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Monumental Environmental Protection Efforts in the Marianas Islands

2009 June 18

Sometimes I wonder what impact a single person or even a small group can have on preserving the environment. How much am I really contributing to environmental protection by taking public transportation to work, carrying around my own coffee mug, and taking advantage of the great composting and recycling programs we have in San Francisco? While struggling with my own impact on environmental protection, I met Ignacio Cabrera and Angelo Villagomez, representing Friends of the Monument at the EPA Pacific Southwest Regional environmental awards ceremony.

These two men from Saipan described their organization’s goal of preserving and protecting the Marianas Trench in the waters around three islands of the Northern Mariana Islands. The Marianas Trench is the deepest ocean trench with some of the greatest biological diversity in the world. The Friends of the Monument engaged in activities to help educate the community–distributing leaflets, conducting meetings, participating in television and radio public service announcements, and coordinating with teachers for classroom presentations. They took advantage of Web 2.0 and developed a blog, Myspace and Facebook groups, and even have their own YouTube Channel.

image of students putting letters in a box held by a park rangerStudents turning over some of their over 500 letters to President Bush to the rangers at American Memorial National Park.

The Friends of the Monument gathered several thousand signatures in support of the designation of the Monument, including over 500 from school children, and traveled over 8,000 miles to Washington D.C. to meet with White House officials.

The designation of the monument was not politically popular on the islands and at times, the members of the Friends of the Monument were singled out for criticism and targeted by opponents in letters and press releases. The organization helped keep support strong by unity, with strength in numbers, and a positive focus on its goal.

image of five people at official signingFriends of the Monument’s Ignacio Cabrera, Angelo Villagomez, and Agnes McPhetres pose with Sylvia Earl and Jean Michel Cousteau at the signing of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

As a direct result of the Friends of the Monument’s grassroots efforts, in early 2009, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was created. Within the first year after the organization was born, this small group of people were key in creating the largest marine monument and they became leaders in worldwide oceanic protection in the process. I am inspired! Now I know what a monumental impact a few motivated people can have on environmental protection.

I’d love to hear more stories of how the efforts of a few individuals have snowballed into significant environmental progress. Stories like these help spark my imagination about the possibilities to personally impact environmental change.

Sara Jacobs usually can be found in the EPA Region 9 Drinking Water Office. However, she is currently on a detail to the Navajo Nation EPA Superfund Program where she spends much of her time out in the field helping to identify contaminated structures which are a legacy of uranium mining.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. Johnny R. permalink
    June 19, 2009

    Unless California reverses the growth of its population and launches a program of 100% safe recycling of all waste and garbage, all other programs will fail as more and more people produce more and more waste and garbage and public health collapses. Oops, I forgot California is bankrupt.

  2. Johnny R. permalink
    June 19, 2009

    So many Souths Sea Islands are already doomed to inundation by rising sea levels from global warming, orderly evacuation is more important than conservation. If you want to conserve an environment, what about the plastic slurry spreading throughout the global ocean, which obviously includes the Pacific. A major International effort is needed to clean up and stop that massive pollution before all the sea birds are dead and before the ocean starts producing more methane than oxygen.

  3. Monument opposition permalink
    June 19, 2009

    It is obvious that you did not experience first hand the arrogant and culturally insensitive monument campaign waged in the Marianas to satisfy Bush’s need for a blue legacy. Please remember there are two sides to every story. Just because environmental protection is the battle cry doesn’t mean that it actually is.

  4. Sara Jacobs permalink
    June 23, 2009

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that we need to work towards a standard of zero waste to landfills. One of our 2009 Pacific Southwest Environmental award winners, Toyota Motor Sales, has achieved this goal for many of its facilities. California does have some of the nations most aggressive recycling laws. Population growth is a complex issue of national and global concern, but is beyond the scope of what I can address in this blog post.

  5. Sara Jacobs permalink
    June 23, 2009

    I completely agree with your concern over the growing island of plastic in our oceans. In fact, if you check out our first blog post under the Pacific Southwest category, it highlights a 2008 award winner, Captain Charles Moore, who leads research on marine plastic pollution.

  6. Sara Jacobs permalink
    June 23, 2009

    I agree that this was a politically charged issue, as mentioned in the blog, and know there are multiple perspectives. However, I am hopeful that environmental protection, in the form of this new monument, was one positive outcome.

  7. Johnny R. permalink
    June 24, 2009

    That’s why environmental programs will fail, overwhelmed by the relentlessly growing human population.

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