14 Nov HIGHLIGHT | Pacific Resiliency Fellows

Setting the Course 

By Jihan Younis, Pacific Resiliency Fellow

During my first 10 days of Kupu’s Pacific Resiliency Fellows program, I enjoyed building strong relationships with other fellows who share similar passions and interests, I enjoyed the social activities, and, most importantly, I enjoyed learning more about myself along the way. Meeting the other fellows from across the Pacific has been very inspiring and has given me great hope for the future. Our meeting on O‘ahu over the summer helped us to get to know each other and created a space for us to share best practices and solutions while also having fun and getting our hands dirty.

As a part of the fellowship program, we each are working on individual projects that address environmental issues in our communities. Our projects range from boosting reef resilience in the Northern Reef of Palau to integrating traditional Native Hawaiian knowledge into management strategies.

During my time on O‘ahu, I was most intrigued with learning about a key component of traditional native Hawaiian life, the ahupua’a, a land and sea tenure system by which local communities and resource systems were organized. I recognized that many of the conservation efforts in Hawai‘i are reviving the ahupua’a concept of applying pono, or good practices, building capacity for community-based action and managing the environment holistically. This same concept is what we have replicated in many of our restoration efforts within our priority watersheds in the CNMI: looking at the entire watershed, from the top of the ridge to the reef.  My project is a community-based initiative designed to increase environmental surveillance and prevent pollution within the Garapan watershed.

Located along the western shore of the island of Saipan and adjacent to American Memorial Park and popular beaches, Garapan is a focus of commercial development, hotels, restaurants, and residential areas. The stormwater drainage, and the contamination of drainages in this area from various sources, affects human health, the environment, the economy, and overall quality of life. My project addresses the most imminent threats to the local environment, including polluted stormwater runoff, nutrient pollution, algal growth, and lack of knowledge about the watershed’s natural resources. The project involves community-based efforts to reduce land-based pollution into the lagoon and strengthening local resource stewardship through education and outreach. The project will use field surveillance agents who will assist with reporting and enforcement in the Garapan area, educate business owners and residents about environmentally conscious practices, distribute outreach materials to promote CNMI water quality guidelines, and strategically install and maintain storm drain tags.

Fellows hard at work removing invasive species from He’eia fishpond.

I was honored to join the passionate, hardworking fellows who are helping to solve large and overwhelming environmental problems in their island communities. While each of our projects is different, I learned that we all share mutual frustrations. The beauty in each of our islands draws in visitors from around the world, but caring for our natural resources is a challenge for us all. Working in conservation can feel so complex and difficult to tackle, whether at the global or local level. But, during our 10-day session with Pacific Resiliency Fellows, we learned to look at the solutions rather than the problems.

Using science and data to inform solutions such as monitoring water quality and building partnerships with local governments and communities is key in achieving project outcomes.  Our training at Oceanit, for example, communicated “design with people, not for people.” We learned to create solutions that are community driven and speak to the hearts and minds of our end users.

Visiting community organizations including  Paepae O He‘eia, E Alu Pū and Papahana Kuaola that are focused on preserving Hawai‘i’s natural and cultural resources gave me the motivation to replicate similar restoration efforts in my island community. In particular, I felt truly privileged to experience the coming together of so many groups from across Hawai‘i with a collective goal of restoring and connecting with a historic, cultural place in Waimanalo. To participate in a special gathering to rebuild the walls of Pā Honu ponds and to observe the learning exchange through a sakau or kava ceremony between my Micronesian brothers from Pohnpei and the Waimanalo community was truly an amazing experience. It was an inspiring demonstration of community collaboration, pride and connectivity.

Fellows joined a community gathering in Waimanalo

I hope to inspire this kind of change in the Garapan community through building awareness among community members, local governments, and the tourism industry about the effects of poor water quality on human health and the environment. This will create a win-win for the Garapan community and conservation efforts in the CNMI. By engaging different businesses and the local community, we can reduce land-based pollution and actively be a line of defense for our nearshore lagoon.

There is so much I have learned through these kinds of projects that promote local stewardship and underscore the value of connecting to the roots of a community.

I learned that these initiatives have shifted back to the community, empowering leadership from within and governance at the local level. It takes a village to see change.

The connection I felt will forever be in my memory. I feel this same connection in nature, experiencing various aspects of CNMI’s unique environment: on a familiar hike surrounded by lush native forest on the island of Rota, being greeted by tropical endemic birds like the Marianas Fruit Dove and eagle rays splashing in our lagoon upon returning to my family’s property in Saipan, being embraced by the ocean as I swim and surf. This pride of place continues to remind me of the commitment we have as fellows to protecting our land and sea.

It is with these sentiments that I am very happy to continue this journey as a Pacific Resiliency Fellow. As different questions and challenges reveal themselves, I will be keeping in mind the words of Uncle Neil Hannahs, a local community leader and Kupu partner:  “If you want to get to the right direction, you must set the course.”



Following Super Typhoon Yutu, Jihan’s community has been working to restore the area.

On October 25, 2018, Super Typhoon Yutu hit the islands of Saipan (where I grew up) and Tinian. This storm was stronger than many recent storms that have happened, and we continue to recover from the devastating impacts of Super Typhoon Yutu.

As we are adjusting to new work and life routines through post typhoon recovery, the people of the CNMI remain dedicated to restoring our communities. There are opportunities and bright spots to use Super Typhoon Yutu as a yardstick in planning for future storms and further understanding of how to create resilient communities. Through my project, I am committed to cleaning up our waterways and restoring our lagoon with clean water for our reefs.


Saipan native Jihan Younis works as CNMI Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality Division of Coastal Resources Management’s (DCRM) Coral Reef Initiative education and outreach coordinator. Working closely with communities to communicate the importance of CNMI’s coral reef ecosystems, she has coordinated internships, eco-camps, youth snorkel events, coastal clean-ups, and managed social marketing campaigns. After participating in an intensive behavioral change training course on conservation, she successfully implemented and ran the Laolao Bay Pride Campaign that inspired local residents to take pride in their natural resources and reduce land-based pollution through personal action and community collaboration. Jihan received a master’s degree in communications, with an emphasis in environmental conservation and social change from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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