The Pew Charitable Trusts: Committed to Ocean Conservation

Publication: Saipan Tribune

Author: Jay Nelson


07/18/2008 - Considerable recent press has been devoted to plans to establish a world-class marine park in the waters around the three northernmost Mariana Islands - Asuncion, Maug and Uracus. Letters, editorials and opinions have focused on both the benefits of the idea and on the non-profit organization, the Pew Charitable Trusts, which believes such a program would not only benefit the Mariana's marine environment and economy, but would also greatly enhance the reputation of the Mariana Islands as an environmentally friendly tourist destination.

The participation of people in CNMI in this very public discussion has been useful and healthy and will hopefully continue.

Worldwide, the oceans and their marvelous ecosystems are in trouble from global warming, pollution, overfishing and a host of other problems. But there are some places, like the Mariana Islands, where people still have a chance to preserve their cultural heritage and leave a wonderful environmental legacy for their children, while at the same time creating jobs and revenue that can improve the local standard of living.

Any new idea, however, is bound to stir interest and questions. So what of the Pew Charitable Trusts itself?

Pew, through its environmental arm, the Pew Environment Group, has launched a global effort to improve scientific understanding of the oceans, prevent the continued decline of fisheries to the benefit both fish and fishermen, and promote the preservation of particularly spectacular locations that have yet to suffer the devastating impacts of much of the world's marine environment.

Our efforts to encourage the establishment of a marine park in the Marianas are very much in keeping with our work around the world. Pew is an independent, non-profit organization governed by the same set of U.S. laws that apply to other charitable or non-profit groups, such as the Red Cross. We operate completely independent of government and business, although we try and work with both whenever possible. Moreover, as a non-profit, we make no money from our charitable work.

Pew has been a leader in advancing policies that improve lives, in Philadelphia where it is based, and throughout the world. Indeed, we are one of the most well-known, independent, non-profit organizations in the United States, running programs relating to education, culture, public health, the arts and the environment, among others. Our polling and information work is considered to be amongst the highest quality and most influential of its kind in the world.

For two decades the Pew Environment Group has been a major force in promoting sound conservation policies in the United States and, in recent years, internationally. The Environment Group is staffed by respected senior scientists, attorneys and policy specialists, all of whom have had significant prior experience in nonprofit advocacy, government and the private sector.

The Pew Environment Group focuses on reducing the scope and severity of three major global environmental problems: dramatic changes to the Earth's climate caused by the increasing concentration of global warming pollution in the atmosphere; erosion of large wilderness ecosystems that contain many of the world's rapidly vanishing plants and animals; and damage to the world's marine environment.

What led us to our work in the Mariana Islands was a number of factors. First, the environment in the waters around the northernmost islands has been little impacted by fishing or other extractive activities and is relatively healthy, containing some of the world's most unique geological features and ecology. Second, there is virtually no fishing in this area because it is so remote, and has never had the concentration of high-value fish that would make it a productive commercial fishing area. Third, it contains a portion of the world's deepest marine canyon and a host of native species, plants and other marine organisms that make it ecologically unique. And fourth, establishment of a marine park would actually benefit CNMI's economy through increased tourism and government support, in addition to generating jobs and revenue.

In the Mariana Islands, as in other areas of world where we are encouraging the establishment of marine reserves, we work with governments and the public to analyze the potential environmental and economic benefits of protecting these remarkable places.

The area being proposed for protection in CNMI is a spectacular complex of coral reefs, undersea volcanoes and deep ocean waters along a portion of the famed Mariana Trench. We believe this area will best serve CNMI both economically and culturally if it is conserved for education and research, for tourism and for future generations. We have sought to collect and disseminate information on the significance of this area and to bring this information to the attention of federal and local officials, as well as to better inform the people of the Mariana Islands about the area's natural values.

As part of our assessment of what a marine monument might mean to CNMI, three months ago we asked a respected economist at the University of Guam, Dr. Tom Iverson, to study the potential costs and benefits of such a designation. Dr. Iverson calculated that a marine monument would produce up to 400 new jobs and annually generate $10 million in new spending and $14 million in sales. He identified a number of potential benefits that would be created from a monument, many of which are related to the visitor industry and tourism marketing.

The establishment of parks or wildlife reserves, either on land or in the sea, is often a controversial process. There are always some individuals who do not believe that special natural areas should be protected from activities such as industrial fishing, mining, logging, and that these areas offer more value to people if their resources can be extracted for commercial gain. History, however, has generally proven this to not be true. The great parks of the world, places like Yellowstone or Yosemite in the western United States, or the spectacular game parks of Africa, provide far more benefit to people as parks than they ever would have if left unprotected. Protecting the waters around the three northernmost islands as a marine park will create much greater economic value for CMNI than commercial fishing or other extractive activities are every likely to produce. And at the same time, one of the world's most spectacular oceans areas will be protected for the culture and the people of the Marianas and their children and grandchildren as well as for the rest of the world.

Quite simply, we have approached the Mariana Islands as part of our overall mission to protect and conserve natural resources. In doing so, we seek to create a healthier and more sustainable environment for both people and nature. Our goal for the CNMI is to be a constructive advocate for an environmental opportunity that will not only benefit the local and global marine environment, but also the people who live here.

The decision on whether or not to designate a monument can only be made by government. If a marine monument is established, Pew will have no role in its management, and receive no compensation or benefit other than the satisfaction of knowing that a portion of the world's marine heritage is protected for future generations, while at the same time bringing certain economic benefits to local people.

Designation of an internationally recognized national-park-of-the-sea in the waters around the three northernmost islands of the Marianas will protect a portion of one of the world's premier marine ecosystems. It also will focus favorable global attention on the Mariana Islands, promote local tourism-including ecotourism-and establish CNMI's reputation as a global leader in marine conservation. As one of 15 protected areas within the U.S. National Marine Sanctuary Program, CNMI also would be able to take advantage of federal dollars devoted to public education and conservation. We believe this is one of those fortunate circumstances where conservation and economic development can work together for the benefit of both.

We encourage you to investigate this opportunity for yourself and look closely at its cultural and economic benefits. We look forward to continuing to work with the business community, your elected leaders and the public on this proposal.

Jay Nelson is director of the Pew Environment Group's Global Ocean Legacy, a project to protect some of the world's most spectacular marine environments.

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