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Concerns raised about marine life, environment

By Junhan B. Todeno SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, August 12, 2009) - Angelo Villagomez of the Friends of the Monument, the main proponent of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, disclosed on Monday the "damaged" condition of Maug Island.

Maug, by law, is part of the Marine Protected Areas of the CNMI, and is included in the three new protected marine areas in the Pacific designated by a presidential declaration last January.

"Last year we talked about how pristine the water and how undamaged they were, but I actually found that there’s a lot more damage to the island and the waters that we don’t know about," Villagomez said, referring to Maug.

He recently visited Maug where he said he found fishing gear, including nets, floats and anchors.

Last year, he said the Friends of the Monument focused on protecting an area many believed was too remote.

But when they visited the island, he said they saw the presence of "human impact."

Villagomez said the federal government is "morally obligated" to help manage the monument area.

"We definitely need some marine debris removal there, because there are nets up there and those nets are killing fish," he added.

He said they didn’t conduct an inventory of the damage in the area because that would have required significant time, but they did take pictures of the fishing gear washed ashore.

"Its really unbelievable," he said, referring to the damage on Maug.

While the CNMI government or any non-profit organization can initiate a cleanup drive on Maug, Villagomez said the federal government should manage the monument area, and one of its management obligations is marine debris removal.

The debris on Maug could have been accumulated for over 30 years, he added.

"Iit took 44 hours by boat to get there -- this is one of the most obscure, out of the way places on the planet, and it’s covered with trash, human debris," he said.

The federal government, he added, has yet to clarify the actual funding that will be appropriated for the day to day management of the monument area, which includes the cleanup of marine debris and the establishment of the visitor center.

He said U.S. Fish and Wildlife should set up an office on Saipan so people can apply for a permit to visit the monument area.

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