By Gemma Q. Casas
Variety News Staff
AN environmentalist from Hawaii says the CNMI people should put more weight on the pride that the proposed marine monument comprising the northern islands of Maug, Asuncion and Uracas would bring to their islands, rather than on the economic benefits that might be reaped from the yet to be established fishing industry.
William L. Aila Jr., harbor agent at Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources-Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation, said there’s been some misinformation spread around the CNMI about how the Hawaiians perceived their own marine monument.
“There have been certain misrepresentations here in the Northern Marianas that the Hawaiians did not support the monument project. We’ve come here to set the record straight and talk about the benefits of the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument, formerly known as the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument. It is the largest marine sanctuary in the world,” he said.
If the CNMI agrees to turn its three uninhabited northernmost islands as another marine sanctuary, it will become the second largest in the world.
“It should bring the people of the CNMI a higher level of pride because you have protected a very pristine area adjacent to and including the Marianas Trench which is one of the wonders of the world,” Aila said.
Discovered in 1951 by the Royal Navy, the Marianas Trench is the deepest in the world with a maximum depth of about 6.8 miles.
“The money should be really secondary though. I mean the idea of recognizing a resource that you only have and the protection of that resource for future generations really should be the driving force and the economics as good as it should be just secondary,” Ailas said.
The visiting Hawaiian environmentalist said the CNMI government’s argument that the project is bad for the local fishing industry has no basis at this time.
“There’s no fishing industry going out there now. There’s nothing to lose. There’s no additional layer of federal jurisdiction because the federal government already claims the high water marks up to 200 miles. And in fact the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council has already been managing that area,” said Aila.
Thomas Iverson, economics professor of the University of Guam, said there are indirect and direct economic benefits if the CNMI agree to declare its three islands as a marine sanctuary.
“There would be some federal jobs and some local jobs. Whenever you have new money coming into the system people also spend them into the economy, to the businesses,” he added.
He said there are also foreseen benefits on the islands’ tourism industry as well as for commercial fishing if the three islands are declared a sanctuary.
“My understanding is that the deep-sea fish is particularly in need of protection because of their lifespan. The sanctuaries would give that indirect benefit. And there’s a benefit that comes to the commercial fishing outside of the protected areas as well,” he said.