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USA - Angelo Villagomez: Leading ocean conservationist works to recognize the Marianas Trench as a sanctuary

A biologist-turned-environmental policy expert with Saipan roots is leading the charge in the nation’s capital to include the Marianas Trench as a National Marine Sanctuary.

“You would think that all of the leading people in ocean conservation would be from the Pacific, but the reality is that hundreds of people in D.C., London, Paris and New York are leading,” said Angelo Villagomez, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C. “I am in the door, and my job is to make sure that the door stays open for other Pacific Islanders.”

Villagomez, 43, is the son of the late Ramon Villagomez, a former CNMI Supreme Court justice. After working for some time on Saipan and now living in Washington D.C., he is also the lead writer on the nomination for the Marianas Trench to become a National Marine Sanctuary.

The original nominating parties include the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization that seeks to encourage civic engagement and shape public policy, and the Friends of the Marianas Trench, an organization founded by Villagomez in 2008 that protects the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument and marine resources through ocean conservation strategies and research.

The Friends of the Marianas Trench nominated the Marianas Trench Marine Sanctuary in 2016 with the help of Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan and CNMI Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres who sent a letter to President Barack Obama to create the designation. A year after, President Donald Trump accepted the five-year nomination.

Years went by afterward, however, and no action was taken. So last January, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries issued a notice in the Federal Register, so they can solicit written comments to help them determine whether the Marianas Trench National Marine Sanctuary will remain in the inventory for five more years.

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