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CNMI - Letter: More work needed on MPAs

The waters surrounding the Mariana Islands have some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the United States.

We are surrounded by migrating whales and turtles, coral reefs and hundreds of species of fish, some found nowhere else on the planet.

The iconic Marianas Trench, the deepest ocean trench yet discovered, lies in our backyard. For more than three thousand years our islands have been home to CHamoru people who hold and practice Indigenous knowledge and values. This knowledge helped our people feed their families and protect their land and ocean for generations.

Marine protected areas

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a modern scientific tool that play an important part in protecting ecologically diverse areas, improving fish stocks, and hedging against the effects of climate change by regulating the amount and type of human activities allowed within a certain area. Those in the Marianas region are vast spatially, but management-wise, there is a lot more work to be done.

Among the current challenges facing MPA management includes overlapping and contested jurisdictional authority, which prevents one government agency from fully taking responsibility for active management. Territorial and federal natural resource agencies must increase collaboration to improve MPA effectiveness and ensure the Marianas region maintains its proud fishing tradition and protects our natural oceanic heritage.

Our new peer-reviewed scientific article, “Assessing the quantity and quality of marine protected areas in the Mariana Islands” assesses the 18 federal and territorial managed MPAs in our region against an international framework called the MPA Guide. The MPA Guide looks at protected areas in terms of their level of protection and stage of implementation. When understood in the context of on-the-ground social, cultural, and economic conditions, this guide can help government managers better predict the effectiveness and outcomes of MPAs in a given region.

Based on this research, we identified four key takeaways:

1. The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument has had limited effectiveness,

2. MPA management in the region is complex.

3. The managerial capacity of the region has potential.

4. New, emerging conservation tools may better suit the Marianas region.

Limited effectiveness

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, a very large federally managed protected area designated in 2009, is located in the federal waters surrounding the far north and the submerged lands of the Mariana Trench. It was designed to serve a key role in protecting biodiversity and Indigenous cultural practices. It is also controversial for some in our islands due to its being designated through federal processes and the lack of implementation.

Read more.