts. You had to be on the lookout for marine life to be able to witness it in all its natural glory. Among the many things we spotted, I saw kina, colorful fishes, a sting ray, and an octopus! Not even the cold temperature could keep me from enjoying the swim. On our trip to the Cawthron Institute, I gained a broader idea of how ocean acidification is affecting our marine environments. As global warming increases, the amount of carbon dioxide in the ocean increases and causes it to become more acidic. Marine life is detrimentally affected as CO2 exposure can cause adverse effects on fish reproduction, diet, and especially shell fish. It amazes me how far their people go to preserve and protect the natural and native state of their land. I think we can learn a thing or two from our Kiwi neighbors. I certainly learned a lot. Probably the most important thing I took from this experience is that “change starts with you.” Although a tad bit cliché, that saying is very applicable to almost anything and in this case: environmental change. In order for there to be change, you need to start the ball rolling yourself. Everyone and anyone is capable of helping the earth become a little bit cleaner and healthier. From the smallest gestures such as picking up litter or planting a new tree, to the grandest like successfully creating a marine sanctuary, every bit helps. However, in order for this change to be effective, it must be a collective community effort. Only then will we be successful.

Thinking back on home, I am reminded that Saipan’s main industry is tourism. If we continue to let our environment to deteriorate, our economy will suffer and not only that, but future generations may not be able to enjoy and experience it. Like Sir Peter Blake has said, “I think everyone really needs to understand that we are a part of the environment, not apart from it."

My participation was sponsored by The Island Voices, a learning network of artists, educators, fishermen, navigators, and leaders, communicators of traditional knowledge and wisdom, and advisors to The Pew Charitable Trusts. I was nominated by Vicky and Island Voices Ambassador Diego T. Benavente.

I would like to thank Pew, the Marianas Tourism Education Council, the Sir Peter Blake Trust team, and the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment for giving me this opportunity of a lifetime. Kia Ora.

Mary Grace S. Tiglao
2016 graduate, Marianas High School

Friday, July 1, 2016

Star Advertiser: Larger marine preserve makes sense

A national proposal that pits environmentalists against the fishing industry would have an outsized impact on Hawaii: a huge expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM).

Advocates want President Barack Obama to use the Antiquities Act to expand PMNM from its current 50-mile-out boundary to 200 miles out — encompassing the entire U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, making it the world’s largest marine reserve.

It’s an audacious idea, and not without negative consequences. Access to the area could be heavily restricted and regulated. Moreover, Hawaii’s commercial longline fishing fleet would be banned from laying its hooks over the roughly 600,000 square miles the PMNM would encompass. That could have an impact on the supply of fresh fish on our docks.

On balance, however, expanding the monument is the more sensible option. Given the relentless pressure on the oceans’ ecosystems from both man and nature — an aggressive fishing industry, a warmer Western Pacific, pollution, alarming declines in certain marine species — public policy should follow the best available science to ensure the health of Hawaii’s ocean environment and wildlife for generations to come.

Robert Richmond, a research professor and director of the Kewalo Marine Laboratory, told the Star-Advertiser editorial board that truly effective marine conservation requires protecting areas of relative isolation that encompass many diverse habitats and unique species — features which Papahanaumokuakea possesses in abundance, at least for now.

The area contains an interdependent web of wildlife, from the fish we eat to 4,000-year-old corals.

Moreover, a five-fold expansion of the reserve reflects the proportions needed for the buffer required to protect this marine life from the broad impacts of global climate change, said Richmond, who is one of a large number of scientists who signed a letter to Obama urging him to expand the reserve for these reasons.

But does that mean Hawaii’s small commercial fleet of 140 longline fishing boats should be banned?

That’s a trickier question.

The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, an unapologetic booster of the fishing industry, says its scientists believe Hawaii’s fishing fleet has a negligible impact on the EEZ, and that banning fishing in the EEZ will only harm Hawaii’s economy and the fishery without benefitting conservation.

In an April letter to Obama, council officials argued that “if these Hawaii vessels are forced to fish on the high seas, they faced increased competition with foreign vessels, lower catch rates, and higher operating costs.”

The numbers tell a more nuanced story. The fleet already operates on the high seas, by choice, because that’s where the fish are. Recent data on Hawaii’s longline vessels gathered by the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center show that most of the fishery’s harvest already comes from outside the EEZ — upwards of 90 percent or more, depending on the year.

Moreover, in 2014, the fleet caught a record 216,897 prized bigeye tuna, Hawaii’s source of locally caught fresh ahi. And while the loss of the EEZ would impose a burden to the fishery, it’s not likely to be a fatal one. A closed EEZ would not prevent the fishery from catching its full quota, which could be collected elsewhere, as it mostly has been.

It also should be noted that in 2014, the fishery hooked 5,662 sharks within the EEZ, but kept only 44. Overall that year, the fishery caught 85,067 sharks and kept less than 1 percent of them. Sharks, while hugely important in a balanced marine ecosystem, are mere bycatch for the fishery.

Such bycatch is part of longline fishing, which employs what Richmond called “a wall of hooks” — 47 million hooks deployed by the Hawaii fishery in 2014, a strong argument that the effects of longline fishing are not benign.

Among the advocates who have urged Obama to expand PMNM are U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who has proposed allowing small-time fishers access to the eastern edge of the EEZ; and a group of prominent Native Hawaiians, including William Aila, Nainoa Thompson and Kamana‘opono Crabbe, CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

Indeed, OHA wants to be a co-trustee of an expanded PMNM, so it can represent Native Hawaiian interests on equal footing with the state of Hawaii and the federal agencies that would manage the monument.

While the cultural importance of all the Hawaiian islands to the Native Hawai- ian community cannot be denied, such an arrangement raises jurisdictional questions about the role of OHA, which is a state agency.

Proponents of an expanded PMNM hope to entice Obama to approve the expansion and announce it, in person, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature Congress, to be held in Hawaii in September. That would be a public relations coup — though closing off such a large section of Hawaiian waters, even for the best of reasons, will come at a cost. The amount remains to be seen.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Expand Papahānaumokuākea Coalition Supports Senator Schatz Proposal

Today, Native Hawaiians leading the effort to expand the boundaries of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) voiced their support for the proposal announced by Senator Brian Schatz to create the largest marine protected area in the world. The timing coincides with the 10-year anniversary of the Monument’s original designation by President George W. Bush on June 15, 2006.

"The Cultural Working Group (CWG) thanks Senator Schatz for his leadership and supports this proposal, which gives maximum ecological and cultural protection while supporting small boat fishermen," said Kekuewa Kikiloi, chair of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Working Group. The CWG is under the Monument Management Board for PMNM and made up of 50 individuals—from kūpuna (elders) to cultural practitioners—located across all of the main Hawaiian Islands, each with a strong tie to Papahānaumokuākea.

Senator Schatz’s proposal follows a strong and growing call from across Hawaiʻi to expand Papahānaumokuākea. If adopted by the Obama administration, the proposal seeks to more than quadruple the current monument footprint. Specifically, the Senator’s proposal would expand the Papahānaumokuākea boundary to the full extent of 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) starting at the 163°W Longitude. On April 5, 2016, the CWG wrote the White House Council on Environmental Quality to expand the boundaries of PMNM and to designate the Office of Hawaiian Affairs as a co-trustee on the management committee. “We thank Senator Schatz for providing the maximum amount of protection while ensuring that small boat fishermen can continue to access the areas that they have historically accessed,” says William Aila, Jr., a fisherman and founding member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve. “With this proposal the senator is providing President Obama with a bold plan that Hawai‘i and the nation can be proud of.”

President Obama could use the Antiquities Act to expand the area of protection. The coalition is targeting the IUCN World Conservation Congress, happening September 1 - 10, 2016 for this announcement, with the hope that the President delivers the news himself in Honolulu.

Significant resources of scientific value would benefit from expanded protections. Highly migratory or far-ranging species such as sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seabirds, sharks, and tuna forage outside of the area of the existing monument. Additionally, recent scientific expeditions outside of the current monument and within the proposed expansion area have discovered high density biological communities in which most of the animals discovered are completely unknown to science, making for a compelling case for expansion. Of particular interest, black corals, which are the oldest living animal on the plant, estimated at more than 4,500 years old, have recently been found in the potential expansion area. The animals are described as the old growth redwood forests of the ocean.

“I fully support Senator Schatzʻs leadership decision that envisions a marine protected area for cultural resources, natural resources and marine replenishment for food security,” said Sol Kahoʻohalahala, a member of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group and founder of the Maunalei Ahupuaʻa Mauka-Makai Managed Area on Lānaʻi. “Our collective actions and informed choices today will be counted tomorrow by the generations of keiki yet unborn. E holomua kākou."

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are considered sacred to Native Hawaiians. The islands are where they believe all life began, and to which spirits return after death. Increased protections would reduce the present and future impacts to species and natural resources, including commercial fishing as well as threats posed by the imminent growth of seabed mining.

“This part of the Pacific represents a perfect region for large-scale protection,” said Dr. Richard Pyle, Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology, Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum. “Because of the span in latitude, it represents a buffer to ocean warming and serves as a reservoir for species threatened in more tropical regions. The monument expansion will help ensure safe passage for larvae of corals, fishes, and other reef-associated species and help recolonize reefs devastated by the effects of climate change.”

Of important historical note, the remains of the Battle of Midway, a key turning point in World War II, and most notably the wreck of the aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, lie in the area of proposed expansion.

Twitter @expandpmnm

The following photos and video were taken outside the current boundaries of PMNM, in the area that is being considered for possible Monument expansion:
Still photos available here:
Videos available here:

All photos and videos should be credited as follows: Courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, Hohonu Moana.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Support bigger marine sanctuary

It’s time to separate fact from fiction regarding the proposal to expand the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Expansion would have no effect on the longline fleets’ catch, as those quotas are set by national and international agreements, which are completely separate and independent from the proposal. Further, 95 percent of longline fishing already takes place outside of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

For the 5 percent of fish that are caught in or near the monument expansion zone, longliners would simply catch fish elsewhere, and until they reach their standard quotas.

There would be no change in the economic value of the longline fishery after the expansion.

I hope the president, policymakers and residents look to the vast number of scientists, conservationists and Native Hawaiian leaders who rightfully support expanding Papahanaumokukea Monument for the economic and environmental benefit to all of Hawaii’s people.

Gerrit Osborne

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Papahānaumokuākea Rising

Cultural Working Group members with scientists, fishermen, and conservationists

One month ago today the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group wrote the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposing expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and inviting the Obama administration to travel to Hawai‘i to discuss the proposal. This week the Administration sent a delegation to meet with stakeholders including Native Hawaiian, scientists, local fishermen and the conservation community, who presented cultural and scientific evidence to support expanding the monument to fully protect the cultural, historical, and biological significance of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

"As Native Hawaiians, our core identity and survival is tied to the ocean. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands is where we believe life originated," said Kekuewa Kikiloi, Chair, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Native Hawaiian Cultural Working Group. "All resources in nature – from corals to sharks – have cultural significance for Native Hawaiians and are an embodiment of our ancestors. By expanding Papahānaumokuākea we can help protect our cultural ocean-scapes and show future generations that preservation of the environment is preservation of our cultural traditions."

The Native Hawaiian proposal calls for expanding Papahānaumokuākea from 50 nautical miles to the 200 nautical mile limit of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with exception for the waters surrounding the islands of Ni‘ihau and Kaua‘i, which should remain outside of the monument boundaries, as well as two important fishing buoys for local pono Kaua‘i fishermen. To ensure proper care for Native Hawaiian cultural resources in the monument, the President is also being asked to designate the Office of Hawaiian Affairs as a co-trustee on the management committee.

Local pono recreational fishermen, scientists, and local and national environmentalists have joined traditional Hawaiians in this effort. In the month since the Cultural Working Group sent their letter to the Obama administration there has been a tremendous outpouring of support in Hawai‘i as well as online. “We have seen the decline in tuna populations that long-line fishing in Hawai‘i has caused, subjecting Hawaiians and Hawai‘i residents to import ‘ahi poke from other countries. Our local pono fishermen across the Hawaiian Islands are now standing up to this mostly foreign fishing industry,” said Jay Carpio, a local fishermen from Maui who has been leading education and support efforts with local fishermen. “Fishermen like the late Uncle Buzzy Agard led the effort to establish Papahānaumokuākea, and local fishermen are again leading the call to President Obama to expand the monument.”

Rashid Sumaila, a world-renowned fisheries economist at the University of British Columbia stated, “This tuna long line fishery is a quota based fishery. Meaning that after the proposed expansion the tuna long line fishermen will still be able to catch the same amount of fish and therefore there will be no or very little impact to the long-line fishermen.”

At the Hawai‘i State Legislature in a joint statement from the two representatives who districts include Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, State Representative Chris Lee and State Senator Laura Thielen expressed support for the expansion. “As a representative of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, this is an area that deserves meaningful protection that will ensure the survival of this amazing habitat for generations to come,” said Representative Lee.

There are significant resources of scientific value that would benefit from expanded protections. Highly migratory or far-ranging species such as sea turtles, whales, dolphins, seabirds, sharks, and tuna forage outside of the area of the existing monument and are threatened by longline fishing vessels when they range outside the area of protection. Additionally, in the 10 years since the original monument designation, scientific expeditions outside of the current monument boundaries and within the proposed expansion area have discovered high density communities in which most of the animals seen are completely unknown to science, making a compelling case for expansion. This includes black corals which are estimated at 4,500 years old, and described as the old growth redwood forests of the ocean.

“Large, strongly protected marine reserves have emerged as important policy solutions,” said Dr. Richard Pyle, Associate Zoologist in Ichthyology, Department of Natural Sciences, Bishop Museum. “They carry the dual benefit of being both marine climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.”

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Taking New Zealand's environmental lessons to the Pacific

ON a tiny Pacific country halfway between Papua New Guinea and Japan, the words of a Kiwi hero inspired a 17-year-old girl.

Mary Grace Tiglao, from the Mariana Islands, started researching Sir Peter Blake when she earned a place on an environmental forum in New Zealand that continues his legacy.

“I really liked his quotes about leadership, about how the hardest part is to begin, once you’ve begun you are on your way."

“That’s a great quote to live by and I think I’d like to instill it in my own philosophy.”

The Sir Peter Blake Trust’s Youth EnviroLeaders Forum or YELF is in its 13th year, and this is the first time four international students have been invited.

Mary Grace, as well as three from Palau, Australia and New Caledonia joined the 50 Kiwi students for the week-long forum in Nelson where the focus was on pest eradication, ocean health and biodiversity.

It’s Mary Grace’s first time in New Zealand, and just three days into her visit she’s standing on the pristine pest-free Adele Island in the Abel Tasman.

“The weather is beautiful; it’s totally awesome here. The hospitality of the kiwis is top notch.”

She says at home on the Northern Marianas’ largest island Saipan, they do a lot of beach cleanups and she believes preserving the environment is vital to a country where tourism is the main industry.

“If we destroy it our economy’s going to go down, we’ll have less visitors and it destroys the wildlife."

“I also believe we should preserve our environment for posterity, not only for tourism.”

What Mary Grace had seen at the Brook Waimarama sanctuary in Nelson and privately funded Abel Tasman National Park restoration initiative, Project Janszoon, had shown her New Zealand’s proactiveness in conservation, she said.

“I would like the CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) to expand their efforts more — enforce and implement stricter rules around littering and the preservation of wildlife.”

Sir Peter Blake Trust chief executive Shelley Campbell says the idea to bring young Pacific leaders into the fold came about at the Our Ocean Conference in Chile last year.

The Trust worked with Pew Charitable Trusts, a U.S.-based NGO, to bring the students to YELF with the aim of connecting young environmental leaders across the Pacific.

“We share the same backyard and the same environmental challenges,” Campbell says.

“We hope they’ll develop amazing friendships, they’ll share great ideas, when they get home they’ll remain in touch with each other.”

She says today’s reality is that environmental issues aren’t isolated to one community or country.

New Zealand is well-placed to help the lesser-developed countries in the Pacific grapple with global environmental issues, she says.

“If we can offer them some opportunities in New Zealand that perhaps they don’t have at home, they can take those ideas back and use that to stimulate discussion, what a great role for New Zealand to play in the Pacific.

“I think Peter would be proud of that.”

Students applying for YELF require a proven record of involvement in environmental issues and who are ready to step up to a challenge.

The Forum included guest speakers Ministry for the Environment chief executive Vicki Robertson, Environment Minister Nick Smith and Blake Leader Sam Johnson.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Hawaiian leaders seek expansion of marine conservation area

A group of Native Hawaiian leaders have urged President Barack Obama to expand what’s already one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world.

But the president of the Hawaii Longline Association said Friday the lobbying effort is using Hawaiian culture as an excuse to close off more waters to fishermen.

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is a 140,000-square-mile area of the Pacific where remote islands, atolls, islets and coral reefs serve as habitat for some of the world’s most endangered species.

The region is also a sacred place in the history, culture and cosmology of Native Hawaiians.

“Mr. President, as an island boy from Hawaii, we trust that you understand the significance of the ocean to our islands,” said a letter signed by leaders of the expansion push.

They want Obama to expand the monument to the full 200 nautical-mile limit of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands exclusive economic zone while keeping the main Hawaiian islands outside the boundaries.

“While the current boundary of Papahanaumokuakea includes vital habitat for a number of species, it doesn’t fully protect habitat and travel routes for several species including Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, sharks, whales, Black-footed and Laysan albatrosses as well as other species,” reads the letter signed by Department of Hawaiian Homelands Deputy Chairman William Aila, Office of Hawaiian Affairs CEO Kamanaopono Crabbe, Polynesian Voyaging Society President Nainoa Thompson and others.

If Obama expands the monument, it would be the largest protected area on Earth, they say.

Sean Martin, president of the Hawaii Longline Association, questioned whether there’s been significant cultural activity beyond the current boundary. He believes environmental organizations with deep pockets are using Hawaiian culture to push their agenda at the expense of longline fishermen.

“I think that plays good, sounds good,” he said of highlighting the monument’s cultural significance. “But the reality is that it’s a very important area we work in. … We’re into continuing to support access for U.S. fishermen to fish in U.S. waters.”

The association includes 140 vessels, he said.

Aila said the expansion effort isn’t about pitting fishermen against conservation and culture.

“We’re protecting the fishermen that fish out of Kauai and Niihau,” he said. “Then there’s the other folks that go out a little further into the proposed expansion areas.”

Aila described himself as a “small-boat fisherman” and said protecting the expanded area will allow tuna stocks to rebound, creating more fishing opportunities across the state. “It’s not that longliners can’t fish, they will simply go fish someplace else,” he said.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Expand marine protected area

Expanding the Papahanaumokuakea Monument is a smart, scientifically supported idea.

the ideal marine protected area contains a high diversity of organisms and habitats, is large, remote, and has currents that bring creatures in and carry some of their offspring outward -- Papahanaumokuakea has all these characteristics.

A larger size unquestionably matters, encompassing a great diversity of both life and and habitats and capturing increased numbers of drifting larvae, migratory fish and more.

This safe haven allows fish to get bigger and older.  When a female fish doubles in size, her egg prodcution can increase a thousandfold or more.

About 2 percent of the ocean has been set aside as fully protected marine reserves, far below the 30 percent believed necessary to ensure fish for future generations.

A larger monument means more resource capital in our children's bank accounts from which they can draw the interest sustainably.

Robert H. Richmond, Research professor and director, Kewalo Marine Laboratory

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Monument has cultural value

As a native Hawaiian, I assure you the ocean region beyond Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument retains devout cultural significance for Hawaii ("Native Hawaiian leaders seek expanded marine monument," Star-Advertiser, April 17).

Our ancestors saw the entire archipelago and the vast ocean surrounding it as the framework for our cosmology, and it is accounted for in our oral traditions.

We believe that after passing on, our ancestors return to Po, or the realm of darkness, the region extending beyond the main Hawaiian islands and the limits of the sun's northern advance, beginning at the Tropic of Cancer.

The expansion of protection aligns with the traditional custom to prohibit human presence to minimize the impacts to limited natural resources.  It is imperative that we protect native species found within this ocean region that are inextricably connected to the integrity of our culture.

This expansion will have long lasting benefits to our island heritage and the local and global health of our oceans.

Kalani Quiocho Manoa

Published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser on April 22, 2016

Friday, April 8, 2016

International High School Students Selected for Youth Forum in New Zealand

Marianas High School senior Mary Grace Tiglao has been selected as one of the first international participants of the long-running Sir Peter Blake Youth EnviroLeader’s Forum in New Zealand from April 16-22, 2016.

The forum will take place in Nelson on the South Island, where Tiglao will join 54 other young leaders from around New Zealand and have the opportunity to learn from a number of national science and conservation experts about the major environmental issues facing New Zealand.

“I am very happy and honored to be selected as the first participant from the CNMI,” said Tiglao. “I would like to thank all the organizations and individuals that made this possible, especially Angelo Villagomez of the Pew Foundation and Vicky Benavente. I am excited to visit New Zealand to represent the CNMI, and I look forward to attending and learning from the forum.”

The Sir Peter Blake Trusts is partnering with The Island Voices to bring international young leaders from across the Pacific to attend the Youth EnviroLeader’s Forum for the first time this year. Along with the Northern Marianas, travel for young leaders from Australia, Palau, and New Caledonia are being jointly funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the New Zealand Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“The trust is excited to be branching out to our Pacific neighbors connecting young environmental leaders of the future,” said Sir Peter Blake Trust CEO Shelley Campbell. “Sir Peter used to say, ‘If we can get young people out experiencing the environment they will learn to love it and if they love it they will want to take care of it.’”

Vicky Benavente, chairwoman and Marianas Tourism Education Council, nominated Tiglao to participate in the upcoming forum.

“I first met Mary Grace when she was a high school sophomore, and she competed in the MTEC Essay Contest,” said Benavente. “Since then, Mary Grace has taken on a leadership role in her school, where she can influence her peers on the importance of protecting our environment and inspiring future leaders of the CNMI for a better tomorrow.”

Tiglao is the commander of the JROTC Dolphin Battalion and an officer of the National Honor Society. She previously attended Saipan Community School and Mt. Carmel School. Last year, she attended the Junior Statesmen of America at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. with a full scholarship award from the U.S. Department of the Interior. She has won several essay contests on island, including the MTEC essay contest in 2013. She also plays the ukulele and piano.

The Island Voices are artists, educators, fishermen, and leaders dedicated to linking traditional values into modern decision making and advocates for clean and healthy oceans and islands. They are advisors to the Pew Charitable Trusts Global Ocean Legacy Campaign.

Sir Peter Blake was one of the world’s best sailors who wanted to raise people’s awareness about need to care for our oceans and marine environments. The Sir Peter Blake Trust exists to continue his legacy to inspire and mobilize the next generation of leaders, adventurers, and environmentalists.

MTEC was formed in 2002 by the Marianas Visitors Authority to heighten the community’s awareness of the importance of tourism to the well-being of the people of the CNMI. MTEC’s primary focus is to foster community understanding and support of the CNMI’s visitor industry and to educate the general public, especially school students, about the value, social benefits, and economic contributions made to the community by the visitor industry.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Unsustainable Harvesting of Sea Cucumbers and the Consequences for Coral-Reef Ecosystems of Palau

by Dr. Peter Houk
Chief Biologist, Pacific Marine Resources Institute
Editor, Journal of Micronesian Fishing

Upon my first visit to Palau in 1994, I was immediately impressed by the seemingly endless diversity and abundance of marine life. While Palau is clearly blessed with an amazing natural setting (geology, geography, and oceanography), I found out that traditional management, culture, and respect were equally influential in creating the healthy, thriving coral-reef ecosystems I witnessed.For me, these early experiences in Palau confirmed my passion to better understandhow these magnificent underwater scenes evolve and function.

I have since moved on to coestablish a non-governmental organization dedicated to assisting Micronesian jurisdictions collect and interpret scientific data for their use in sound management planning, the Pacific Marine Resources Institute ( Research across Micronesia over the past decade has provided me with a wealth of insight into coral-reef ecosystems, their associated fisheries, and the tradition and culture that is interwoven into the coral-reef food webs.At the numerous regional meetings I’ve attended over the years, Palau continues to lead the way in implementing conservation and management policies that aim to provide long-term economic gain and sustainable fisheries into the future. However, the perceived success must be put into the perspective of the changing world we live in.

In comparison to many coral reefs around the world, Palau clearly represents a unique natural wonder. However, the pressures of enhanced westernization and economic growth continue to influence marine resources around the world, and the stories that elders have shared with me clearly portray declining marine resource abundances through time across Micronesia, including Palau (see It seems clear that it is becoming harder and harder to preserve the fishery stocks that once seemed endless, and although Palau is a regional conservation leader, this conservation success might best be defined in relative terms, while many people fail to understand the absolute decline in marine resources that have been occurring through time. It goes without saying that healthy fish stocks are needed to keep coral-reef ecosystems thriving, so insight from Palauan elders should be taken as a sincere concern for the livelihoods of future generations.

However, most recently, I learned about the sale and export of large quantities of Palau’s sea cucumbers, with limited study or documentation to ensure that sustainable stocks remain, which can fulfill their ecological functions. This was extremely surprising to me, because across Micronesia, many jurisdictions strictly limit or prohibit sea cucumber harvesting due to their slow growth rates and importance to the coral-reef ecosystem. It’s ironic that over the years I’ve witnessed Palau to be a conservation leader, however, just recently, they have decided to exploit marine resources in a manner that is already obsolete within much of Micronesia. This decision is ultimately what encouraged me to write this article, and describe what many already know as the functional roles of sea cucumbers on coral reefs.

Sea cucumbers feed on sediment and detritus (decaying organic matter) that originate from larger coral-reef fish and invertebrates (fish poop for example), and also from surrounding watersheds. The very fact that so many sea cucumbers exist in Palau highlights just how much of this food source is available for processing. But, what happens if detritus is not processed? Left unchecked, detritus can slowly be consumed by the bottom dwelling corals and algae that live on the reefs. However, the key is that when too much detritus becomes available, algae and other undesirable can grow and outcompete corals for space on the reef. Translated, the once coral-dominated reef will slowly (over ~10 years) become dominated by algae, reducing structure and habitat, and all of the socioeconomic benefits that a healthy reefs offers Palauan livelihoods. As a last note, the combined impact of reduced fish populations, many of which also eat algae and detritus (parrotfish, Melemau, and Kemedukl), and sea cucumber declines represents an intensified threat to Palau’s nearshore coral-reef ecosystems.

You might draw a comparison with the dirt that accumulates in your house. Without sweeping, the accumulated dirt would eventually build up so much that you no longer want to live inside, and bacteria, mold, and fungus would take over your residence. Sea cucumbers and fish represent the “skobang”. While fighting the national policy of permitting sea cucumber harvesting may seem like a daunting challenge to many, I think that providing education and outreach to the state governments represents a better means towards solving this issue for Palau. To my knowledge, the states decide how to manage their resources, and generating a wealth of profit from sea cucumber harvesting today, in exchange for a compromised coral-reef ecosystem 10 years later, seems illogical. I strongly encourage all the state governments to take a deeper look at the consequences of uncontrolled sea cucumber harvesting.

Pacific Marine Resources Institute is a non-profit organization based in Saipan, CNMI, dedicated to improving scientific research and monitoring across Micronesia for their use in sound resource management planning (

Monday, March 7, 2016

If an 8 year old can write a letter to President Obama, so can you!

Nick Silverstein is an 8 year old shark activist from Queens, New York.  I've worked with Nick and his mom for a few years helping him to advocate for the protection of sharks in the United States and around the world.  A few years ago, Nick wrote to President Obama asking him to protect sharks.

Nick's letter provides a perfect example of how to write a comment letter.  In three simple paragraphs he (1) introduces himself and explains why the President should listen to him, (2) gives some background information on the issue, and (3) makes a specific ask on how to amend the proposed regulations.  Nick's letter is also handwritten and contained to a single page, which is preferable.  Unless you are a technical expert commenting on lengthy regulations, your message will be more effective if it is short and simple to understand.

Writing to your elected officials is easy to do and they appreciate hearing from their constituents.  So if an 8 year old kid living in Queens can write a letter to the President, what's stopping you?

Guest blog by Angelo Taotaotasi.  Follow Angelo on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Friday, March 4, 2016

How to write an effective online petition in 5 easy steps

Guest Blog
by Angelo Taotaotasi

Online petition signatures play a prominent role in the modern environmental movement.  Learning how to write better petitions will make us better campaigners and allow us to harness the power of our least active supporters. And when I say campaigners, I say it with the understanding that a petition is being created as part of a campaign. Writing and publishing an online petition should never in and of itself be considered a campaign, but it can be an important tool in a larger strategy.  In the world of advocacy, emails are more effective than online signatures. Letters carry more weight than emails. Telephone calls get better results than letters. And face-to-face meetings, especially repeated meetings with influential people, lead to real change.

Petitions can still be very effective when used well.  Here are a few tips on how to use online petitions to protect the ocean:

#1. Use proper spelling and grammar
You know those emails you get from Nigeria asking you to send them money? That’s what policy makers think of when you send them your petition with grammar and spelling mistakes. Try to avoid that. And don’t use slang or emoticons, either.

#2. Be specific with what you are asking
A petition that calls on the government to "Protect the Ocean" or "Save Sharks" won't be very effective because people have different ideas about how to achieve that.  You have to be specific by spelling out which law or which management practice it is you want to change.

#3. Target the person or organization you want to take action
Are you asking your legislature to pass a law? Do you want the president to sign it? Do you want the foreign minister to support something at an international meeting? Whatever policy it is you want changed, there is a real human being who will have to either change it or carry it out. That person has an email address and an office with both a mailbox and a telephone. Figure out who that person or persons may be, and make them the target of your efforts.

#4. Deliver your petition
All your effort creating a specific ask to a targeted person with proper grammar and spelling will have been a waste of time if your petition is not delivered. Some of the petition websites deliver emails to the targets, but not all of them do. You can also deliver your petition in person by printing it up, putting a cover sheet on it and carrying it to your target’s office. You can also deliver it via the media. Call up your local reporter and tell them how many people signed your petition and see if they’ll write a story.

#5. Be Creative
And most importantly, stand out from the crowd. Policy makers receive a barrage of communication from their constituents. There are already a mess of ocean petitions out there, not to mention petitions for everything else under the sun including guns, jobs, government spending, education, and you name it. There is an advocacy group for every issue these days. You need to make your voice and the voice of your supporters heard above all that noise.  What’s your creative idea?

BONUS: Give your supporters something else to do
And remember, an online petition is the least effective tool in your advocacy arsenal. You should have it available for your least active supporters to sign, but at the same time you should also be helping your more active supporters send emails, make phone calls, and set up meetings.

We encourage your feedback and ideas you may have. Please leave them in the comments section of this blog, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hawaiians Press Obama To Expand NW Islands Marine Monument

Civil Beat, an online paper in Hawaii has a story about expanding the Papahanaumokuakea marine national monument in Hawaii. Our ambassador William Aila features in the article along with other prominent Hawaiians.  An excerpt is below, and you can read the entire article here.
William Aila, Nainoa Thompson, Kamana‘opono Crabbe are among those who want the president to enlarge Papahanaumokuakea.
A group of seven prominent Native Hawaiians has asked President Barack Obama to expand federal protections around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

President George W. Bush established Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in 2006 as the largest fully protected marine reserve on the planet at the time. Its protections, which include prohibitions against commercial fishing, extend 50 miles outside the island chain.

The group didn’t say in the letter how much it wants to expand the monument, but federal jurisdiction extends out to 200 miles. That would make it nine times its current size of 139,797 square miles, which is bigger than all the country’s national parks combined.

The monument protects the habitat of more than 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are believed to be found nowhere else. It’s also home to 14 million seabirds that nest there. (Learn how to pronounce “Papahanaumokuakea” here.)

The letter was signed by Hawaiian Home Lands Deputy Director William Aila, former chair of the Department of Land and Natural Resources; Kamana‘opono Crabbe, CEO of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs; Nainoa Thompson, navigator and president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society; Isaac “Paka” Harp, former commercial fisherman who was instrumental in the creation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in 2000; Kekuewa Kikiloi, assistant professor at the Kamakakuokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at the University of Hawaii; Kaleo Manuel, environmental and community planner with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands; and Victoria Holt Takamine, a respected kumu hula who worked to transition the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve into the monument.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Island Voices in Saipan

The Island Voices shared the stage with Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr at a tourism summit that took place in Saipan on Thursday, January 28.  Saipan Ambassador Diego Benavente and secretariat Angelo Villagomez spoke to the summit's theme, "One Ocean, One Heart."  The Marianas Variety and the Saipan Tribune reported on the speakers and the summit.
INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed environmental leader Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. reminded CNMI students from various elementary and high schools on Thursday about the importance of preserving the ocean for future generations.

In his keynote message during the Marianas Tourism Education Council Tourism Summit at the Pacific Islands Club pavilion, Remengesau said the ocean is the heart and soul of Micronesia which includes Guam, the CNMI, the FSM, the Marshalls and Palau.

Remengesau said the ocean is the goose that lays the golden eggs and it is the responsibility and duty of the people, including students and the younger population, to take care of it for the next generations.

“The environment is the economy and the economy is the environment. When visitors see the ocean, experience the friendliness and feel the hospitality of islands, they will spend thousands of dollars to come here,” Remengesau said.

He told the Marianas Youth Welcome All Visitors Enthusiastically or MY WAVE Club members that he declared 2016 the Year of the Youth in Palau.

“It is important that in Micronesia and the other Pacific Islands, the youth start as young as possible in creating that feeling of love, concern, protection and knowing that every single one of you is taking care of the goose that lays the golden egg and that’s our ocean and environment,” Remengesau said.

Everyone should benefit from the tourism industry beginning with the younger generation, he said.

Remengesau was named Champion of the Earth in 2014 by the United Nations Environmental Program for spearheading initiatives that aim to protect Palau’s biodiversity.

On Oct. 28, 2015, he signed the Palau National Marine Sanctuary law which designates 80 percent of Palau’s marine protective area — making the island nation the world’s sixth largest fully protected marine area in the world.

It was also Remengesau who, in 2005, called for the creation of the Micronesia Challenge to conserve 30 percent of near shore coastal waters and 20 percent of forest land by 2020.

Remengesau told CNMI students Thursday that designating 80 percent of Palau’s waters means the preservation of his nation’s food security as it will ensure that the fish population and marine resources will still be available for future generations.

The Palau National Marine Sanctuary, he added, is also for their economic and cultural security.

He said the remaining 20 percent of Palau waters is still big enough to support local fishermen and provide for their families.

Remengesau said Palau is also known as a world shark sanctuary. One shark, he added, is worth about $1.9 million in revenues for its average 60 to 70 year lifetime.

“If you kill sharks for the fin or soup, one serving is about $40. Keep it alive and see it generate millions and provide sustainable income for the people.”

Remengesau said the southern lagoon of Palau has world heritage sites that continue to draw visitors each year.

“Let us save the ocean for the next generations and leave it clean and pristine as a legacy to your children. It’s from God and it’s our responsibility and duty to take care of it.”

In his message, former Lt. Gov. Diego T. Benavente told students that tourism and natural-resource preservation go hand in hand.

“This summit is all about our way of life. We are blessed with natural and beautiful resources as big attractions for tourists, and the ocean that surrounds us is one of the reasons why tourists come to visit,” Benavente said.

He said as a lawmaker, he worked on bills that were closest to his fisherman’s heart — measures that protect the ocean, create more marine protected areas and preserve ocean species.

“Our natural resources are the foundation of our tourism and economy so our job is to protect the delicate balance. I urge all to support efforts in the CNMI to protect the ocean,” Benavente said.

“We must work together to make sure our ocean is preserved for tomorrow and for the next generations. The visitors will keep coming as long as we keep the ocean clean and beautiful.”

The other summit speakers were Dr. Peter Houk, associate professor of marine biology from the University of Guam, and Pew Charitable Trusts officer Angelo Villagomez. PIC general manager Hiroki Sugie was given special recognition for his support and participation in the Tourism Summit and other tourism activities.