Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Shark Conservation in Bonaire

I recently spent a week in Bonaire to talk to people about the importance of protecting sharks.  Bonaire is ahead of much of the Caribbean in that they already protect sharks in their near shore waters.  There is now a group of people dedicated to extending those protections out to the full Exclusive Economic Zone.

I came to the islands at the invitation of Kalli at the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance.  Her organization is working with local partners on all six islands of the Dutch Caribbean to create shark sanctuaries, as well as to conduct shark research, education, and outreach.  I'm helping them implement these laws and so far have also visited Curacao, St. Maarten, and Saba, in addition to Bonaire.  I spent an entire day with Kalli and the DCNA members at their office making plans for the year.  When the morning started I gave a presentation to DCNA and several local and national government officials.

During my field visit I also gave a public lecture at the CIEE Research Station Bonaire.  You can click on the photo to see the title of my talk.  It was something about sharks.  They filmed it, so there's a good chance there's a copy of my talk floating around in cyberspace.  I apologize in advance for my jokes comparing the BBQ in Bonaire to the oildown in Grenada.  We had a short question and answer session afterwards and the discussion was mostly about enforcement and the rarity of sharks around the island.

I had several sessions with the STINAPA Junior Rangers.  This is an amazing program run by the government that trains young adults in all sorts of useful things like fish identification and SCUBA diving.  At the end of the program they are certified dive masters and have the skills to be hired as park rangers.  The students invited me to be a judge -- actually, THE judge -- at their annual end of year debate.  This year's topic was sharks.  Julia and Sebastian -- pictured here -- were on the team that was advocating for the creation of a shark sanctuary.

The debate coincided with the end of year graduation ceremony.  The master of ceremonies for the event was the governor of the island, and I had the opportunity to have a few words with him.  He's been supportive of DCNA's shark conservation efforts and I thanked him for his support.  I also told him I liked his shirt (I really do!).

I think I met with the staff of CIEE nearly every day.  They've been helping out the Junior Rangers with their shark lessons and the debate and are interested in getting more involved in the passage of shark conservation measures across the entire Dutch Caribbean.  From left to right, that's Martin, Molly, and Serena.  They took me to the most amazing BBQ place ever about two hours after we took this photo.  You can dig through my Twitter feed for photos (sorry, not even I want to dig through my Twitter feed).

It's amazing how quickly time passes on the islands.  There's never enough time.  This was one of my longest field visits in some time and it was really fulfilling being able to spend more than an hour a day with people.

I'm excited to see what people in Bonaire do in regards to sharks in the coming months, especially the kids in the Junior Rangers.  I shared with them some of videos of kids in Guam and Saipan advocating for shark protections and I expect these kids to be just as amazing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Saipan's Catholic Cemetery

I just got back from a monster of a work trip with a short 5 day stopover in Saipan.  I was on the road for about 3 weeks total, and as I type this I am very, very tired.

It's been about two years since I've been home.  On my first day back, Edz and I went to visit the Catholic cemetery in Chalan Kanoa.  It was our first stop after having breakfast at Shirley's.

The way different cultures choose to bury their dead fascinates me.  In Saipan, the Catholics use the grounds of an old Shinto shrine as their cemetery.  It's right next to the Catholic cathedral.  I'm sure somebody knows the history of how that happened, but I have no idea.  The Japanese controlled the islands from the end of WWI to the middle of WWII, so it must have been around that time.

The concrete torii, or gate, in the top photo stands at the front of the cemetery.  When you pass through the gate you leave the profane and enter the sacred (at least according to Wikipedia).  Along the path are several toro, or lanterns.

The gate and lanterns predate World War II.  Several of the lanterns were severely damaged, but the ones that are intact are in incredible shape considering their age.

There is a structure at the center of the shrine/cemetery, but the construction looks newer than World War II.  It's possible that the concrete base is from the original shrine, but it's been updated since.  Surrounding the shrine are graves with all sorts of Christian icons.

While the newer graves are quite elaborate, the older graves are very simple.  Over the years, funerals have become an opportunity for Chamorros to show off their wealth, something that can be controversial and a great source of island gossip.  I assume that's what caused the change in grave stones.

The oldest graves are written in Spanish.  This particular grave has survived the Spanish, German, Japanese, and American administrations.

And like many places on Saipan, right in the middle of some graves is an old WWII bomb shelter.  But unlike many of the shelters along the beach or on people's farms, this shelter has been sealed.

But you can still see bullet holes on the outside (you can see a concrete slab closing off the door on the bottom left of the photo).  The Americans invaded Saipan 71 years ago, but these scars have survived the years.  Amazing, and right in the middle of a shrine/cemetery.  What a unique place!

And the reason I visited the cemetery was to see my Dad's grave.  The layout of the cemetery is chaotic, and it took some time to find where he was buried.  It's been nearly 10 years since he passed, and about 15 since he slipped into a coma.  He'd be 65 were he alive today.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

When in Provo

There's the travel that's tiring and then there's the travel that's rejuvenating.  Last week's trip to the Turks and Caicos was the latter.  Edz and I spent several glorious days soaking up tropical sun rays and eating overpriced imported delicious food.

Our trip had a rough start.  Our flight out of Washington, DC last Tuesday left at 7 AM with a very tight connection in Newark.  I set our alarm for 4 AM, finished packing, and went to bed early.  When I reached to turn off the alarm bleary email alerts from the airline told me our flight out of Reagan National was delayed.  Wait, no it wasn't.  Yes it was.  Hastily I called the airline and was told that the flight was indeed delayed and that we'd miss our connection.  Can you hold?

Good thing I set the alarm so early.  There were no earlier flights out any of the three local airports that would get me to Newark in time, but there was an American Airlines flight with a connection through Miami leaving at 7 AM from Dulles.  Hurry up, we need to get a taxi!

The Dulles taxis can't be ordered last minute first thing in the morning, so I joined Uber, input my credit card information, and made the call.  45 minutes and $21 later we tumbled out of the car at the airport.  Is Uber always that cheap?  I may never take a taxi again.

Our flight to Miami was uneventful, as was our flight to Providenciales.  Our flight landed at about 2 PM.  Immigration was slow, but customs was fast.  An hour later we were at our hotel.  15 minutes after that we were walking along the beach.

Every day at the beach followed a similar batter.  I woke up early and went to the free continental breakfast and brought some coffee, pastries, and yogurt back to the room.  I either read, played video games, or tried to connect to the Internet while waiting for Edz to get out of bed.  Edz would check her phone the first hour she was awake, upload all of the photos from the previous day, or reply to comments that were made during the night.  Then we went back to breakfast, where I continued reading or playing video games.

Fed and caffeinated we'd get ready for the beach, make a stop at the grocery store for water and/or food, and then head to the beach.  I would continue reading in the sand, or try to catch up on any sleep I missed the night before.  Edz took seflies.  And then she asked me to take photos of her.  And then she took selfies of the two of us.  We swam, walked along the beach, snorkeled, and when the mood caught us, stopped at one of the many hotels and condos for food and drinks.

On our second full day we rented Vespas and toured the island.  It took Edz a little while to get used to driving her own scooter, but she learned quickly and didn't crash it once.  We took a clockwise tour around the island stopping at places that looked interesting, like this giant reflective orb.

We took a tour of the conch farm, the only one of its kind in the world.  We saw how they grow the conch and Edz decided that she would never eat them again.  She held true for the rest of the trip.  Not a single conch touched her lips.

After the conch farm we drove to the south end of the island to visit Bugaloos for some food and drink.  We didn't eat that many full meals while we were there.  We'd go someplace when I was hungry and Edz would pick at my food.  Later we'd do the opposite.

Then we spent about an hour at Taylor Bay and stopped for ice cream on our way back to the hotel.  We decided we'd go back for showers before heading to fish fry.

The fish fry held on Thursday night was a lot of fun.  It is very similar to the Thursday street market on Saipan.  I don't remember which booth it was, but I had the best jerk chicken of the trip there.  Edz had the BBQ chicken.  Later she had ice cream (for the second time).  I had beer.

And while on vacation, I did take the time to meet with some of the shark people on island.  This is Tina Randall and Oshin Whyte, Shark Stanley's ambassadors on the island.

Every night we went to the beach for the sunset.  I think this one is from a week ago tonight.  The next photo is from our last night on Monday.  There's more photos posted to Facebook if looking at other people's vacation photos is your thing.

Our flight home last Tuesday was uneventful.  We were upgraded to business on the way back to Newark and our flight to DC was half an hour early.  I ate some ramen noodles while I watched last Sunday's Game of Thrones and then went to bed.

Back From Vacation

A week ago I was on the beach in the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Kind of wish I was still there.