Thursday, February 26, 2009

Beautify CNMI petitions Obama

During tomorrow's business meeting of the US Coral Reef Task Force in Washington DC, the Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance will be presenting Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation to the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress. This document represents a collaborative, cross-NGO set of recommendations for swift and decisive action by the Obama Administration and Congress for responding to the global coral reef crisis.

Two Micronesians have attached their names and their organizations to this call for action. One is Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chairman of the Friends of the Monument. The other is yours truly, signing as the Executive Director of Beautify CNMI.

Here is the letter, posted in its entirety:
obama letter signatories
Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation
To the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress

Healthy coral reefs are the largest living structures on the planet and the second largest storehouse of biological diversity. These highly productive ecosystems are economically valuable, with reef-based tourism generating over $1.2 billion each year in the Florida Keys alone. Coral reefs provide coastal protection, food, and income, supporting the livelihoods of approximately 100 million people around the world.

However, coral reefs in the United States and worldwide are declining at an alarming rate. Unless we take immediate action, we could lose up to 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs by 2050. Human activities have damaged coral reefs to the point of being the most threatened ecosystem on Earth; they are currently teetering on the edge of destruction. Fortunately, three major human impacts on reefs—climate change, overfishing, and pollution—are reversible if we act now. As noted undersea explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle has stated: “If reefs are in trouble, we are in trouble.”

We are encouraged by indications that the Obama Administration and the new Congress will establish a serious commitment to coral reef conservation through the appointment of Dr. Jane Lubchenco–a distinguished ocean scientist with a strong track record in ocean conservation–to lead the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We also see a tremendous opportunity for the United States to continue its leadership role in helping to reverse the downward spiral of coral reef destruction and ensure the health and survival of these invaluable resources for future generations.

We urge the Administration to adopt the strongest possible measures for the protection and conservation of coral reef ecosystems and stand ready to partner with the new administration in designing and implementing an effective and global coral reef conservation strategy. Such measures could include the following:

• Reauthorize the U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, including authorizing international coral reef conservation activities;

• Support passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act;

• Enact meaningful reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that target CO2 concentrations to stabilize at levels climate scientists determine are necessary to preserve coral reef ecosystems;

• Fund and lead domestic and international coral reef conservation efforts through NOAA, USAID, EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the State Department;

• Support NOAA’s priorities in reducing impacts to coral reefs from fishing and land-based sources of pollution;

• Effectively conserve at least 30 percent of coral reef and reef-associated coastal resources in U.S. states and territories using marine managed areas over the next eight years; and

• Provide more support for ocean education and citizen-science programs to create an educated public that understands and is committed to ocean conservation.

Reauthorize the U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000
The reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act must be a priority for the 111th Congress during 2009. The act was established in 2000 to preserve coral reef ecosystems, promote wise management, and obtain better information about
the current condition of coral reefs. As a result of this act, millions of Americans have been educated about the coral reef crisis, research has documented the threats and damage, and large areas such as the Northwest Hawaiian Islands have been protected. It is critical to continue this work to give reefs any chance to survive and to expand similar strategies around the world by authorizing activities for international coral reef conservation.

Support passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act
Increasing CO2 in the world’s atmosphere is taking its toll on the oceans by increasing the acidity of sea water, which in turn threatens the stability of the marine food chain and the ability of corals to build reefs. Essentially, as the oceans increase in acidity it becomes more difficult for animals such as scallops, clams, crabs, plankton and corals to build their shells or skeletons and slows the development of their larvae. The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act focuses federal research on rising ocean acidity and establishes a comprehensive research and monitoring program within NOAA.

Enact Meaningful Reductions in Carbon Dioxide Emissions that Target CO2 Concentrations to Stabilize at Levels Climate Scientists Determine are Necessary
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must be prioritized. Without action, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million (ppm) between 2050 and 2100, and global temperatures will likely rise by at least 2°C. Under these conditions, global warming and ocean acidification are predicted to damage and kill most reefs. We urge the federal government to take aggressive action to reduce emissions now–action that can serve as a benchmark for international leadership.

Fund and Lead Domestic and International Coral Reef Conservation Efforts through NOAA, USAID, EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the State Department
With the recent addition of the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments, ensuring adequate capacity for management and monitoring of these and other domestic coral resources has never been more critical. The United States should also provide increased leadership in international and national coral reef conservation efforts. As increasing areas of reefs are damaged, tens of millions of people around the world will become desperate for food in countries that are critically important for global stability. Stopping coral reef destruction now and investing in conservation is an investment in global security.

Support NOAA’s Priorities in Reducing Impacts to Coral Reefs from Fishing and Land-based Sources of Pollution
Along with large-scale threats resulting from climate change, NOAA has identified land-based sources of pollution and impacts from fishing as priority areas for coral reef conservation. Land-based sources of pollution and poor water quality are recognized as two of the most important factors driving coral reef decline. In addition, rapid human population increases, growth of export fisheries, use of more efficient fishery gear, expansion of destructive fishing techniques, and inadequate management and enforcement have led to the depletion of not only keystone reef fish species, but also associated species and ecosystems. For these reasons, we recommend expanded funding and legislative capacity for NOAA to better manage recreational and commercial fisheries and land-based sources of pollution to meet coral reef conservation objectives.

Effectively Conserve at Least 30 Percent of Coral Reef and Reef-Associated Coastal Resources in U.S. States and Territories Using Marine Managed Areas over the Next Eight Years
Full protection of at least 30 percent of the planet’s coral reefs from human activities is a reasonable and realistic management goal that will allow reefs to thrive. On November 5, 2005, then President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., of Palau called on his peers to join him in the
Micronesia Challenge to effectively conserve 30 percent of near-shore marine resources within marine protected areas by 2020. Similarly, Caribbean governments have called for 20 percent protection of marine and coastal habitats by 2020 in the Caribbean Challenge. We ask for the United States to join the many nations that recognize the importance of marine managed areas for effective coral reef conservation and provide the staff and funding needed for active research, monitoring, enforcement, and local management.

Provide More Support for Ocean Education and Citizen-Science Programs
By becoming educated about the value of coral reefs and threats to their survival, the public can become strong advocates for conservation and sustainability. One of the most effective means of education is a citizen-science program that turns
hands-on experience into knowledge. As a leader in marine conservation, the new administration should provide increased support for ocean education and citizen-science programs in the United States and internationally.


Core Signatories
Angelo Villagomez, Executive Director, Beautify CNMI
Brendan Cummings, Oceans Program Director, Center for Biological Diversity
Roger McManus, Vice President for Marine Programs, Conservation International
Brian Huse, Executive Director, Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)
Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chair, Friends of the Monument
Kristian Teleki, Director, International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN)
Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director, Malama Kai Foundation
Mark Spaulding, Executive Director, The Ocean Foundation
Jenny Miller Garmendia, Director, Project AWARE Foundation
Liz Foote, Executive Director, Project SEA Link
Gregor Hodgson, Executive Director, Reef Check
Bill Eichbaum, Vice President of Marine Portfolio, World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF)
I highlighted what I consider to be the most significant recommendation, at least from my little rock in the sun. I think it is significant that two Micronesians are challenging the President of the United States to meet what one day could become the "American Challenge."

The Micronesia Challenge, which seeks to effectively conserve 30% of our nearshore resources and 20% of our terrestrial resources by 2020, has received lots of attention over the last several years, including former President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr of Palau, the man behind the Micronesia Challenge, being recognized by Time Magazine as one of the "Heroes of the Environment" in 2007.

Palau, the Marianas, and the rest of Micronesia are Small Island Nations, or as I prefer to call them, Large Ocean Nations. Our populations are small and our conservation budgets are smaller, but every single day we live with the environment. Unlike large developed nations that have a concept of the environment as someplace far away (i.e. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument or Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), the environment for Micronesians is literally in our front yard. Local people catch their dinners on the beach 50 meters from my apartment. If we don't act as good stewards of our environment, we don't eat.

The environment in Saipan is central to our economy. Not only do we depend on healthy populations of fish to feed our families, but our economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Additionally, the environment, our ocean, our beaches, and our green forests, are consistently cited as the main attractions for tourists in the Marianas. Those tourists spend money and create jobs, which in turn generates tax revenue to support all those people in government jobs.

These ideas deserve to be explored further, which I will do in the near future. This post was really just meant to post the letter.

I hope that the Obama administration takes these recommendations seriously and I hope that he recognizes and considers the Large Ocean Nations that will live with his decisions. As with Climate Change, we'll feel the effects of poor policy sooner and with more intensity than the richer, larger, more developed nations.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Marianas Trench Visitors Center

Alexie Zotomayor, one of the Friends of the Monument and the author of Boon or Bane, had a letter to the editor appear in the Saipan Tribune today.

Rebranding the CNMI as a destination

With the establishment of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument the CNMI has the opportunity to rebrand itself as a travel destination.

Although it is not a fully protected marine reserve, the monument is one of the world’s largest protected areas. This in itself is not something that will attract tourists to our shores. We have to give people a reason to want to visit the monument and our islands.

Saipan could sell itself as "The Gateway to the Mariana Trench." The stores in Garapan could sell t-shirts that read, "I dove the Marianas Trench." Maybe one day submersibles could take tourists to the underwater eruptions off the coast of Rota.

This will require a lot of work, and communities, businesses, and the government will have to contribute to the change.

One of the first steps toward this rebranding is for the federal government to build a Marianas Trench Marine National Monument visitors center. Half-museum, half-aquarium, the visitors center could and should be one of the premier tourism destinations in the Pacific.

I hope that our leaders on Capital Hill and in Washington, D.C. are working with the federal government to bring the visitors center to Saipan.

Alexie Villegas Zotomayor
Chinatown, Saipan
There is a concern among certain people that a lot of the benefits of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument will end up in Guam because the monument boundaries extend into some of the Federal waters close to Guam. The Bush Administration, through his Council of Environmental Quality Chairman James Connaughton, promised the CNMI that they would have a seat at the table (check), untold worldwide media attention (check), a visitors center, a research/enforcement boat, and federal jobs.

The NOAA Sanctuaries people in Hawai'i know about these promises because during the campaign the Friends of the Monument sent them copies of every letter they wrote. Since we assumed that NOAA Sanctuaries would manage the monument, nobody took the time to do any work with anybody at US Fish & Wildlife Service, so they probably have no idea what conversations took place during the process to create the monument. The situation is also complicated by the fact that the key people we worked with in the Bush Administration have since been replaced by the Obama Administration. Some of the key players haven't even been replaced yet, either, like the Secretary of Commerce.

The Friends of the Monument consider themselves the "guardians" of the Marianas Trench and they are going to work hard to ensure that the benefits promised to the CNMI come to fruition.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beautify CNMI Email List

I've spent the last two weeks getting Beautify CNMI back up to speed. I've started a Beautify CNMI Facebook fan page and I've updated the email list. We'll have activities all year in 2009. If you would like to be added to the email list, please email me at angelovillagomez at gmail dot com or call me at 285 6462 and I will add you.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Officials consider alternative energy for schools
Thursday, 19 February 2009 00:00 By Junhan B. Todeno - Variety News Staff
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STUDENTS, school and government officials witnessed yesterday how the wind turbine operates at Saipan Southern High School and expressed confidence that this alternative energy will reduce the school’s monthly power bills.

The wind turbine stands tall on the campus of Southern Saipan High School yesterday. Photo by Junhan B. Todeno

The wind turbine stands tall on the campus of Southern Saipan High School yesterday. Photo by Junhan B. Todeno
Calling the project as a CNMI milestone, both Education Commissioner Rita Sablan and Board of Education Chairwoman Lucy Blanco-Maratita are hoping that all schools will soon have renewable energy sources.

“This is one of the ways we can conserve energy,” Sablan said.

The wind turbine will not only minimize the need for Commonwealth Utilities Corp.’s power, it will also show that the school cares for the environment, Blanco-Mararita said.

She said BOE members have discussed adapting alternative energy sources to reduce the schools’ power bills.

SSHS vice principal Craig Garrison acknowledged the efforts of the Allied Pacific Environmental Consultant for installing the wind turbine on campus.

Robert Jordan, Allied Pacific Environmental Consultant program manager, said the wind turbine is still in the system test stage.

“This is a first in the Pacific and first time the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved a supplemental environmental project that utilizes renewable energy as a pilot project,” he said.

Jordan said the project was proposed to the school by the now defunct Concorde Garment Manufacturing Co. of Tan Holdings as an alternative means of settling the fines it owed to EPA for violations of its rules.

Senate President Pete P. Reyes, R-Saipan, said the project is highly recommended.

He attended yesterday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for the $90,000 Skystream 3.7 wind turbine and nine Kyocera 18V solar panels.

SSHS administrators, he said, should start thinking now where to install another wind turbine on their campus.

Reyes said he is hoping to see SSHS to have nine more wind turbines so it can entirely operate on renewable energy.

Tom Polevich, Allied Pacific Environmental Consulting president, said the project in CNMI a major step forward toward the future of alternative energy use in the commonwealth.

SSHS student government president Janina Maratita said the students are looking forward to seeing similar projects on campus.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Golden Rays

We know that the CNMI is famous for our Spotted Eagle Rays, but in the Coast of Mexico, they captured some amazing pictures of some Golden Rays. the sea, thousands of Golden Rays are seen here gathering off the coast of Mexico. The spectacular scene was captured as the magnificent creatures made one of their biannual mass migrations to more agreeable waters. Gliding silently beneath the waves, they turned vast areas of blue water to gold off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. Sandra Critelli, an amateur photographer, stumbled across the phenomenon while looking for whale sharks.

She said: 'It was an unreal image, very difficult to describe. The surface of the water was covered by warm and different shades of gold and looked like a bed of autumn leaves gently moved by the wind.
'It's hard to say exactly how many there were, but in the range of a few thousand''We were surrounded by them without seeing the edge of the school and we could see many under the water surface too. I feel very fortunate I was there in the right place at the right time to experience nature at its best' Measuring up to 7ft (2.1 meters) from wing-tip to wing-tip, Golden rays are also more prosaically known as cow nose rays.They have long, pointed pectoral fins that separate into two lobes in front of their high-domed heads and give them a cow-like appearance. Despite having poisonous stingers, they are known to be shy and non-threatening when in large schools.
The population in the Gulf of Mexico migrates, in schools of as many as 10,000, clockwise from western Florida to the Yucatan.

NMC Service Learning

Beautify CNMI was listed as one of the participating programs in the NMC Service Learning grant. The way it works is students donate their time in exchange for scholarship money. I met with the coordinators at NMC on Friday and we came up with a Beautify CNMI Ambassador Program. Basically the students would help me with coordination of Beautify CNMI, taking a load of my shoulders and learning some valuable organizing skills in the process.

Nobody has signed up yet, but about 10 students came to our cleanup of Laulau Beach yesterday, so I'm hopeful. This is the program summary I sent to NMC today:
Beautify CNMI Ambassador Program
For NMC students in the service learning program

Learn how to conduct an environmental public awareness and stewardship campaign.

Participants will:

-Coordinating with government and businesses, plan an island-wide cleanup in April
-Recruit and manage participants in the cleanup
-Work with participants to adopt their adopted site for at least one year
-Help sustain cleanup and other beautification activities after island-wide cleanup
-Work with newspapers, radio, TV, and other media to broadcast campaign message
-Contribute to Myspace, Facebook, blogs , and websites to further campaign goals
Hopefully you'll be reading about the Beautify CNMI Ambassadors in the newspapers in the next couple of weeks. I'll need to get them on board right away. The first island-wide cleanup meeting is this Wednesday at DEQ.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Island Wide Cleanup

In October 2006, Beautify CNMI coordinated an island wide cleanup amongst their coalition members. Over 3000 volunteers planted trees, painted over graffiti, and picked up litter off of beaches and streets.

This is just a heads up, but Beautify CNMI coalition members Division of Environmental Quality and Rotary Club of Saipan are planning another island wide cleanup for April 2009.

Our first planning meeting was this morning. Our second meeting is next Wednesday, February 18 at the Division of Environmental Quality.

Contact Angelo Villagomez at 285-6462 if you are interested in helping out.

Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, February 02, 2009


Beautify CNMI Partner - PAWS is asking for community help in locating a dog that was taken from a very special woman - Paradise Island Animal Hospital's very own Paulina.

Valentine, the much loved pet of PIAH's veterinary assistant, has been taken from her family's backyard at the Soul Hotel. The family is desperately trying to locate the dog and bring the female dog home.

Valentine is a 4 year old female dog, that has been spayed (she cannot have babies), and has blond-light brown short hair.

"This could not have happened to a more caring individual," said PAWS President Katie Busenkell. "Pauline has helped thousands of sick animals on Saipan, all with a smile and gentle, kind touch. This dog means very much to Paulina and her family. Please, if you have information that will bring Valentine back to her family, or if you are willing to help look for Valentine, please contact PIAH."

If you have any information regarding Valentine, or you think you may have seen Valentine, since Sunday, February 1, 2009, please contact Paradise Island Animal Hospital at 234-9669 or you may contact PAWS at 285-PAWS. Anonymous calls are welcome at either number.

The family is willing to give a reward for any information leading to Valentine's safe return.