Thursday, December 18, 2008

Northern Marianas Islands: a possible marine monument with your help

In June of 2006, one of the year's high points in ocean conservation occurred with the designation of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands as a marine monument, providing well-needed federal protections as a marine sanctuary and no-take zone. A similar effort is being promoted for the Northern Marianas Islands.

The Northern Marianas Islands, a commonwealth with political ties to the United States (it abides by most federal laws and citizens carry U.S. passports), is part of the Marianas Island chain ranging from Guam in the south to the northern islands that include Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. Geologically linking these islands is the famed Marianas Trench, the lowest point on the Earth's crust.

The Pew Environment Group is leading the charge, with the support of the Coral Reef Alliance, to have the northernmost area of the islands designated as a marine monument, similar to what was done for Hawaii. The area in question is relatively remote with pristine reefs, several species of seabirds and sea turtles and, of particular interest, deep sea vents due to the area's undersea geologic/volcanic activity - a terrific potential deep sea laboratory.

At this point, the campaign to have the area designated a marine monument is in the early stages, with public awareness as a key motivating factor. Log on to the Pew Environment Group or Coral Reef Alliance web sites to learn more and add your name to a growing letter campaign to make the designation a reality.

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