Friday, May 18, 2018

Study Shows Widespread Support of Marine Protected Areas in the Northern Mariana Islands

A scientist conducted research in the Northern Mariana Islands in 2017 and is sharing his results with the community. Danny Morris, who studied at the University of York, published a report titled “Public Perceptions of Marine Protected Areas in the Northern Mariana Islands”. In this new report, Morris presents data on voter opinions on Saipan regarding marine protected areas (MPAs) and the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. Ultimately, the hope is that this work will be able to inform decision makers on the best course for improved MPA management.

A video presentation of the work can be viewed on the Mariana Trench Facebook page: www.facebook.com/marianamonument

Around the Northern Mariana Islands, there are eight MPAs. Five of these are small, coastal strict no-take areas and two are small, coastal limited-take where specific species cannot be extracted. In addition to these coastal protections is the Islands Unit of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, which protects the federal waters around the far Northern Islands of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracus.

To get a representative sample of opinions, Morris interviewed 253 people of all ages and backgrounds on the island. The survey took an average of 15 minutes and included open-ended and closed questions. The results of the survey showed that the people of the Northern Mariana Islands overwhelmingly supported MPAs and wanted more protected areas in their waters. When asked how much of the Mariana Islands ocean space should be protected, the average answer was 57 percent.

There were less positive responses when asked similar questions about the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, but they were still overwhelmingly positive. From these results, Morris deduced several steps that could be taken moving forward that could increase the understanding of the monument with the public. He suggested that the benefits and successes of the monument should be better communicated to ensure a well-informed public opinion. Morris also suggests that there should be better representation of the local people on the Advisory Council, which currently is only three people. Further, he recommends that CNMI obtain co-management with the US government and the completion of the long overdue management plan.

Marine protected areas have long been proven to be a powerful tool in effectively managing marine resources and ecosystems. They are the oldest form of fisheries management tool, and have existed in the Pacific for centuries. These survey results show that MPAs are also overwhelmingly supported by the community and the creation of new protected areas would be welcome.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Robot Workshop Organizers Thank Supporters and Participants


OpenROV Robotics Workshop, Mariana Trench
Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) –The Friends of the Mariana Trench would like to express sincerest thanks to everyone whose invaluable contribution lead to the success of the Marine Ecology via Remote Observation Workshop last month. 

“The Mariana Trench inspires the next generation of local explorers, engineers, and scientists.” said Laurie Peterka, Secretary for Friends of the Mariana Trench. “But the success of this workshop is owed to our sponsors and partners who provided resources which allowed our eager participants to show up every day to learn.”

Through the support and commitment from many in the community, the Marianas is now home of the largest fleet of underwater OpenROV research robots and some of the most qualified OpenROV operators in the world. The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument was directly responsible for this opportunity being made available to our community. Marine protected areas such as the monument create incentives for scientists to conduct research because they provide a baseline against areas that are unprotected.

OpenROV is short for open-source remotely operated vehicle and is a low-cost robotic underwater drone built with the goal of making underwater exploration, discovery, and education affordable and available to the masses. OpenROV is an open-source hardware project. By providing the list of the submarine parts and instructions on how to assemble them, the project aims to democratize underwater exploration.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench in partnership with Northern Marianas Trades Institute (NMTI) hosted the Marine Ecology via Remote Observation Workshop from April 14-22, led by Dr. Andrew Thaler and Dr. Stacy Baez. During the first week of the workshop eight facilitators learned how to build an underwater robot. These robots can be submerged in the ocean and contain a camera that can be used to observe the marine environment. Representatives from NMTI, Northern Marianas College, PSS (through Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance), CNMI Bureau of Environment and Coastal Quality (BECQ), Okeanos Marianas, Underwater World Guam, and University of Guam Marine Lab were selected as facilitators. After the facilitators were trained, they taught 18 local students how to build and operate the machines. Students were recruited from Saipan, Tinian, Rota, and Guam. Participants built six underwater robots. These robots were donated to the community and will now be in use across the CNMI and Guam.

The Friends would like to thank OpenROV for providing robot building kits. Special thanks to NMTI for workshop space, staff, and transportation assistance. Thanks to Seatouch-Saipan for providing access to its facility in front of the Fiesta Resort and Space, and the Fiesta Resort and Spa for their tremendous support. Okeanos Marianas provided transportation for field operations in the Saipan lagoon, and thanks to the crew who made the experience unforgettable for participants. Finally, thanks to the organizations, businesses, institutions of higher learning, and government agencies who provided facilitators to conduct the student workshop.

The workshop was made possible by a grant awarded to Dr. Thaler and Blackbeard Biologic through the NOAA Marine Educators Training Program. The Friends were selected to be the workshop’s logistical coordinator and facilitated Dr. Thaler with community outreach and participant selection as well as engaging local and community partners.


Friday, April 13, 2018

Robots, Ocean Research and Sustainable Skills Development


The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are pleased to announce the selection of twenty students for the second part of our Marine Ecology via Remote Observation Workshop. During this second half of our program, students will receive training in the construction, operation, and maintenance of observation-class remotely operate vehicles (ROVs, also known as underwater drones or underwater robots). These students will be taught by eight local facilitators trained in train-the-trainer portion of our workshop.

Over a span of four days, students from Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam will construct research-grade ROVs and learn skills such as soldering electronics, acrylic fabrication, and building underwater housings while learning the fundamentals of marine ecology using underwater vehicles. Students will then have the opportunity to take the robots out in the field to conduct surveys and gain a greater understanding of how underwater robots can be used to compliment ocean research and monitoring programs. This model provides an intensive STEM-education opportunity for students while establishing a sustainable, long-term robotics program in the CNMI through facilitator training.

At the conclusion of this program, six ROVs will be presented to select community groups within the CNMI, such as the Okeanos Marianas, for community-driven ocean monitoring, research, and exploration. This project is being conducted in collaboration with Northern Mariana Trades Institute (NMTI) as the main host along with other community partners.

The student portion of this workshop will commence April 19 and end April 22. The public is welcome to view field operations in the afternoon on the last day of the workshop – save the date, April 22 – Earth Day! Location will be announced next week.

This workshop is made possible through a NOAA grant awarded to Dr. Andrew Thaler, a Friends member and marine and conservation scientist. The workshop is coordinated by the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument and hosted by Northern Marianas Trades Institute. Demonstrations and field ops are being hosted by Seatouch-Saipan.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Local Students to Learn About Ocean Exploration Using Robots


(Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands) ––Robots have been used to explore the deepest reaches of the Mariana Trench in recent years. This month, local students will have the chance to learn the basics of underwater exploration using drones provided by a federal grant.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are pleased to announce the selection of facilitators for the Marine Ecology Via Remote Observation Workshop. During this program, facilitators will receive training in the construction, operation, and maintenance of observation-class remotely operate vehicles (ROVs, also known as underwater drones or underwater robots).

Facilitators will then participate in a student-training workshop where they will instruct students from junior high, high schools, Northern Marianas College (NMC) and Northern Mariana Trades Institute (NMTI). Facilitators and students will also have the opportunity to take the robots out for field work at Seatouch in Garapan (and possibly other active research sites in Saipan) to conduct surveys and gain a greater understanding of how underwater robots can be used to compliment ocean research and monitoring programs. This model allows not only an intensive STEM-education opportunity for students in Saipan, but by providing training for local and regional facilitators, helps to establish a sustainable, long-term robotics program in the CNMI.

At the conclusion of this program, six ROVs will be presented to select community groups within the CNMI for community-driven ocean monitoring, research, and exploration. This project is being conducted in collaboration with NMTI as the main host along with other community partners including Seatouch and Okeanos Marianas.

The selected facilitators are:

· Mr. Jerry Joseph, 500 Sails/Okeanos Marianas
· Ms. Erin Derrington, Northern Marianas College
· Mr. David Benavente, Northern Marianas College
· Mr. Claus Bier, Northern Mariana Trade Institute
· Mr. Rodney Camacho, CNMI Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality
· Mr. Robert Jordan, Koa Consulting LLC
· Mr. Roy Adsit, Saipan Southern High School
· Ms. Julia Berg, University of Guam Marine Lab

The workshop will commence April 14 and end April 22 – Earth Day!

This workshop is made possible through a NOAA grant awarded to Dr. Andrew Thaler, a Friends member and marine and conservation scientist.





Wednesday, March 7, 2018

National Wildlife Refuge Association Friends Workshop

Hafa Adai and Tiirow from Saipan!


January was a busy month for Friends of the Mariana Monument Chairman Ignacio V. Cabrera and Secretary Laurie Peterka who were invited to attend the National Wildlife Refuge Association Friends workshop in Kaui’I. The invitation was in conjunction with having been awarded a Mentoring Grant from the same organization.

The Friends worked together with the National Wildlife Refuge manager in Guam to make the application for the grant in mid-December 2017.  The purpose of the mentoring grant is to help the Friends become more familiar with the way the National Wildlife Refuge and Friends relationships work and get both prepared for a future memorandum of understanding. The MOU will solidify the relationship and allow goals to be set for community outreach and special projects.


Visiting the closed area of the refuge up above Kilauea Point where the lighthouse is located. This is a very diverse group of folks who volunteer at refuges in Alaska, Hawaii and the CNMI. Some are also NWR employees. All are passionate about wildlife and connecting people with their refuge. — with Ilana Nimz, Ann Bell, Nicole Galase, Desiree Sorenson-Groves, Jennifer Waipa, Lamar Gore, Helen Fields, Joanna Webb, Crystal Leonetti, Heather Tonneson, Caroline Garrett Brouwer, Ignacio Cabrera and Chelsea McKinney and others at Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge.


The purpose of the workshop was to bring all the Friends groups in the Pacific together to work on a mutual agenda established at the 2016 meeting. This is only the second time the group has met. The workshop lasted five full days and included Friends board members giving presentations about their respective locations, hearing from the National Wildlife Refuge staff, facilitator-led working sessions to help Friends groups re-center, and field trips to three different Kaua’I Refuge complexes.

“We learned from the other Friends groups that we have similar issues,” said Cabrera. He added, “I was grateful for the Hawaiian chants they used as part of the process and the connection that the Hawaiian people have with their history and culture of protecting the ocean and the resources for our future generations. I would like to see more of this in the CNMI.”

“The days were 12-hours long and intense,” commented Peterka. “There were several ‘Ah ha!” moments for us on the third day when we did this half day exercise that helps drill down to finding the core reasons why our Friends group is so important for the world,” she added.

The Friends of the Mariana Trench now carry on for the rest of 2018 meeting with mentors appointed by the NWRA board to re-align itself and come up with plans that will help the community be more aware of everything about the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.