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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Save Pagan Island...

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Pagan Island
The government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is considering a proposal from Japan to lease Pagan, a beautiful and biologically unique island, as a dumping ground for tons of tsunami debris. For an island nation, limited in land, burying one of its most beautiful islands with garbage from Japan is not only environmentally unconscionable but is degrading to the people of the CNMI.

Close your eyes and transport yourself to a desert island in the South Pacific. Swaying palm trees, expansive beaches, and fringing coral reefs, all topped with a steaming volcano. This island is teaming with life; by day beautiful birds and butterflies abound, by night huge bats feed on abundant fruit. In the shade of coco palms, stone ruins of a culture long extinct persist. While this might seem like an idyllic image straight out of a post WWII Hollywood movie, places like this do exist. While not free of ecological problems, as a result of a tumultuous human past, Pagan Island fits this description to a tee.

Pagan is one of the largest and most biologically and geologically diverse islands in the Mariana Archipelago. Three volcanic cones constitute the landmass of Pagan, of which the highest, Mount Pagan, is active and produces a constant cloud of steam and ash. Of the native and endemic flora and fauna of the Marianas, Pagan is host to many of them; including threatened and endangered species, such as the single island endemic subspecies of the Mariana fruit bat, the endemic Micronesian megapode, the threatened tree snail Partulina gibba, leather back, loggerhead, hawksbill, and green sea turtles. Already confined to a small island archipelago, the island biota of the Northern Mariana Islands are under siege by human induced habitat destruction, especially on the more populated islands of Guam, Siapan, Tinian, and Rota.
Indigenous human habitation of Pagan dates back some 3000 years, and has been intermittent based on commercial exploitation by various foreign colonizers, beginning with the Spanish discovery of the islands by Megellan in 1521. More recently, Japan occupied Pagan during WWII, settling some 2000 soldiers and indenturing the indigenous Chamorro population to work in pozzolan mines (volcanic ash used in the manufacture of cement). After the surrender of the Japanese garrison in 1945, the US administered the Northern Mariana Islands. In the 1950s, parts of Pagan became a copra farm and cattle ranch, of which efforts were abandoned in the 1970s. In 1981, the eruption of Mount Pagan forced the remaining local population to relocate to Saipan. Since that eruption, Pagan has remained largely uninhabited.

Sunrise Over Mount Pagan
With the recent relocation of US military personnel from Osaka Japan to Guam, and the subsequent military build up in the islands, the US military has set its sights on Pagan as a place for infantry training and ballistic testing. While it is unclear if this is still in the works, the Government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is considering leasing Pagan Island to Japanese investors to dump tons of tsunami debris, and mine millions of tons of pozzolan. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is a small land limited island nation. Turning one of their most biologically diverse islands into a permanent garbage dump for a wealthy country is an ill-fated and atrocious act.


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