The establishment of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was among the last executive actions sealed by President George W. Bush before he left office on Jan. 6, 2009.
As President Barack Obama gets ready to pack up, conservation activists have drummed up their call for the completion of the process by designating the Mariana Trench Unit as a sanctuary.
Joining the campaign, Hollywood director James Cameron wrote to Obama asking him to “finish the work of protecting the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument through a national marine sanctuary designation.”
Obama has only a little more than a week left in office before President-elect Donald Trump moves to the White House.
The letter states that the Obama Administration has built a legacy of ocean protection unrivaled by any president in American history. The letter also points to the role of the ocean as the planet’s largest ecosystem and crucial role as a climate regulator.
“Large, strongly protected marine reserved have emerged as important policy solutions which carry the dual benefit of both marine climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies,” said Cameron, the only human to ever dive solo to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the world’s ocean.
“By increasing ocean health, strongly protected marine reserves are one of the most efficient means to protect Earth and its climate,” he added.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature recommends protecting 30 percent of the ocean.
“We are thankful to Mr. Cameron for helping us bring more protection to the Mariana Trench,” said Ignacio Cabrera, chairman of the Friends of the Marianas Trench. “His dive in 2012 shone a bright light on our unique and globally significant natural resources, now he is helping us bring attention to the need to protect it for our kids and their kids.”
The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument protects over 95,000 square miles of seafloor and waters in the Mariana Archipelago under federal jurisdiction.
The monument consists of three units: the Islands Unit, which protects the seafloor and waters around the three northernmost Mariana Islands, Farallon de Pajaros or Uracas, Maug, and Asuncion; the Volcanic Unit, which protects the seafloor surrounding 21 volcanic sites of exceptional scientific and conservation value; and the Trench Unit, which protects the seafloor east of the archipelago inside the US Exclusive Economic Zone from north of Uracus to south of Guam.
The Trench Unit is the only marine monument in the Pacific that is still awaiting Obama’s approval.
Besides legislative resolutions and official letters from CNMI officials, the petition is backed by the community organizations.
In a Dec. 5 letter to Obama, the Friends of the Marianas, a coalition of CNMI conservation groups, urged the president to “forego the usual sanctuary process and direct the Secretary of Commerce to begin a sanctuary designation process immediately.”
“The Marianas Trench is the ‘Grand Canyon’ of the ocean, including the deepest known areas on earth. The active volcanoes and thermal vents found in the area support life under some of the harshest conditions on the planet. The waters of our archipelago's northern islands are also among the most biologically diverse in the Western Pacific. The greatest diversity of seamount and hydrothermal vent life
yet discovered on the planet has been found in the Marianas Trench,” the coalition said.
A National Marine Sanctuary designation, the coalition said, would help advance conservation and protect the area from illegal fishing and overfishing, as well as oil, gas, and mineral exploration and extraction.