Monumental Environmental Protection Efforts in the Marianas Islands

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.