On Saturday morning I dragged myself out of bed at 7:00 am to participate in the CNMI’s Health and Wellness Fair. It had been a busy week. Volunteers and I had been working to canvas villages around Saipan with our campaign posters. Putting up posters is not easy work. First, you have to explain the campaign to the store owner and ask permission, then you have to find the ideal spot on walls and doors covered with big and bright advertisements for cigarettes, beer, the latest sport drinks, and finally you have to put them up with a significant amount of tape per poster to ensure that they will withstand the humidity, rain, and heat. Each poster takes about ten minutes, and in a village with a store in every other building, it takes quite a bit of time.Stumbling to my coffee pot, I noticed the note on the kitchen cabinet I had left for myself the night before. “Don’t forget Primo!” In Chamorro (the language spoken by indigenous Chamorros), the word primo means cousin and is the name we chose for our Pride Campaign Mascot, the Yellow Crowned Butterflyfish. The giant fish and I had a busy day ahead of us. I downed my coffee, stuffed him into his second home, an oversized duffle bag, put on my zories, and we headed out the door.
We arrived at the Fair to a huge crowd. People from all over the island were visiting booths, watching performances, and having fun. It was time for Primo to spread the “Healthy Reefs, Healthy Fish” message. With the help of partners from the Division of Environmental Quality, the costume was donned, and Primo went to work. The team walked through the crowds passing out stickers, explaining the campaign, communicating key messages and introducing people to Primo, the endemic Yellow Crowned Butterflyfish.Primo is popular! People of all ages are immediately intrigued by the huge stuffed fish. Children and adults want to touch, hug, and have their picture taken with Primo which allows for many opportunities to share the campaign message. A big, happy, bright fish breaks down barriers and creates an opportunity to talk with people who may not have been willing or interested to talk otherwise. Fishermen, foreign workers, students, and tourists are all interested who Primo is, where he is from, and what he is doing walking around.
About ten minutes into Primo’s appearance, a Chamorro man walked up to the fish for a photo opportunity. He shared that he had heard of this fish. “Ah, I know this fish. It is very rare. Did you know it is only found here?” I began dancing around inside the costume, excited to know that the campaign was working. Our messages were being understood and absorbed. The gentleman went on. “This is the fish on the poster at the store in my village. I saw the poster yesterday, and now I am meeting the fish!”This man made my day. As a Pride Campaign manager I sometimes wonder if the work we are doing is actually doing the job I hope it is. Are people understanding the messages? Are they incorporating these messages into their lives? Are the posters, stickers, articles, and other materials being understood and are people changing their behaviors as a result? While he did not answer all my questions, the fact that he had understood the message on the poster was proof that these methods work. He now knows the Yellow Crowned Butterflyfish is rare and found only in the Marianas. And even better, he was passing this information along to strangers!
This interaction was the first of many. People are recognizing Primo, talking about him, and connecting this rare species to the importance of protecting the CNMI’s coral reefs. Although the campaign officially wraps up in May, I am confident that Primo and his messages will be around much longer.