The Division of Coastal Resources Management held a forum last month for the island’s marine sport operators and its beach side operators as part of efforts to make them better stewards of the environment.
According to Avra Heller, the Coral Reef Initiative’s Project Coordinator, the forum, held on June 18 and 19 at the Pacific Islands Club Saipan, focused on how marine sports and beach side operators interact with the island’s marine and terrestrial environment.
Operators were approached as stewards of the environment—people who guide thousands of tourists with large physical impact on the island’s protected areas every year.
“The goal of the forum was really to have a conversation,” Heller said. “We wanted to make sure that we work with operators and hear what their concerns are.”
One aspect of the forum invited the operators to take part in the Micronesian Challenge, which seeks to conserve 30 percent of marine resources and 20 percent of terrestrial resources across Micronesia by 2020. Heller said operators were asked to be champions of the Challenge, and be the force that they already are for the environment.
A second aspect focused on DCREM rules and the appropriate or legal behavior within protected areas and coastal zones.
Operators were informed about marine recreation practices that are best for the island’s delicate coral reef systems.
They were asked to have their tourists and guides refrain from feeding fish and collecting shells and stepping on and taking corals, which are all illegal activities.
They were also introduced to different environmental agencies and officials who spoke on issues such as registration, enforcement, and coral and marine ecosystems.
In an interview, Kodep Ogumoro-Uludong, of MINA’s Managaha Pride Campaign, spoke of the impact tourists can have on fish habitats.
“There’s a direct link between feeding the fish, changing their behavior, and then creating incidents. For example, I was given a photo of Tasi Tours of a woman who had been bitten on her chest by a trigger fish, essentially because they were looking for food, they saw her moving around in the water, and there was nothing she was holding for them, so they just started to bite her.”
According to Heller, 27 operators participated on the first day of the forum, and 36 participated on the second day, which focused more on beachside operations and hotels.
“Something that was brought up a lot was the huge littering problem on our beaches,” Heller said.
Operators also discussed setting up dive buoys so that there would be established dive spots for dive operators, as well as the illegal activity of permits being acquired and then sold to friends.
Heller said operators now know the DCRM officers and Division of Wildlife officers they should contact in regards to violations.
Another development was the dialogue that opened between the operators and hotels. Heller said operators and hotels talked about issues they had such as how tourists were being pursued or treated by the operators.
Coming out of the forum, both the operators and hotels would like a better way of communicating issues.
A “touch-base system of meeting more regularly” was requested, according to Heller.
She said this is something DCRM is going to work on.
“These are the operators who care and realize that the coral reef being healthy is an important part of their job and their business, “ Heller said, when asked about the turnout and response of the operators.
Presentations included officials from DCRM, Division of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Public Lands, Department of Public Safety, and the Pacific Marine Resources Institute to talk about a range of topics like boat safety, reef habitats, and enforcement.
A similar forum and workshop was also held in 2009, according to Heller.