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.

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