Maintaining historic connections to waters of the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument

Mariana Islands map with approximate Islands Unit waters denoted (Adapted from Allen and Amesbury 2011, credited to Barry Smith)

Mariana Islands map with approximate Islands Unit waters denoted (Adapted from Allen and Amesbury 2011, credited to Barry Smith)

The Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) is a large-scale MPA established by US President George W. Bush by presidential proclamation in 2009. The MTMNM encompasses 61 million acres of ocean and although the nearest human communities are over 300 miles away, its designation has effects on the residents of Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI) and Guam.

Social Science researchers Laurie Richmond (Humboldt State University) and Dawn Kotowicz (JIMAR) recently published a paper in Applied Geography examining how the designation of the MTMNM may affect nearby communities. The paper draws on a review of historical records and conversations with 40 residents of CNMI and Guam who had visited or lived in the area that is now known as the Islands Unit of the MTMNM.

A CNMI resident shows the researchers some of his recent catch

The study documented 129 trips to visit the Islands Unit in living memory. The purpose of these trips varied from commercial fishing to scientific research but fishing was part of almost all of them, and returning with fish for family and friends who couldn’t be on the trip was important for food security and to maintain ties to the northern islands of the Mariana Island Chain. The researchers found that trips to the area were rare but important events providing residents of CNMI and Guam with a sense of connection to these distant islands where indigenous Chamorro and Carolinians fished and lived in the past.

Information gathered about fishing in these historical and cultural significant waters was used to inform subsequent regulations on ‘traditional indigenous fishing’, a new category of fishing to be regulated in the Islands Unit of the MTMNM. The authors discuss the implications of these regulations upon residents of CNMI and Guam.

Read the abstract of the paper here.

Richmond L, Kotowicz D. 2015. Equity and access in marine protected areas: The history and future of ‘traditional indigenous fishing’ in the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Applied Geography 2014: 1-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.apgeog.2014.11.007

To see some of the study participants telling their own stories, check out the short documentary, Stories of the Islands Unit from the PIFSC Human Dimensions group.

Download a brochure of research results.

Click here to read a PIFSC Administrative Report describing the project in more detail.

For more information about other research from the PIFSC Socioeconomics Program visit our website or browse recent blog posts.

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