Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Rapa Nui have shown us that conservation can protect their ocean – and their culture


Over a thousand years ago, bold Pacific voyagers traversed a massive blue expanse, teeming with life. The natural abundance of the ancient world is unimaginable to those of us living today, as our seas have been emptied of the great whales, turtles, sharks, and other large fish.

Using their knowledge of their surroundings, from the direction, time of day, and species of birds they saw flying in the sky, to the location of stars just above the horizon, they sailed across a vast ocean and populated the scattering of islands across the Pacific. They sailed north to Hawaii, south to New Zealand and East to the edge of Polynesia: Rapa Nui.

Known as Easter Island to the western world, Rapa Nui – for which the decedents of these voyagers and their language are also named – is 4,000 kilometers west of mainland Chile. When these voyagers arrived on Rapa Nui, they found an uninhabited island that could sustain and nurture future generations. And there they have lived for centuries.

Today, the Rapa Nui completed a different journey. After five years of work, they succeeded in protecting their ancestral waters. On Saturday, Chilean President Michele Bachelet announced that her government would act on the results of a referendum held on the island, in which the islanders voted in support of the creation of a Rapa Nui Rahui Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The Rahui – named for a traditional practice of protecting an area or region – safeguards the entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ), over 740,000 square kilometers, from industrial commercial fishing, mining and other extractive activities. It also grandfathers in the artisanal fishing practices of the Rapa Nui – fishing from small open boats using hand lines and rocks as weights.

Having seen, first hand, the devastating impacts of overfishing, marine pollution, and warming oceans in the many corners of the world, I could understand the plight the Rapa Nui faced. Their fishermen have seen factory ships on their horizon while themselves catching smaller and fewer fish. This is why, in 2012, the Bertarelli Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts supported them on their journey to reverse this trend and protect their seas.

Even with the fame provided by the Moai carvings – centuries old giant statues that are the centerpiece for Easter Island’s UNESCO World Heritage Site – much of the past of the Rapa Nui remains a mystery. An undeniable aspect however, is a deep connection to the oceans. Forged from their roots as Pacific voyagers, the Rapa Nui maintain cultural expressions of the ocean through art, song and dance.

It is this intrinsic link the Rapa Nui have to the sea that drove an extensive public consultation. More than 100 community meetings took place to discuss ideas for marine protection. They culminated in a proposal for a marine protected area put forward in 2015 by the Te Mau o Te Vaikava o Rapa Nui (Mesa del Mar) -- a coalition of more than 20 local organizations and local leaders. The coalition also developed an environmental curriculum for the island’s schools and conducted direct household outreach, across the entire island, to strengthen support.

Cultural and ecological degradation are often connected. Fortunately, the reverse is also true and the MPA is indicative of the Rapa Nui’s understanding that conserving their marine environment is a step towards preserving their traditions and way of life. The journey toward the Rapa Nui Rahui is representative of a cultural renaissance across the Pacific Ocean that occurred along with the growing awareness of the importance of protecting the ocean, particularly in creating large marine protected areas.

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project filled a supportive niche for the Rapa Nui. It enabled the completion of the most comprehensive scientific assessment of the island’s marine environment and an economic analysis on impacts of an MPA. We were able to provide environmental education and training, facilitating cultural exchanges with other Pacific islanders, and offer first-of-its-kind satellite monitoring assistance for illegal fishing.

The Rapa Nui Rahui Marine Protected Area protects the needs of the indigenous community and the thriving marine ecosystems of Easter Island, which are home to at least 142 endemic species, 27 of which are threatened with extinction.

The Rapa Nui have written a new chapter in their history based upon their cultural values of guardianship, responsibility and accountability for the natural environment. The Rapa Nui Rahui sends a message to the world: large marine protected areas can provide both conservation benefits – safeguarding ocean health, rebuilding species abundance and diversity and providing strengthened resilience to the impacts of climate change – and preserve cultural and traditional practices of coastal and island communities.

This historical moment sets an example for all the indigenous communities around the world that wish to protect their ancestral way of living and protect their legacy.

Dona Bertarelli is the co-president of the Bertarelli Foundation, a philanthropic organization established to implement real change in marine conservation and life science research.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

From the Trench: Protecting the Pacific

Protect Our Ocean
By Carlotta Leon Guerrero

In April 2017, President Donald Trump ordered Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke to examine 27 protected areas established by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama using the 1906 Antiquities Act. Included in the list were four marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in the Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa, and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (sometimes referred to as Pacific Remote Island Areas or PRIA), which is made up several isolated islands and atolls under American control. This should have all of us on Guam and in the Pacific concerned, because we are the people who will have to live with the outcome.

During a two month public comment period, 2.7 million Americans submitted testimony. An analysis of a random sampling of the comments found that 99% were in support of maintaining protections for the marine monuments.

Secretary Zinke submitted his draft report to the White House in August, which was leaked to the Washington Post in September. The report contains recommendations to shrink four monuments and to open a dozen others to commercial extraction including Rose Atoll and Pacific Remote Islands. There is no word from the White House on when the final report will be released to the public, or when and if the President will act on Zinke’s recommendations.

While there has been no public indication on what the White House will do, Zinke’s report is worrisome. “No President should use the authority under the Antiquities Act to restrict public access, prevent hunting and fishing, burden private land, or eliminate traditional land uses, unless such action is needed to protect the object,” wrote Zinke.  In a statement he said, “The recommendations I sent to the president on national monuments will maintain federal ownership of all federal land and protect the land under federal environmental regulations, and also provide a much needed change for the local communities who border and rely on these lands for hunting and fishing, economic development, traditional uses, and recreation.”

The conservation community is rightfully concerned that Trump will attempt to overturn the protections of the marine monuments, while leaving the borders intact.   The existing marine monuments already allow some level of recreational, subsistence, and cultural traditional fishing, and there are fears that “economic development” is a reference to industrial commercial fishing like the longline fishing vessels based in Honolulu that have been found to have “slave like conditions.”

Chairman of the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument Ignacio V. Cabrera, an indigenous fisherman from Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, wrote in a recent editorial, “While it’s great that President Trump isn’t likely to overturn our Marina Trench Monument, opening the area for any kind of extraction, especially industrial scale commercial fishing, is equally as bad.”

There is additional concern that the entire marine monument review has everything to do with opening up protected American waters to fishing so that they can be sold off to foreign businesses.

Recently approved Fisheries Management Plans (FMP) for the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the Pacific Remote Islands were published in the Federal Register in August 2017. The FMPs would allow the federal government to enter into agreements to sell access to American waters to foreign fishing vessels.

The Federal Register notices for Northern Mariana Islands and Guam read, “Section 204(e) of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) authorizes the Secretary of State, with the concurrence of the Secretary of Commerce (Secretary), and in consultation with the Council, to negotiate and enter into a Pacific Insular Area fishery agreement (PIAFA). A PIAFA would allow foreign fishing within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) adjacent to American Samoa, Guam, or the Northern Mariana Islands.” The Federal Register for the Pacific Remote Islands extends the possible fishing areas to Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, Midway Island, Wake Island, and Palmyra Atoll.

There is a long history of conflict between industrial commercial fisheries and local fishermen in the American Pacific. The 50 nm zone around the Northwest Hawaiian Islands and the main Hawaiian Islands and Guam were closed to longline fishing in 1991 and 1992, respectively, because of the destructive nature of longline fishing and the effect this was having on the catches of local fishermen. Fisheries managers have known for 25 years that longline fishing damages fragile ecosystems. Opening up these protected areas to industrial fishing would set conservation efforts back nearly three decades.

As another example, the 50 nm zone around American Samoa was closed to longline fishing in 2002. This decision was made for similar reasons to the previous closures in Hawaii and Guam, to allow space for the traditional fleet of “alia” vessels to fish without competition from the much larger industrial scale vessels. In 2016, at the recommendation of the controversial Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (WESPAC), the federal government reduced the exclusion zone to 12 miles. American Samoa sued the federal government saying the move violated their customary practices – and won. By the way, it is worth pointing out the WESPAC is also the driving force behind the effort to open the marine monuments.

The majority of the American citizens living in the U.S. Pacific territories do not want to compete with industrial fishing that mostly export fish overseas, they want to see fish remaining in their waters for their benefit and use. The move to open the marine monuments to commercial fishing and the drive to sell American waters to foreign businesses is something that will benefit a few people to the detriment of everyone else.

Carlotta Leon Guerrero is a former Member of the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Guam Senate. She was also a two-term president of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures and previously worked as a radio and television journalist in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mariana Trench Photo Exhibit

In 2016, the Okeanos Explorer went all over the Marianas, both inside and outside the monument.
The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are putting together an educational Mariana Trench photo exhibit and could use some help picking what photos to use, and what information to provide to educate the public about the importance of the Mariana Trench and the need for conservation.  The dedicated group of activists have selected about 50 photos from the recent NOAA Okeanos Explorer mission and uploaded them to their Facebook page.  They're asking people from around the world to provide input, and have already gotten a lot.  They could use yours, too!  Open the Facebook post here:


They're planning on culling this down to about 20-30 photos, and then putting together the information that will accompany each photo.  They're also looking for places and events to display the exhibit, particularly on Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam.  Got any good ideas?  Leave them on the Facebook page or in the comments of this blog.