Sunday, August 7, 2016

Pagan Island, the worst place ever

Credit: NASA. Astronaut photograph acquired on March 6, 2012, with a Nikon D3X digital camera using an effective 1200 mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center.
The U.S. wants Pagan Island, all of it, to conduct military training using real bullets and bombs as large as 2000 lb. If Pagan Island sounds to the Western ear like a bad movie name, well it is. It is the title of a 1961 film about a shipwreck survivor who ends up on an island populated by women. More accurately, it is a “Secret Island Ruled By Natures Own Exotic Young Maidens.” Adults Only. Go see the movie trailer to discover more.

Ok, you’re back.

The U.S. intends to turn Pagan Island into its own “Secret Island” for training troops. The entire island, from shore to shore. And that will be it for Pagan Island. It will disappear into an Area 51-like fog of conspiracy theories.

If you have no experience with Micronesia, Guam or Geography, Pagan Island may sound like something Donald Trump thought he saw in a video. You have no idea, basically.

Let’s start with a couple of the essentials. First, Pagan Island is bigger than you think. It’s about the size of Hartford, Connecticut, or about 18 square miles. Unlike Hartford, it has two volcanos.

The Volcanoes

The volcanoes erupt from time to time, and one did in 1981. The Mount Pagan eruption was serious enough to force the island’s complete evacuation.

There were about 300 people on Pagan at the time. Technically, the island has been uninhabited since the 1981 evacuation. But a very small number have returned, according to various accounts.

The evacuation was a very unfortunate thing for Pagan Island. By clearing the island of its population, it opened the way to some strange ideas for reusing it.

The Opportunists

A few years ago, a team of Japanese investors proposed mining Pagan for its pozzolan, a byproduct of volcanic activity and a material used in cement. And if mining the island for its pozzolan weren’t enough, the Japanese also wanted to use Pagan island as a landfill, a dump site for debris from the 2011 tsunami. Can you imagine? No one else could, either.

But now comes the U.S. plan to take the island over.

Before the U.S. does something big, it undertakes an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which provides a detailed description of the island habitat.

The Wasteland

There is no McDonald’s on Pagan Island. Or electricity, sanitation, WiFi or roads of consequence, notes the EIS.

There are two lakes, and one is 65 feet deep. Imagine. A palm tree’s fronds move gently and you feel a soothing, warm breeze on your face. You stick a straw in a coconut and see yourself swimming in the deep, cool lake waters. Sounds nice. Then you wake up to read the EIS some more.

The water is brackish and not fit for drinking, says the EIS. It goes downhill from there.

“The barren lava areas provide a dark gray or black landscape,” the EIS, diligently notes. “The western shoreline of North Pagan is dominated by a large black sand beach and contiguous brackish water lake just inland from the shore.”

“The island’s forests and grasslands have been ‘severely overgrazed’ due to the abundance of feral cattle, goats, and pigs that have done considerable damage to island vegetation. This overgrazing has resulted in large open areas susceptible to soil erosion,” says the EIS.

The EIS gives the impression that Pagan Island is the worst place ever. A wasteland. Bombing it would be doing it a big favor. Thank you very much.

No Warning Label

The U.S. is lucky that no one is officially living on the island. In 1946, the U.S. wanted to use the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands for nuclear weapons. Unfortunately for the government, there were people living there.

The U.S. told Bikini’s leaders, a population mostly cut off from civilization, that allowing the government to blow up large nuclear weapons on their island, repeatedly, would be a big help to, guess who, mankind. Of course the islanders immediately agreed to leave their homeland, according to U.S. officials.

In appreciation, the U.S. gave Bikini’s leaders several gifts, including “a pipe, cigarette holder, matches, a carton of cigarettes and a complete set of photographs of the atomic cloud over Bikini,” reported the New York Times. Just priceless. If the radiation didn’t damage their health, the cigarettes certainly would.

The EIS is a list of environmental findings, conditions, observations and measurements. It can’t describe what the island means. It has no concept of “sacred,” which is how indigenous population describes their islands.

The EIS knows nothing of the discontent arising over the increasingly militarization over this part of the Pacific. It’s a useless document in this respect.

The Unacceptable Alternative

Pagan Island is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Island (CNMI) a U.S. insular area. Its residents are U.S. citizens. It is a territory of the U.S.

The CNMI government produced a rebuttal to the federal EIS. It says the military’s plans for Pagan, and Tinian Island (part of which will also be used for training and target practice), will “prevent the recovery of a number of threatened or endangered species.” It will displace wildlife and hurt them with noise. Wetlands will degrade.

Of “grave concern,” will be the overall military presence, said the CNMI. If the U.S. succeeds with its plan to expand military training operations in this island chain, it’s leased landholdings will amount to 24 percent of all CNMI's land.

CNMI’s response is incredulity and disbelief.

“The military's intention to hold nearly one quarter of the CNMI land base under lease as excessive and unreasonable, and the restrictions on the people's access to their own natural resources unacceptable,” wrote officials.

In a 130-page analysis, CMNI tears apart the various assertions made by the U.S. The government takeover of the island will foreclose, forever, any possibility that Pagan’s former residents will be able to return to the island

The loss of so much island land -- on Pagan and Tinian (which raises a different set of issues to be explored in a separate piece) of CNMI to the military finds expression in the chart below. CNMI calculated what the loss of 24 percent of the land area would mean for four states, and included this diagram in the map.

The Most Beautiful Island

Pagan Island is drop dead gorgeous. No kidding. Volcanic islands are shaped by magma and violent explosions. There are large rock outcrops, cliffs, King Kong Island-type vistas, relatively high elevations and plateaus.

Scroll down this summary of CNMI’s response and look at the photo of Pagan Bay. It’s just incredible. And watch this short video of the island.

Pagan Island is also part of the culture of an indigenous people, and they are fighting to save it.

Empathy for this island and the people of Micronesia ought to be within easy reach. Just imagine if the U.S. was proposing something similar in a part of the mainland U.S.

A Militarized Wasteland

On July 27, the Tinian Women’s Association, Guardians of Gani, PaganWatch and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against federal authorities, challenging their plans for Pagan and Tinian.

“Families who formerly resided on Pagan would be forever banished from returning to their home island, which would be turned into a militarized wasteland,” the lawsuit says.

The “rebalancing” of the U.S. military to the Pacific is bringing with it an unprecedented buildup. Guam now has missile defense systems, and the island is slowly moving into the “duck and cover” mentality of the 1950s.

There is an indigenous movement that is pushing back, but it faces so much. The people of Guam and CNMI have little political power. In the U.S., stories about Guam tend to marginalize the island and treat it as an odd curiosity.

People have no idea CNMI is a U.S. territory, and fewer still understand this: Pagan Island does not deserve this fate.


Careful EIS readers will note the government has made plans to protect the native island wildlife. For instance, consider the protections for the fruit bat. “The proposed 0.5- mile (0.8-kilometer) buffer zone around each (Fruit Bat) colony will significantly reduce the potential for aircraft strikes of fruit bats.” [Emphasis added] ES-72.

The homepage of the U.S. Environmental Impact Statement. See this page for documents.

Facebook group opposing plans for Pagan and Tinian: @AlternativeZeroMarianas

@OurIslandsAreSacred - a Facebook group devoted to this issue.

Scientific American report on proposal to use Pagan Island as a dump.

Sierra Club, “Pagan Island -- Too Beautiful to Bomb.” Many photos.

The complete 130-page analysis by CNMI of the U.S. Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Earth Justice, which is participating in the July 27, 2016 federal lawsuit, details the effort.

For a beautiful reading about Pagan Island, and to hear how it is pronounced, see Lehua Taitano’s Save Pagan Island Video.

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