The Guam Legislature could join with other Pacific leaders to request more time and local input on an impending federal designation for Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.
A public hearing was held Wednesday on Resolution 46-36. The resolution requests a delay on a proposed “coral critical habitat designation process” until a federal strategic plan is completed, and for an opportunity for the Guam Department of Agriculture to work in coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service - the federal entity that is proposing the change.
“The purpose of this is to allow the people living on the island to provide the important context and perspective needed on these types of federal designations,” said Sen. Clynt Ridgell, the author of the resolution, at the hearing.
The designation would limit activity in most of the near-shore waters – up to 40 meters deep – around Guam and offshore banks. The NMSF exempted some areas from the proposed rule, many of which are either used by the military or the government of Guam, like submerged lands off of the Navy and Air Force bases and marinas, ports and harbors operated by GovGuam.
“We have to recognize that while this designation does attempt to protect our ocean resources, the critical habitat does not include much of the marine areas within the military’s jurisdiction, including the surface danger zones off of Ritidian Point. By introducing this resolution and pausing this designation, we can ensure that more people are able to raise concerns and highlight the importance of protecting the natural resources of our entire island,” Ridgell said.
Public comments on the designation will close in May, but the federal strategic plan, being conducted by the same agency proposing the rule change, won’t be finalized until February 2022, even though information gathered could benefit the potential critical habitat designations.
Affected projects could include: “coastal and in-water construction, channel dredging, beach nourishment and shoreline protection, water quality management, protected area management, fishery management, aquaculture, military activities, shipwreck removal, scientific research and monitoring, and contaminants regulation,” according to the proposed rule published in the federal register.
These limitations may have a major effect on initiatives that promote fishing, conservation and economic development, according to Chelsa Muna Brecht, director of the Guam Department of Agriculture.
“Potential projects that could be impacted include things like coral monitoring or coral out-planting, which helps with the recovery of our coral species. It could even impact Guam’s fishers, with our shallow water mooring buoys or potentially our fishing aggregating devices. We have to anchor them to the ocean floor, so those are areas that could be impacted,” she said in an interview with The Guam Daily Post.
“Additionally, areas that appear exempted right now in this proposed rule, such as the Port Authority or boat basins may also be impacted. If the Port decides that they may want to install a pylon that could potentially be affected because clear buffer zones are not specified. All of our submarine cables will be impacted because they need to be run through near-shore waters to be landed," she said.