Thursday, February 26, 2009

MIC member petitions Obama

During tomorrow's business meeting of the US Coral Reef Task Force in Washington DC, the Executive Director of the Coral Reef Alliance will be presenting Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation to the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress. This document represents a collaborative, cross-NGO set of recommendations for swift and decisive action by the Obama Administration and Congress for responding to the global coral reef crisis.

Two Micronesians have attached their names and their organizations to this call for action. One is Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chairman of the Friends of the Monument. The other is yours truly, signing as the Executive Director of Beautify CNMI.

Here is the letter, posted in its entirety:
obama letter signatories
Recommendations for Coral Reef Conservation
To the Obama Administration and the 111th Congress

Healthy coral reefs are the largest living structures on the planet and the second largest storehouse of biological diversity. These highly productive ecosystems are economically valuable, with reef-based tourism generating over $1.2 billion each year in the Florida Keys alone. Coral reefs provide coastal protection, food, and income, supporting the livelihoods of approximately 100 million people around the world.

However, coral reefs in the United States and worldwide are declining at an alarming rate. Unless we take immediate action, we could lose up to 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs by 2050. Human activities have damaged coral reefs to the point of being the most threatened ecosystem on Earth; they are currently teetering on the edge of destruction. Fortunately, three major human impacts on reefs—climate change, overfishing, and pollution—are reversible if we act now. As noted undersea explorer Dr. Sylvia Earle has stated: “If reefs are in trouble, we are in trouble.”

We are encouraged by indications that the Obama Administration and the new Congress will establish a serious commitment to coral reef conservation through the appointment of Dr. Jane Lubchenco–a distinguished ocean scientist with a strong track record in ocean conservation–to lead the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We also see a tremendous opportunity for the United States to continue its leadership role in helping to reverse the downward spiral of coral reef destruction and ensure the health and survival of these invaluable resources for future generations.

We urge the Administration to adopt the strongest possible measures for the protection and conservation of coral reef ecosystems and stand ready to partner with the new administration in designing and implementing an effective and global coral reef conservation strategy. Such measures could include the following:

• Reauthorize the U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000, including authorizing international coral reef conservation activities;

• Support passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act;

• Enact meaningful reductions in carbon dioxide emissions that target CO2 concentrations to stabilize at levels climate scientists determine are necessary to preserve coral reef ecosystems;

• Fund and lead domestic and international coral reef conservation efforts through NOAA, USAID, EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the State Department;

• Support NOAA’s priorities in reducing impacts to coral reefs from fishing and land-based sources of pollution;

• Effectively conserve at least 30 percent of coral reef and reef-associated coastal resources in U.S. states and territories using marine managed areas over the next eight years; and

• Provide more support for ocean education and citizen-science programs to create an educated public that understands and is committed to ocean conservation.

Reauthorize the U.S. Coral Reef Conservation Act of 2000
The reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act must be a priority for the 111th Congress during 2009. The act was established in 2000 to preserve coral reef ecosystems, promote wise management, and obtain better information about
the current condition of coral reefs. As a result of this act, millions of Americans have been educated about the coral reef crisis, research has documented the threats and damage, and large areas such as the Northwest Hawaiian Islands have been protected. It is critical to continue this work to give reefs any chance to survive and to expand similar strategies around the world by authorizing activities for international coral reef conservation.

Support passage of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act
Increasing CO2 in the world’s atmosphere is taking its toll on the oceans by increasing the acidity of sea water, which in turn threatens the stability of the marine food chain and the ability of corals to build reefs. Essentially, as the oceans increase in acidity it becomes more difficult for animals such as scallops, clams, crabs, plankton and corals to build their shells or skeletons and slows the development of their larvae. The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act focuses federal research on rising ocean acidity and establishes a comprehensive research and monitoring program within NOAA.

Enact Meaningful Reductions in Carbon Dioxide Emissions that Target CO2 Concentrations to Stabilize at Levels Climate Scientists Determine are Necessary
In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions must be prioritized. Without action, atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration is expected to exceed 500 parts per million (ppm) between 2050 and 2100, and global temperatures will likely rise by at least 2°C. Under these conditions, global warming and ocean acidification are predicted to damage and kill most reefs. We urge the federal government to take aggressive action to reduce emissions now–action that can serve as a benchmark for international leadership.

Fund and Lead Domestic and International Coral Reef Conservation Efforts through NOAA, USAID, EPA, the Department of the Interior, and the State Department
With the recent addition of the Marianas Trench, Pacific Remote Islands, and Rose Atoll Marine National Monuments, ensuring adequate capacity for management and monitoring of these and other domestic coral resources has never been more critical. The United States should also provide increased leadership in international and national coral reef conservation efforts. As increasing areas of reefs are damaged, tens of millions of people around the world will become desperate for food in countries that are critically important for global stability. Stopping coral reef destruction now and investing in conservation is an investment in global security.

Support NOAA’s Priorities in Reducing Impacts to Coral Reefs from Fishing and Land-based Sources of Pollution
Along with large-scale threats resulting from climate change, NOAA has identified land-based sources of pollution and impacts from fishing as priority areas for coral reef conservation. Land-based sources of pollution and poor water quality are recognized as two of the most important factors driving coral reef decline. In addition, rapid human population increases, growth of export fisheries, use of more efficient fishery gear, expansion of destructive fishing techniques, and inadequate management and enforcement have led to the depletion of not only keystone reef fish species, but also associated species and ecosystems. For these reasons, we recommend expanded funding and legislative capacity for NOAA to better manage recreational and commercial fisheries and land-based sources of pollution to meet coral reef conservation objectives.

Effectively Conserve at Least 30 Percent of Coral Reef and Reef-Associated Coastal Resources in U.S. States and Territories Using Marine Managed Areas over the Next Eight Years
Full protection of at least 30 percent of the planet’s coral reefs from human activities is a reasonable and realistic management goal that will allow reefs to thrive. On November 5, 2005, then President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., of Palau called on his peers to join him in the
Micronesia Challenge to effectively conserve 30 percent of near-shore marine resources within marine protected areas by 2020. Similarly, Caribbean governments have called for 20 percent protection of marine and coastal habitats by 2020 in the Caribbean Challenge. We ask for the United States to join the many nations that recognize the importance of marine managed areas for effective coral reef conservation and provide the staff and funding needed for active research, monitoring, enforcement, and local management.

Provide More Support for Ocean Education and Citizen-Science Programs
By becoming educated about the value of coral reefs and threats to their survival, the public can become strong advocates for conservation and sustainability. One of the most effective means of education is a citizen-science program that turns
hands-on experience into knowledge. As a leader in marine conservation, the new administration should provide increased support for ocean education and citizen-science programs in the United States and internationally.


Core Signatories
Angelo Villagomez, Executive Director, Beautify CNMI
Brendan Cummings, Oceans Program Director, Center for Biological Diversity
Roger McManus, Vice President for Marine Programs, Conservation International
Brian Huse, Executive Director, Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL)
Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chair, Friends of the Monument
Kristian Teleki, Director, International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN)
Carolyn Stewart, Executive Director, Malama Kai Foundation
Mark Spaulding, Executive Director, The Ocean Foundation
Jenny Miller Garmendia, Director, Project AWARE Foundation
Liz Foote, Executive Director, Project SEA Link
Gregor Hodgson, Executive Director, Reef Check
Bill Eichbaum, Vice President of Marine Portfolio, World Wildlife Fund-US (WWF)
I highlighted what I consider to be the most significant recommendation, at least from my little rock in the sun. I think it is significant that two Micronesians are challenging the President of the United States to meet what one day could become the "American Challenge."

The Micronesia Challenge, which seeks to effectively conserve 30% of our nearshore resources and 20% of our terrestrial resources by 2020, has received lots of attention over the last several years, including former President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr of Palau, the man behind the Micronesia Challenge, being recognized by Time Magazine as one of the "Heroes of the Environment" in 2007.

Palau, the Marianas, and the rest of Micronesia are Small Island Nations, or as I prefer to call them, Large Ocean Nations. Our populations are small and our conservation budgets are smaller, but every single day we live with the environment. Unlike large developed nations that have a concept of the environment as someplace far away (i.e. Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument or Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), the environment for Micronesians is literally in our front yard. Local people catch their dinners on the beach 50 meters from my apartment. If we don't act as good stewards of our environment, we don't eat.

The environment in Saipan is central to our economy. Not only do we depend on healthy populations of fish to feed our families, but our economy is heavily dependent on tourism. Additionally, the environment, our ocean, our beaches, and our green forests, are consistently cited as the main attractions for tourists in the Marianas. Those tourists spend money and create jobs, which in turn generates tax revenue to support all those people in government jobs.

These ideas deserve to be explored further, which I will do in the near future. This post was really just meant to post the letter.

I hope that the Obama administration takes these recommendations seriously and I hope that he recognizes and considers the Large Ocean Nations that will live with his decisions. As with Climate Change, we'll feel the effects of poor policy sooner and with more intensity than the richer, larger, more developed nations.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Photos of Yela

These photos go along with the Yela blog post from a few days ago.

An aerial photo of the Yela Forest.

Tholman, Nick, and William in the Yela Forest.

yela canopyA canopy photo taken from the ground.

Monday, February 23, 2009

MIC members discuss climate change

The 11th MIC Retreat took place about a month ago. A version of this press release edited for the CNMI appeared in the Saipan Tribune and Marianas Variety a few weeks ago. I was supposed to send out this version a while ago, but only got around to it this morning.

Micronesia is going to be one of the regions to first feel the effects of climate change. I'm sure it will become one of the most discussed environmental topics over the next few years.
February 23, 2009

Angelo Villagomez,
Mae Bruton Adams, madams@tn

Environmental leaders take part in region-wide retreat, Discuss Climate Change

Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia - Local conservation strategies and community involvement were on full display last month in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, as environmental leaders from across the region participated in the 11th Micronesians in Island Conservation (MIC) Retreat.

The retreat, which lasted from January 26-30, was held at the former Pohnpei Agricultual & Trade School in the Madolenihmw municipality of Pohnpei. The purposes of having the retreat in a remote site were so that the participants could become immersed in the local culture & community and develop closer ties with one another.

Environmental leaders from across the Micronesia region participated in the retreat. Representing government and non-government, managers and advocates, local and national levels, up-and-coming and veteran conservationists, the 20 participants hailed from CNMI, Guam, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

During the retreat members set short and long term personal, professional, and institutional goals. Many of the members have similar goals, or set goals that other members have already attained. Members learn from one another and collaborate together on meeting their goals.

“As a young conservationist I can look at some of the members who have been doing this for 30 years and learn from them,” said Angelo Villagomez of Beautify CNMI.

Members also discuss common institutional and conservation challenges during the retreats. These sessions are “break-out” sessions. Members “break-out” into small groups to discuss challenges, recommend ways forward and determine next steps. After meeting in the small groups members bring their findings back to the group at large for more discussion.

One of the conservation challenges discussed by members this year was surviving climate change. Marine protected areas, like the recently established Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, were identified as a buffer to the effects of climate change.

According to Marshall Islands Conservation Society Executive Director Steve Why, “Our contributions to climate change are small compared to what larger nations contribute, but due to our number of low-lying atolls, the effects of climate change will arrive sooner and be more severe in Micronesia than elsewhere on the globe.”

Micronesian Conservation Trust Executive Director, Willy Kostka, also addressed the group concerning climate change. Kostka said that Pacific Islanders should not point fingers at the larger nations without “taking a look in their own back yard.” Kostka asked the question, “What kind of credibility do we have when we are still using fossil fuels, driving SUVs, and importing food from thousands of miles away?” He added that Pacific Island nations should strive to be models for combating climate change.

The members also had time to become immersed in the local culture and community. On the first night of the retreat they were welcomed by the Kepirohi Village of Madolenihmw Municipality and participated in a sakau ceremony.

On Wednesday they visited the Soamwoai Village in Kitti Municipality and their local marine protected area. They toured the bamboo raft the community uses for monitoring and surveillance of the Enpein Marine Protected Area and were treated to a feast and another sakau ceremony in the village.

On the last night of the retreat, members of the Tamworohi Parish prepared an uhmw dinner of pig and breadfruit roasted in a local underground oven.

“I was really impressed by the amount of community buy-in. I would love to follow their model to get our community more involved in conservation,” commented Fran Castro of Saipan.

The purpose of MIC is to strengthen the collaborative, organizational, technical, and policy skills of leaders and organizations so that, together with communities, they can advance the conservation and management of important natural areas in Micronesia.

The 12th MIC Retreat will take place in October on Palau.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Beautify CNMI Email List

I've spent the last two weeks getting Beautify CNMI back up to speed. I've started a Beautify CNMI Facebook fan page and I've updated the email list. We'll have activities all year in 2009. If you would like to be added to the email list, please email me at angelovillagomez at gmail dot com or call me at 285 6462 and I will add you.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Kosrae is a small, mostly undeveloped island in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The 42 square mile island supports a diverse number of intact and pristine ecosystems both under and above the sea. One such ecosystem is the Yela forest and its watershed. Yela is a freshwater swamp forest just above the mangrove line that supports the last Ka (Terminalia carolinensis) forest in the world. Such forests were once found on several islands in Micronesia but due to harvest and development extensive stands of Ka have disappeared.

In 2005 the 10 families that own the Yela forest began to move in a direction to protect this unique forest for future generations. The family started by forming a conservation non-profit organization now known as the Yela Environment Landowners Authority (YELA) in 2006. YELA is now moving forward with protecting the important habitat and resource values of the forest in perpetuity with a conservation easement. Conservation easements are a legal tool in the United States that maintain property in the landowner’s possession while protecting defined ecological values. Essentially the landowner relinquishes the right to develop the property into homes, buildings, and roads forever. Only a non-profit or government entity can purchase and hold a conservation easement in the States. If the landowner sells the property, the conservation easement still encumbers or follows the land. Kosrae’s Attorney General, JD Lee, has issued a draft legal opinion stating that a conservation easement will, in fact, be valid in perpetuity in the FSM legal system. This would be the first conservation easement in the Federated States and all of Micronesia.

Property ownership on Kosrae, including the forest owned by YELA, is similar to that of other Micronesian Islands in that most lands are understood to be traditionally owned and therefore lack a legal document, or title, that describes the exact boundaries and the name(s) of the land owner(s). Without the title to describe the extent and ownership of the property a conservation easement would not be possible. Over the past year and a half YELA has worked with the Kosraean Land Survey to determine the exact property boundaries. The 35 hectare property is now under review by the Land Court and a deed is expected to be granted in the near future.

The next step in placing a conservation easement over Yela is to determine the value of the easement. To accomplish this YELA was awarded a LifeWeb grant from the Micronesia Conservation Trust. The grant engaged California real estate specialist Mike Conner from The Nature Conservancy and MAI certified appraiser Nick Captain from Guam for the assignment. The pair spent several days on Kosrae with YELA Executive Director Tholman Alik and Project Manager William William (not a typo) looking at the forest and researching land values on the island. Once the value of the easement has been determined then YELA will consider if it thinks the value is appropriate and it will either proceed towards encumbering the property with a conservation easement or it will pursue alternative avenues for conservation.

Together the Yela protection partnership (consisting of Kosrae Governor Weilbacher, Attorney General JD Lee, Kosrae Island Resource Management Authority, Kosrae Conservation & Safety Organization, USDA Forest Service, Secretariat of the Pacific, Micronesia Conservation Trust, YELA and The Nature Conservancy) are working toward: 1) placing a conservation easement over Yela therefore protecting this unique forest in perpetuity and 2) creating a new legal tool for conservation in the FSM. The project is ambitious and exciting as it has the potential to lead to greater conservation throughout Micronesia. Based on the strength and commitment of the individuals that comprise the partnership we hope to succeed.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Right to Fish

Posted below is a passage from Reef Ecology and Conservation by Robert H. Richmond of University of Hawaii, Manoa; Willy Kostka of Micronesia Conservation Trust; and Noah Idechong Palau National Congress

Coral reef conservation practices in many of the Pacific Islands reflect a stewardship ethic that stems from ownership of the resource, as well as responsibility for addressing problems and their solutions. This is in contrast to the Western “Tragedy of the Commons” scenario, where there is universal ownership and no direct lines of responsibility by stakeholders. The advantages of traditional leadership, which still exists in a variety of forms in the Pacific, is the speed at which conservation-based decisions can be put into practice. For example, it took nearly five years for conservation policies to be developed and enforced following studies demonstrating overexploitation of a sea cucumber fishery in the Gal├ípagos Islands. In Yap, it took only one day to move from data presentation to village chiefs to a policy decision to close the fishery. A distinguishing feature of most traditional leadership systems is community compliance without the need for legislation, enforcement activities, and legal proceedings.

Recent efforts to cite “the right to fish” as part of traditional cultures to argue against the establishment of MPAs and other conservation measures are falsely based. Fishing, including the use of specific types of gear, access to particular areas, and the consumption of certain species, is a privilege granted by chiefs or master fishermen and was never a right. These privileges are granted by traditional leaders based on considerations including resource availability and sustainability and may be rescinded if conditions warrant.

Beautify CNMI Ambassador Program

Beautify CNMI was listed as one of the participating programs in the NMC Service Learning grant. The way it works is students donate their time in exchange for scholarship money. I met with the coordinators at NMC on Friday and we came up with a Beautify CNMI Ambassador Program. Basically the students would help me with coordination of Beautify CNMI, taking a load of my shoulders and learning some valuable organizing skills in the process.

Nobody has signed up yet, but about 10 students came to our cleanup of Laulau Beach yesterday, so I'm hopeful. This is the program summary I sent to NMC today:
Beautify CNMI Ambassador Program
For NMC students in the service learning program

Learn how to conduct an environmental public awareness and stewardship campaign.

Participants will:

-Coordinating with government and businesses, plan an island-wide cleanup in April
-Recruit and manage participants in the cleanup
-Work with participants to adopt their adopted site for at least one year
-Help sustain cleanup and other beautification activities after island-wide cleanup
-Work with newspapers, radio, TV, and other media to broadcast campaign message
-Contribute to Myspace, Facebook, blogs , and websites to further campaign goals
Hopefully you'll be reading about the Beautify CNMI Ambassadors in the newspapers in the next couple of weeks. I'll need to get them on board right away. The first island-wide cleanup meeting is this Wednesday at DEQ.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

11th MIC Retreat

The 11th Micronesians in Island Conservation Retreat took place in Pohnpei from January 26-30. The retreat was held at the Pohnpei Agriculture & Trade School. This Youtube video was created by Beautify CNMI's Angelo Villagomez.