Scientists: Support Mariana Trench Protections

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Deadline to sign is July 25, 2017.


July 25, 2017

The Honorable Wilbur Ross
United States Secretary of Commerce
1401 Constitution Ave NW
Washington, DC 20230

Dear Secretary Ross,

We are scientists and explorers concerned with the health of the world’s oceans. We believe that marine protected areas are a proven tool in reversing the damage we have done to the ocean, and when implemented properly, improve livelihoods, create jobs, protect cultures, and leave a legacy for future generations. We come from different countries, backgrounds, and disciplines, but share a commitment to using science as evidence in public policy. We commend Secretary Ross’ recent commitment to science-based policy within NOAA.

Executive Order 13795, signed April 26, 2017, directs the Secretary of the Commerce to review all designations and expansions of national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments since April 28, 2007. As part of that review, a public comment period has been initiated for 11 national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments, including the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument was established by President George W. Bush on January 6, 2009, after extensive consultation with community leaders and stakeholders in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In 2008, the Bush Administration conducted a sixty-day comment period and held public meetings in Washington, DC, Honolulu, Guam, and Saipan that were attended by hundreds. In addition, the Friends of the Mariana Trench, an advocacy group based in Saipan, held 115 public meetings with over 3,300 attendees, collected 6,000 signatures on a paper petition, submitted more than 500 letters of support, and published nearly150 letters to the editor in local Saipan newspapers.

At 940 miles long, 38 miles wide, and over 36,000 feet deep, the Mariana Trench is one of the largest geologic features in the planet. It is more than a mile deeper than Mt. Everest is high and hosts Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth. It is home to numerous sites of exceptional scientific value, including the largest observed mud volcanos; submarine volcanoes that host deep-sea hydrothermal vents; and coral atolls and fringing reef ecosystems that support apex predators like sharks and whales, as well as habitat forming stony corals. Currently, the United States portion of the Mariana Trench falls within a 95,000-square mile area of protect submerged lands and waters partitioned into three units, the Trench Unit, the Islands Unit, and the Volcanic Unit.

The Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument is the smallest of the three units and is the only region that currently enjoys comprehensive protection of both the seafloor and water column. It is home to sharks, whales, and dolphins, as well as several species of endangered and threatened sea turtles. More than two dozen species of seabirds inhabit the area and enrich the nutrient load of coral communities, fertilizing the shores with energy from the sea. The monument complements the protections of adjacent wildlife conservation reserves on the terrestrial portions of Farallon de Parajos, Maug, and Asuncion islands, which are additionally protected in-perpetuity by the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands government.
The Volcanic Unit of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument comprises 21 submerged volcanoes of exceptional scientific value. The Volcanic Unit includes submarine mud volcanoes and “black smoker” hydrothermal vents. Since the creation of the monument, several research expeditions have embarked to characterize the biodiversity, biogeographic connectivity, microbial ecology, geology, and chemistry within the Volcanic Unit. The close proximity to infrastructure provided by Saipan and Guam, as well as the protections afforded by the creation of the monument and its location within the United States EEZ make the Volcanic Unit an essential region for the establishment of long-term longitudinal studies that can serve the international scientific community for generations.
The Trench Unit encompasses the majority of the Mariana Trench, which stretches from north of the northernmost Mariana Islands to south of Guam. At over 11,000 meters deep at its deepest point, the Trench Unit is a vast and almost completely unexplored cleft in the seafloor where one of earth’s tectonic plates dives beneath another. It is home to the deepest living fish species, arthropods that exhibit deep-sea gigantism, a tremendous diversity of fishes and invertebrates such as cusk eels, anglerfish, pelagic sea cucumbers, squat lobsters, shrimp, deep-sea sharks, and uncounted, undiscovered, and undescribed species from every phylum. Scientists are learning a great deal about how microbes and animals have adapted to one of the most extreme environments on our planet by working in the Mariana trench. Only four vehicles have ever been capable of diving to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, all of which are currently decommissioned or destroyed. Over a third of the volume of the Trench Unit is currently out of reach for direct observation or targeted sampling.

While the surface area of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument is substantial, the vast majority of protections only pertain to the seafloor, not the overriding water column. By volume, the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument is one of the smallest marine protected areas in the US Pacific EEZ. Only 5% of the US EEZ around the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam are managed in marine protected areas, far short of the 30% recommended by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Community leaders in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and scientists from the US and international community have recently expressed a desire for the monument to receive National Marine Sanctuary designation.

We the undersigned recognize the significant scientific, cultural, and economic value of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, strongly support its designation, and encourage the administration to enhance, rather than reduce, protection for the marine national monuments in the Pacific. This includes ensuring that adequate funding is provided for the management and enforcement for the area of protection.


James Cameron
National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and Filmmaker

Dr. Andrew David Thaler
CEO, Blackbeard Biologic: Science and Environmental Advisors

Joni Quenga Kerr
Associate Professor, Science, Guam Community College

Dr. Bastien Bentlage
Assistant Professor of Bioinformatics, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. David Combosch
Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. Terry Donaldson
Professor of Ichthyology, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. Atsushi Fujimura
Assistant Professor of Oceanography, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. Peter Houk
Associate Professor of Marine Biology, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. Alexander Kerr
Professor of Marine Biology, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. Laurie Raymundo
Professor of Marine Biology, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. Tom Schils
Associate Professor of Marine Biology, Marine Laboratory, University of Guam

Dr. Jeffrey C. Drazen
Professor, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Dr. Julie Huber
Associate Scientist, Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Dr. Douglas Bartlett
Professor, Marine Microbial Genetics, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Dr. Verena Tunnicliffe
Professor, Canada Research Chair in Deep Oceans, Biology and Earth/Ocean Sciences, University of Victoria

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