Pagan Island, the “Crown Jewel” of the Marianas, is again slated for certain environmental devastation, this time by a proposal from the U.S. Military to use it for “live-fire training” which includes everything from artillery to bombing.

Pagan Island

Pagan Island

If this is your first time viewing this blog, please see previous posts for the full story on Pagan Island and the efforts to stop the previous proposal by Japanese investors to use it as a dumping ground for 2011 tsunami debris.

Pagan is a small island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It is one of the most biologically and geologically diverse islands in the archipelago, and is home to many threatened and endangered species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Aside from its stunning beauty and rich ecological resources, Pagan is also one of the most habitable of the northern most islands in the CNMI. In fact, this island has supported the ancestors of Pagan islanders for over 3,000 years, as evidenced by Chamorro stone ruins found skirting her beautiful beaches.

Pagan collage

Some of Pagan Island’s biological diversity

The U.S. Military plans to occupy ALL of Pagan Island for live-  fire training and military exercises, ignoring the indigenous rights of Pagan Islanders, and the devastating environmental impacts that such activity will certainly cause.

Further details are on the website: www.cnmijointmilitarytrainingeis.com.

The clearing required for live-fire training, and the ballistic disturbances resulting from such actions (which could include everything from artillery to bombing) will most certainly jeopardize Pagan and cause, disturbances to its rich agriculturally and ecologically valuable topsoil, an increased risk of fire during dry summers, erosion and consequent destruction of Pagan’s coral reefs, and would risk extinction of Pagan’s unique flora and fauna. These disturbances, combined with the unexploded ordinance and toxins that are sure to be left behind, will render this island uninhabitable for centuries to come. This is unacceptable.

The US military has a long history of destroying Pacific islands. U.S. atomic testing on and around Bikini atoll rendered numerous Pacific islands uninhabitable until today. Kaho`olawe, an island of comparable size and environmental sensitivity in Hawai`i was used for “live-fire training exercises” (predominantly bombing) and was left barren and littered with unexploded ordinance. Essentially all of the unique flora and fauna of Kaho`olawe are gone forever.

Bakini Atoll

Bakini Atoll

Jeff Mcneil

Present day Kaho`olawe (Photo credit: Jeff Mcneil)

The U.S. Military has already destroyed Farallon de Medinilla, another island in the CNMI, which it used for bombing and military exercises. In addition, large portions of Guam and Tinian are currently occupied for Military purposes. This U.S. Military Proposal to use Pagan Island is unethical on all accounts and will cause the destruction of another island and the consequent disenfranchisement of more indigenous people of the Pacific.

Aircraft dropping Mark 82 227 kg high-drag bombs over Farallon de Medinilla Island, Marianas Islands, during exercise.

Aircraft dropping Mark 82 227 kg high-drag bombs over Farallon de Medinilla Island, Marianas Islands, during exercise.

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This is an update on the Save Pagan Island Campaign. If this is your first time viewing this blog, please see previous posts for the full story on Pagan Island and the proposal by Japanese investors to use it as a dumping ground for 2011 tsunami debris.

Initial Successes Reveal an Increasing Necessity to Intensify Pressure

The petition to officials in the CNMI government now has more than 2500 signatories, and each signature has generated an e-mail to officials in the CNMI administration.    Many of the signatories are from the CNMI and other Pacific Islands, as well as Japan, and signatories have, in turn, publicized the campaign on Facebook and on their blogsites. As a result, the proposal to turn Pagan Island into a dumping ground for tsunami debris has become highly controversial within the CNMI government itself, as well as in Japan.

A reporter from Honolulu’s Civil Beat News (http://www.civilbeat.com/articles/2012/05/30/15955-pacific-island-could-be-spared-from-becoming-tsunami-dump-site/) who investigated the Campaign’s allegations reported that the Spokesperson for the Governor of the CNMI told her: “Japanese investors are no longer interested in shipping and storing tsunami debris [to Pagan Island],” and a Spokesperson for CNMI’s representative to the U.S. Congress said the proposal, “is not something that sits well [with the Congressman]”.   At the same time, CNMI’s former governor, currently a representative to the CNMI Legislature, Froilan Tenorio, countered saying he, “has has just been informed that Kanzai Oil is still interested in leasing land on Pagan and shipping tsunami debris to the island” (http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/46934-2-japan-groups-differ-on-pagan-plan.php),  maintaining that the plan is still on the table.  This is confirmed by a blogger in Japan, who reported  “Tenorio assured local news reporters in Japan that the Japanese emissaries are,  ‘…interested only in Pagan and they want to buy pozzolan, which will be loaded onto ships that will be empty after bringing debris to the island’” (http://notesfromhadano.wordpress.com/tag/pagan-island/).  Indeed, a Japanese blogsite providing ongoing news on the Fukushima nuclear disaster reports that it was Tenorio himself who made the initial offer to lease Pagan Island as a dump for the debris and actually solicited Japanese investors (http://ex-skf.blogspot.jp/2012/05/northern-mariana-islands-offer-to.html).

All of the current controversy confirms that the Campaign to Save Pagan Island is having a positive effect, but it is not won. Thousands more signatures are needed to intensify the pressure!    If you already signed, send the link to your friends and post it to facebook. Urge environmental organizations to take up the campaign and link their websites to the petition. Unless pressure continues and escalates, deals are going to continue to be made that sacrifice the environment and culture of Pagan Island to international investors.

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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.  This is after it was originally slated by the US Military as a warfare training ground and ballistic testing site (not a good option either).  For an island nation, limited in land,  burying one of its most beautiful and diverse islands with garbage from Japan is not only environmentally unconscionable, but is degrading to the people of the CNMI.

Pagan Island

Pagan Island

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 teeming 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.

Mariana Fruit Bat on Pagan Island

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 Partula gibba, leatherback, 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, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota.

Mount Pagan

Sunrise Over Mount Pagan

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.

With the recent relocation of US military personnel from Japan to Guam, and the subsequent military build up in the islands, the US military set its sights on Pagan as a place for warfare 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.

Marianas Honeyeater on Pagan Island

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