Where are the best places in the world to accomplish conservation at a truly oceanic scale? A key answer lies within the covers of this report—the proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).
The boundaries of the proposed monument are generous enough to protect an unprecedented cross section of the most volcanically active region on Earth—called the Ring of Fire. Its spectacular geology and rare ecology arise from the subduction of the world’s largest tectonic plate, the Pacific Plate, under the smaller, slowermoving Philippine Plate. Three uninhabited islands—Asuncion, Maug and Farallon de Pajaros (or Uracus, as it is more commonly called) — surrounded by the proposed monument are the exposed tops of a chain of volcanic mountains known as the Mariana Volcanic Arc. This wild, dangerous, tantalizing region is so remote that many of its wonders are yet to be quantified. This exceptional area has been the focus of seven separate scientific research expeditions since 2003.
The proposed monument includes the deepest ocean trench and the greatest diversity of seamount (underwater volcano) and hydrothermal vent life yet discovered. Here, the oldest species on Earth thrive amidst monstrous active mud volcanoes, and strange new species push life beyond all extremes. The world’s first discovery of hydrothermal vent fish was made in a boiling undersea lake of liquid sulfur on one of the seamounts that dot the proposed monument area. The submerged caldera at Maug is one of only a handful of places on the planet where photosynthetic and chemosynthetic communities of life are known to exist together, fueling a microbial biodiversity hotspot of extraordinary complexity. This area provides a unique natural laboratory for studying ocean acidification and a potential coral refuge for climate change.