SEP 16, 2016 3:47 PM PDT

What Will A War Zone Bring to The Northern Marianas' Environment?


The Mariana Islands are a string of fifteen limestone islands that compose the a U.S. commonwealth in the northwestern Pacific ocean. Ringed by coral reefs and active volcanoes on several of the islands, it is a beautiful corner of the world. The islands are home to many endemic species of marine and terrestrial wildlife that flourish in its undisturbed environment. However, the flora, fauna, and humans who live on two of these islands in particular, Pågan and Tinian, are facing a huge threat.
 
Photo: Geography.name
 
Following the plans outlined by the US Department of Defence, 5,000 Marines may soon be transferred from Okinawa to Guam and begin staging massive, live-fire war games on the islands of Tinian and Pågan in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The war games would include artillery, mortars, rockets, amphibious assaults, attack helicopters and warplanes and, on Pågan, ship-to-shore naval bombardment. The training would destroy native forests and coral reefs, kill native wildlife—including endangered species—and destroy prime farmland. It would severely disrupt communities on Tinian and shatter the dreams of families who want to return to live permanently on Pågan.

“The US wants to turn their island into a military wasteland,” says David Henkin, an attorney at Earthjustice, which is representing environmental and local community organisations. Their lawsuit, filed in federal court in Saipan in July, alleges that the US navy and defence department did not fulfill a legal requirement to explain publicly the potential effects on residents and the environment, and failed to explore potential alternative sites where the military could accomplish its mission with less harm to the environment.

“The lawsuit’s aim is to force the US navy to be honest about what it needs to do, as distinguished from what it merely wants to do,” Henkin told the Guardian. “The navy needs to make its reasoning known to the American public. We live in a democracy, and if the navy wants to make Pågan uninhabitable and turn Tinian into a living hell for its residents, then it has to explain why before it starts moving thousands of marines to Guam.”

“We’re not saying that the marines shouldn’t fulfill their national security mission – it’s the why and where that we’re concerned about.”

Henkin explains, “People feel deep connections to Pågan, and to deprive them of the opportunity to return to this beautiful place is wrong. The thought that this tropical paradise will be destroyed by 2,000-pound bombs and ship-to-shore bombardments is unconscionable.”
 
 I Bandera (AKA Green Beach), on the western coast of P├ągan Island. Photograph: Dan Lin
 
Pete Perez, a member of the pressure group, Pågan Watch, and identifying Chamorro (one of the ethnic groups indigenous to the islands) is frustrated. “Instead of investing in tourism and infrastructure, US taxpayers are being asked to bankroll the destruction of an entire culture,” he says. “The northern islands are one of the few options that makes the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas viable for a sustainable tourism economy.

“If the military takes over, we would lose all those economic possibilities, not to mention the land that future generations of Chamorros can occupy. The proposed activity on Pågan is about destroying culture, destroying land, and creating a 9,000-plus square mile military training ground. And all the while they’re asking the American people to pay for it.”
 

Sources: The Guardian, Consortium News, CMNI Northern Islands, Saipan Tribune, EarthJustice, Environment News Service
About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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