CNMI’s Tourism District Completes Conservation Action Plan

By AIC guest blogger, Kaitlin Mattos, Watershed Coordinator with the CNMI Division of Environmental Quality

Garapan watershed. Credit: CNMI DEQ

Garapan watershed. Credit: CNMI DEQ

After 18 months, dozens of meetings, and involvement from over 60 stakeholders, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has finalized its third Conservation Action Plan. This plan targets the Garapan-area watershed and the heart of Saipan’s tourism district.

The Garapan Watershed, formally known as “West Takpochao Central,” was listed as a priority watershed for the CNMI back in 2010 along with the Laolao Bay watershed on Saipan and the Talakhaya watershed on Rota. As of November 2013, natural resource managers, non-profit organizations, and community members now have a comprehensive Conservation Action Plan (CAP) to begin to execute.

Through a series of meetings facilitated by the CNMI’s Division of Environmental Quality and The Nature Conservancy, stakeholders identified nine focal conservation targets within the watershed:

  1. Water quality
  2. Benthic habitat
  3. Macroinvertebrates
  4. Food fishes
  5. Sea turtles
  6. Beaches
  7. Wetlands and mangroves
  8. Urban greenspace
  9. Upland forests
Stormdrain marker in CNMI with phrase, "Do not dump. Drains to coral reefs" Credit: CNMI DEQ

Stormdrain marker in CNMI with phrase, “Do not dump. Drains to coral reefs” Credit: CNMI DEQ

These targets are considered vital to the natural and cultural character of the Garapan watershed and specific actions need to be taken to protect them for the future. Participants in the CAP process also identified threats to these targets; the most worrisome being polluted runoff, climate change, and invasive species. Strategic actions to decrease these threats include using stormwater best management practices, implementing engineering solutions, increasing enforcement capacity, conducting outreach within the watershed, promoting stewardship programs, and continuing research and monitoring of key resources.

Now that the watershed has been assessed and priorities named, the stakeholder group can begin to implement specific actions to mitigate threats and preserve the identified conservation targets. Garapan is the heart of Saipan’s tourism and business district, so positive outcomes for the watershed will quickly translate to a positive impact on visitors’ experiences and the local economy. With this idea in mind, partners across Saipan are rolling up their sleeves to get watershed projects started.