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An evaluation of the likelihood of successful implementation of the long term coral reef monitoring program on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public Deposited

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  • Coral reef ecosystems are the oceanic equivalent of tropical rainforests, in terms of biodiversity. The estimated 1,037,000 square kilometers worldwide of reef provide habitat for over one million species of plants and animals (Hinrichsen, 1997). Coral reefs are important to the economy of coastal nations because of the fisheries and tourism industries they support. Reef ecosystems provide a host of important natural services such as storm buffering, a protein source for islanders, breeding and nursery grounds for marine organisms, water filtration and a source of biomedically important products. Coral reef areas also have aesthetic and intrinsic value that is reason enough to protect them. Coral reefs are also among the most endangered ecosystems on Earth. Naturally occurring disturbances are compounded by the impacts of anthropogenic disturbance. Factors that threaten the health of coral reef ecosystems on a global scale include global warming, the continuing increase in coastal populations and associated impacts such as nutrient pollution, sedimentation and runoff, coral mining, ship groundings, overfishing, and recreational overuse. Globally, coastal areas accommodate about 60% of Earth's human population. A significant portion of the population lies within tropical regions. This population pressure subjects coral reef environments to effects of increased competition for coastal resources, increased coastal pollution and problems related to coastal construction. The synergistic effect of stressors has been the irreversible degradation worldwide of 10% of reefs and another 60% in critical condition leaving, only 30% as stable (Wilkinson, 1993). The coral reefs of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) are a good example of how the combination of increasing human population and the associated environmental pressure has resulted in degradation of the reef ecosystem. The CNMI has undergone significant change in economic and population growth within the past decade. To accommodate the rapid and continuing development of the tourism industry, numerous golf courses and resort hotels have been constructed on Saipan. The population of Saipan has increased over 30% in the last ten years. Currently, the local/resident population is 60,000 while the visitor population is 750,000 per year. This rapid growth has had serious ecological consequences. Coral roads have been converted to four lane highways and infrastructure such as septic tank systems has not been improved to meet higher demand. More and more development projects have been proposed without adequate consideration of environmental impacts. Conflicts over the use and conservation of marine and watershed resources continue to arise. The continuing decline of reef systems globally and in specific areas like the CNMI, highlights the need for effective methods of assessing change in nearshore ecosystems. This paper explores the ways that coral reef monitoring can provide information about reef health that serves to affect positive changes in management strategies for marine systems. Using a criteria drawn from case study comparisons of ongoing, well established coral monitoring programs and evaluation framework proposed by policy analysts Using criteria drawn from case, the Long Term Marine Monitoring Program (LTMMP) on Saipan, CNMI is evaluated. The evaluation provides insight about coral monitoring plan components that are essential to the effectiveness of coral reef monitoring programs. This report is an outgrowth of an internship the author performed with the CNMI Division of Environmental Quality on the island of Saipan from June to October of 1997. The University of Oregon Micronesia and South Pacific Program and the government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CMNI) sponsored the internship project. The objectives of the internship were to assist in field data collection and continuing development of the ongoing Long Term Marine Monitoring Plan (LTMMP) Assist and instruct Marine Monitoring Team (MMT) members in basic computer skills, understanding of data applicability, management, interpretation and analysis, basic biology and resource management techniques as it relates to marine monitoring work Facilitate inter-governmental agency coordination of marine monitoring activities Assess likelihood of success and explore challenges facing Saipan in implementation of the monitoring program This report first describes functions and services provided by coral reefs and an introduction to the stresses and disturbances that compromise the health of reef systems globally. Using examples from case studies of established marine monitoring programs, this report considers how effective monitoring can reveal changes in the reef system over time, enabling conservation measures to be taken. It then turns to the island of Saipan and briefly describes the environmental and socio-economic framework within which the coral reef related provisions of the CNMI coastal management program are considered. This background information is used to evaluate the Long Term Marine Monitoring Plan currently in place on the CNMI. This evaluation provides insight into the challenges to implementation of coral reef monitoring plans and recommendations for improvements in the LTMMP on Saipan.
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