Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve in Saipan

flair saipanNew Year's was a blast last night. I took several hundred pictures, a handful of which I'll post here.

ann hawaii barMy first stop was Hawaii Bar & Grill for some chicken enchiladas and refried beans. There wasn't much going on there, so after eating I left to meet up with Brad.

Brad DerksenI met up with Brad and his wife Jeong-ah at Godfathers. We sat in the back and ate tuna poki and onion rings.

fran castro deb camacho pattie colemanThe local girls were out last night, looking pretty for New Year's.

Gil, the Lou Gehrig of Godfathers was out (I'm the Cal Ripken of Godfathers).

godfathers barI ran into a couple of white girls. Was everyone looking good last night or what?

thai party girlsOne of the Crazy Thai Girls and Bea.

edz blancoAfter midnight somebody took a short break for a smooch, a hug, and a picture. After that almost everyone went to Flair.

yeng camachoYeng was smoking a cigarette outside. By the way, I think she's single (again), guys.

The Crazy Thai Girls were out in full force. Any night these girls show up is a guaranteed good time.

***CENSORED***

underage nightclubNot like there were any kids in the bar. Oh. Wait. My bad. Oh well. At least everyone kept their clothes on.

naked dancers saipanOh. I forgot about that. Oops.

And no New Year's celebration is complete without a giant Russian girl dancing with a guy with no shirt. Now it's complete.

Happy New Year!

The Chamorro Mafia

Laffet Villagomez familyWe celebrated my uncle's 69th (I think) birthday at his house with family yesterday. Pictured are all of my Dad's brothers and sisters sans Uncle Pale (Father Joe) who is on Guam.

It's a New Day

I woke up this morning filled with optimism for the coming year. I've prayed and I've worked and I've put my personal and professional reputation, not to mention my family's reputation, on the line and it has come down to this. We are only a few days away from the designation of a Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. As I type this out on the first morning of 2009 I cannot believe that there are only 19 possible days left for this to happen.

If the President wants to conveniently designate the monument around our schedule, he'll do it next Wednesday. All of our leaders, including the governor, are going to DC for Kilili's swearing in on Tuesday. We can all go to the swearing in on Tuesday, do the monument signing on Wednesday and then we can all go out for cheesecake on Thursday. I love cheesecake.

2008 in review

2008 was my third year in Saipan. It was a good year. I started a new job and worked on a project that earned international attention. I became a member of the Saipan Rotary Club. I traveled a bit and went to some new places. I also got my first dog, Oreo.

January

I started off the new year with a hike with friends down to Forbidden Island. This was the second year of what I hope will become an annual hike. I finished my contract with MINA and started work on a new project. I also visited Pohnpei at the end of the month and got to see Nan Madol, a place I've wanted to visit for decades. On a sad note, Zoe, Susan, Bree, Doug, and Litcelle left Saipan in January.

February

EJ left Saipan in February. We broke up the day after she left. The monument project got started and we began work talking to people in the community. I also started planning a trip to the Northern Islands of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas.

March

We launched the monument campaign this month with a blitz tour of leaders and decision makers around Saipan. I also attended the (illegal) WESPAC meeting in Guam. As I was quietly sitting in the back of on one of the meetings, one of the WESPAC guys found out that I worked for Pew and got his panties all in a twirl. Oh yeah, Manny Duenas called me an "idiot" with "coconut mentality," too. We finished up the month with a concert by Jake Shimabukuro to celebrate the two year anniversary of Beautify CNMI!

April

I did a lot of traveling in April. I went to Chuuk for a Natural Conservancy Conservation Action Planning meeting and went back to Guam for a Micronesians in Islands Conservation retreat. I continued with the public meetings on the monument and then on Earth Day the Legislature passed the first of three anti-monument resolutions. Three separate individuals on the hill told me that it was given to the Senate by our local WESPAC officials and then toned down by one of the senators before it passed. At the end of the month, CNMI played Guam in the Marinas Cup. We lost 3-2. After the game I started my meteoric rise to fatness.

May

William Aila visited Saipan in May. The CNMI also got federalized. The monument was on life support and Pew canceled the boat trip. Only a lot of work and a huge showing of support from a lot of brave locals kept the project going. On a sad note, Bev and Yoshimi left Saipan.


June

My family visited me which turned out to be my highlight of the year. The coed soccer league started with me at the helm for the first time. Pew also released a monument economic report, which meant we had a whole bunch of meetings and presentations. On a sad note, Diana left Saipan.

July

We made presentations on Tinian and Rota and the coed soccer league continued to chug along. The Tribune also endorsed the monument which was a huge boost. At the end of the month I traveled to Hawaii for some meetings and to visit Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park. On a sad note, Jeff and the family left Saipan.

August

The monument really picked up steam in August. We opened an office and held several weekly meetings that were announced in the newspaper. Hotdog-gate changed the way a lot of people viewed the monument. Coed continued and finished after twelve weeks and then on August 25 the White House finally announced that they were going to do a monument assessment.

September

I spent most of the month collecting signatures in support of the monument. I gave a presentation to the chamber of commerce on the monument and began giving classroom presentations. I would eventually talk to over 1000 high school and college students. On a sad note, Mylene left Saipan.

October

I turned 30 and the monument hit a fever pitch. The White House came out to Saipan and did a public hearing. Over 400 people showed up.

November

I went back to Florida for Thanksgiving. It was great seeing the family again. It had been three year's since I'd seen Tiana.

December

I went to DC at the start of the month .

This is boring me. I'm done.

Forbidden Island Tomorrow

I'd like to extend an open invitation to any of my readers to join me for the 3rd Annual Angelo Villagomez New Year's Day Forbidden Island Hike. I plan on staying out until 4 AM tonight, so I can guarantee that this will NOT be an early morning hike.

The tide is going to be really high all day, so any time is as good as the next. How about 1 PM at the top of the trail? Give me a call on the PTI sponsored Beautify CNMI line if you are interested. I'll bring some garbage bags and rubber gloves and we can do a cleanup at the bottom. I'll bring some snacks, too.

oreo kenobiThink I should bring Oreo?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Laura vs Dick

The number of days left for President Bush to designate a proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument grow ever shorter. President-elect Obama takes the Oath of Office on January 20, 2009. Bush has until then to make his decision.

The Friends of the Monument traveled to Washington, DC earlier this month to ask President Bush to make a bold move. We asked him to change the way we manage our oceans and to create the largest no-take marine reserve on the planet. Doing so would not only protect one of the world's most unique geological and biological hotspots, but it would also set a new standard for ocean conservation for other nations to follow.

Since then media reports have stated that President Bush is considering scaling back the protections proposed by the Friends of the Monument and the 6000 residents who signed our petition.

Today the LA Times joined us in our call to create the monument the people of the Marianas want:
According to the Washington Post, the first lady supports the sanctuaries and has requested briefings on them from scientists and White House aides, while Vice President Cheney opposes them. Backing up Cheney are the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a federal agency that regulates fishing from Hawaii to Guam, and many political leaders in the Marianas, who complain that the designation would harm their economy. Yet the majority of residents of the Marianas seem to disagree with their leaders; polls and petitions of the islands' 10,000 registered voters show strong support. Most likely, that's because they recognize that the rich marine life surrounding the islands is more valuable as a tourist attraction than as a fishing spot. Moreover, the fishery council has proved itself a poor steward of fish stocks, and seems unclear on the concept that sanctuaries don't just improve fish populations within the protected area, but in surrounding areas as well.

Bush should designate these monuments, and impose the maximum allowable protections, because it's the right thing to do -- enhancing biodiversity and helping to ward off the threats of overfishing and pollution to our oceans. But if that's not enough to convince him, he should consider that he doesn't have to sleep next to Cheney for the rest of his life.
That last line of the editorial is probably the funniest thing I've read since hotdog-gate.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Good Luck, Francine and Jesse

godfathers bar saipanFrancine and Jesse Sablan left Saipan this week. Good luck in North Carolina, you two.

Mullethawk

angelo villagomezmulletmohawkmullethawkbest haircut on saipan

Cabrera vs Gourley

Ike Cabrera and John Gourley were both interviewed on Australian NPR (they call it ABC - Australian Broadcasting Corporation) in regards to the proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.  From ABC:
A coalition of indigenous people in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas have asked US President George W Bush to extend the area being considered for a marine monument. It comes after reports the White House was considering scaling back the area under consideration. The Friends of the Monument Group say they need the monument to protect as much of the Mariana Trench as possible.
I was confused as to why the reporter called the Friends of the Monument a "lobby group" and John Gourley a "environmental consultant and biologist." What's with the double standard?  I was also a little confused by the explanation for our politicians' opposition to the monument.  She said that they aren't opposed to preservation, they are just opposed to restricting commercial fishing and mining.  Ponder that one for a few minutes.

I thought both interviews were interesting. Both men used the original arguments for and against the monument. After over a year of back and forth, it comes back to a few basic arguments.  Ike argues that the waters are a "natural treasure" and an "important part of our heritage" and should be protected while Gourley argues that (1) the Antiquities Act of 1906 does not require public input, (2) can only be overturned by Congress and (3) would "slam the door" on future development.

Naturally I agree with what Ike had to say. To Gourley I would say that there has already been plenty of public input, with over 150 letters to the editor, hundreds of emails and letters written to the President, and thousands of signatures on petitions, both for and against. There was a two month public comment period and a public comment open house in which over 400 local, mostly indigenous residents attended. No other issue comes to mind that has engaged so many people in recent years. How much more public input could there have been?

I would also say that this is permanent in as much as it sets up a permanent framework for conservation. The nuts and bolts will be worked on and argued over for the next 100 years. I would also amend his final argument to say that this only "slams the door" on future extraction and environmental destruction, not future development. There are plenty of sustainable activities that can take place within the monument borders.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Inspired by Jake Shimabukuro


When Jake Shimabukuro performed in Saipan earlier this year he took time out of his schedule to visit with some local school kids who are learning to play the ukulele. Jun was not one of those kids.

Jun is one of the youngest Kaipat kids and has grown up around music. Since the day I met him, Cinta has told me stories of how he is drawn to music and how he sings and wants to be a part of the family band.

Jun attended the Jake Shimabukuro concert earlier this year and even performed with the opening act, Olomwaay. I found out yesterday that in the months since Jun has been religiously watching Jake Shimabukuro videos on Youtube and learning how to play his songs.

He asked one of his uncles to teach him how to play like Jake Shimabukuro, but the uncle was honest with him and said that he can't play like Jake Shimabukuro.

So Jun just played the Youtube videos over and over. He can't read music and just listened and figured out how to make his ukulele sound like Jake's.

He's not perfect and he's clearly still learning, but I'd say he's doing pretty good for seven years old.

The song in this video is While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It was recording on Christmas 2008.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Brushes with death

According to the Florida Museum of Natural History, spotted eagle rays' "stinging spines...have a barbed tip and recurved lateral teeth along with a forked root. These venomous spines can deliver a nasty sting when used in defense against potential threats."

Harry Blalock is one of those potential threats and could have very likely gotten a taste of those "stinging spines" as a Christmas present yesterday. Harry survived the onslaught and recounts his near death experience on his dive blog, but I will recount my version here.

Like I said in my last post, I decided to spend Christmas morning underwater. It has been months since I've been diving and with work winding down on the monument I was more than willing to spend a relaxing morning out on a boat. Plus, I've turned Brad D and Harry's dive offers down too many times to count.

Saipan Dive ShopWe met up early at the Dive Saipan shop to get our tanks and to rent gear for those who needed to rent gear. I didn't know this when I was invited to tag along, but Kathy came up with the idea for a Christmas morning boat dive. She wanted to give Brad a Christmas present he'd never forget.  Great idea, Kathy!

When we all had our gear we loaded up into the cars and drove over to the dock. Then we loaded up the boat, jumped on board and rode the waves out to our first dive site, Ice Cream.

spotted eagle rays
All of the underwater pictures are taken from Harry's smugmug website. Kelli gave me permission to post some of the photos here. Some of the photos on the site are downloadable for free, while others are available for purchase. In this photo I can only imagine what is going on in Harry's head. The bubbles give a clue.
About five minutes into our first dive, as we rounded one of the corners at Ice Cream, we were greeted by a wall of eagle rays. There were more eagle rays in one place than if you added up all the eagle rays I have seen in my entire life (not that many, I admit). Harry and I independently counted 45, but the actually number must have been higher because the entire time the eagle rays were swimming in and out of our view. There were probably as many as 60-75.

spotted eagle rays on saipan
Photo Credit: Kelli Blalock from Harry's Blog. I'll link to more photos as they appear.
For the next 45 minutes we all swam around the bottom of Ice Cream looking up, looking down, and looking side to side as bomber brigades of eagle rays floated by in groups of ten or fifteen.

About half way through the dive I went to check with the rest of the group to see how they were doing. I found everybody lying on top of Ice Cream, peeking over the edge onto a squadron of eagle rays.

It was a perfect location for getting close to them. We weren't really out of their view, but there was a shear drop of about 10 feet in front of us and if we didn't move too much they didn't seem to mind that we were there. The eagle rays went back and forth, back and forth, right in front of us, about 10-15 at a time. At times they were so close that all you would have to do was reach out with your arm to touch one.

We didn't have any plans of doing so. Every time I see some kind of ray in the water I am instantly reminded of Steve Irwin with a sting ray barb in his chest. I don't want to be that guy. Imagine the headlines, "Coral Hugger gets to close: Died doing what he loved."

spotted eagle raysSo this brings us back to Harry and his near death experience with the end of an eagle ray's tail.

I was sitting about 10 feet to the left of Harry in about 20 feet of water, right on top of Ice Cream. The seven people in our dive group were laying parallel to us. Dave and Brad D were to my left, Harry and his wife Kelli were to my right, and Brad Ruszala and Kathy were to their right.

spotted eagle ray bottomWe were watching the eagle rays swoop back and forth right in front of us. Every once in a while one would come in really close, realize that we weren't some strange species of coral and slowly swerve away from us.

Apparently one of those swooping eagle rays had eyesight as bad as Harry. It swooped in over the rocks and drifted straight towards Harry. As it got close, and I mean really close, it decided that it didn't want to run into or swim over Harry, so it banked to the left.

As it turned, the four foot long tail slowly followed the lead of the body, but like an SUV that turns too sharp and hits the curb, the tail inched closer and closer to Harry, right at his neck.

Everyone in the group froze with visions of Steve Irwin replacing the Christmas sugar plums dancing in our heads. Since we were underwater, this whole ordeal really played out in slow motion. The tail went right across Harry's neck like Oren Ishii slashing at Black Mamba's neck in Kill Bill...or was that one of the wearwolves slashing at Neo's neck in the Matrix Reloaded?

Any quick movements on anyone's part could have spooked the eagle ray and with a slash of its tail it could have split Harry's neck wide open...and Harry was the only one holding a camera!!! The irony!

Then the moment passed and we collectively let go of our breath.

We finished our dive, climbed back up on the boat, rode over to our second dive site, Shipwreck, had another great dive and then pulled back into dock.

After the dive I took Harry and Kelli up on their offer to join them for Christmas brunch at the Hyatt.  Edz came, too.

angelo villagomez and edz blancoAfter brunch I took a nap and when I woke up I drove myself over to Cinta's house to see how the Kaipat's were doing.

cinta kaipat and olomwaayWe had a great time singing songs and laughing and joked about my potential run as the first Jedi politician...which Cinta doesn't like.

Long after the sun had set I drove myself home and went straight to bed.

A perfect Christmas.

******
Harry posted the video of his brush with death on Youtube. I have reposted it here since most of you are unlikely to follow links. This is a great video.

Happy Birthday, Oreo

I almost forgot that today is Oreo's first birthday! Happy birthday, little guy!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas in the Marianas

I'm going to enjoy a nice quiet relaxing Saipan Christmas.

I am about to head out to the dive shop and then I'm going to spend the first few hours of Christmas underwater. I'm hoping to see some eagle rays.

Once I'm dry I'm joining a few friends for brunch at the Hyatt Regency Saipan.

After that, who knows, a nap perhaps?

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Biggest News Story of 2008

Alright, time for a poll. What do you think was the biggest news story in the CNMI in 2008?



The options in no particular order:
Kilili elected delegate

Greg Camacho "Kilili" Sablan became the Northern Mariana Islands' first Delegate when he won a plurality of votes in the historic US election on November 4. Most people I have talked to seem confident in his ability to do a good job.

Marine Monument

The issue has been all over the newspapers. Supporters were accused of being on the payroll of an oil company, non-supporters were accused of buying anti-monument signatures with hot dogs, and worst of all, John Gourley and Ken Kramer stopped playing bridge together on Saturday afternoons.

Oreo goes missing

For two harrowing days in October Oreo roamed the streets of Garapan in search of someone to scratch his belly. He was eventually found and about two months later packs of small fluffy white boonie dogs were seen roaming the streets in search of tennis balls.

Kazuyoshi Miura murder trial

The only people that care about this murder trial are Japanese.

Federalization

The Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008 became Public Law 110-229 on May 8. We done got federalized that day.

Never ending power crisis

I moved back to Saipan just under three years ago. We've had a power outage almost every other day since then. Over this past summer we had about 12 hours of black outs per day. In the fall the local government leased some temporary generators and now we are back to a few hours of blackouts every other day or so.

Lt. Governor indicted

The Lt. Governor was indicted on four federal felonies. I think he plead not guilty. This might actually be the big story next year.
Please take the time to consider your options carefully and vote.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

My Christmas List

I've been a good boy this year. This is what I want for Christmas:
  1. A Mariana Trench Marine National Monument
    I have said from the beginning of this monument journey that the Antiquities Act can be used to turn almost anything into a monument with any number of protections (or lack thereof).  That's why the Antiquities Act can be used to protect such varying things as an ocean ecosystem, a slave graveyard, or an old Spanish fort.  It is very vague and has been applied in a number of different ways.  I want the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument to be the world's largest no-take marine protected area. As a result of the monument I want the Marianas to get a boat, a visitors center, federal funding, and untold amounts of international attention.  Protecting the fish will be a nice benefit, too.

  2. A New Job
    I'm still looking for a job. True, I haven't done much to actually look for one except for post on my blog and tell a few friends, but any day now I am going to update my resume and mail it out. Any day now, I tell you! If at all possible, I'd like to get a job with a little more security. In the last five years I've been year to year with five different environmental organizations. I might consider wearing long pants and shoes to work if I have more job security...it all depends on whether or not the new job lets me bring Oreo to the office.

  3. A trip to the Northern Islands
    I haven't been to the Northern Islands since 1995. I'd like to go all the way to Uracas, dive the Maug lagoon, and find a Megaladon living in the Mariana Trench.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Coming to a Trench Near YOU

woods hole mariana trenchI stole this graphic off the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution website. Pretty cool, huh?

hrovEarly next year Wood's Hole is sending an expedition to the bottom of the Mariana Trench using a new Hybrid ROV they've developed (see graphic above). They are going to film Challenger Deep in HD.

Wouldn't it be great if they brought their ship (and maybe some brand spanking new deep sea footage) up to Saipan for local students (and Star Wars geeks like me) to see?

Dad on Federalization

When I was in Florida I rummaged through my stored belongings and pulled out my letters from Dad. I kept basically every single letter he ever sent to me, Alex, or my mother. Most of the letters are short correspondences on yellow legal pad paper, but sometimes he would send me something he had written in some sort of official capacity. Several of those somethings are letters to the editor.

He mailed me this letter in 1998, about 10 years ago:
Dear Editor,

There is one important thing about limiting the length of stay for alien guest workers in the CNMI that has not been publicly discussed or explained. This letter will discuss and attempt to explain.

The Clinton administration has stated that it is against American democracy to have more than 50% of our population as guest workers who are unable to vote, politically powerless and are subjected to abuse. For this reason, the Administration is determined to amend the Covenant and apply the US immigration laws. Under the US immigration laws these guest workers could become eligible for US citizenship.

Indeed, Mr. Al Stayman has told the Chamber of Commerce that when (not if) the US immigration laws are made applicable, guest workers would be able to become US citizens and be able to vote and run for office. When that happens, the number of non-Chamorro and non-Carolinian voters might soon become the majority of the voters. As the majority voters, they could remove from office all Chamorro and Carolinian Senators, Congresspersons, Mayors, Governor and so on and so forth. They could amend the Constitution and kill Article 12. When all these have occurred, what would happen to the self-government that the people of the CNMI negotiated and acquired for themselves under the Covenant, in the exercise of their right to self-determination?

Fortunately for the CNMI, Congress has indicated that if the CNMI leaders take appropriate action to control immigration and stop labor abuses, Congress would not give Clinton what he wants, but if the CNMI leaders do not act, Congress will. Even Congress feels that the CNMI has let too many guest workers come in from too many foreign countries and have allowed some of them to stay too long. Many feel that the matter has gone out of control.

Now, the question for the CNMI leaders is, what can they do, locally, to control immigration and stop labor abuses? Some measures have been taken and other options are under consideration. These include: (1) putting a moratorium on the hiring of guest workers, (2) capping the number of guest workers in the garment industry and the size of that industry, (3) weeding out corruption in the labor and immigration offices, (4) prosecuting employers and closing down businesses who abuse guest workers, (5) prohibiting the number of guest workers from exceeding the number of US citizens in the CNMI, (6) allowing guest workers to transfer from one occupation to another and from one employer to another, (7) allowing illegal aliens to become legal under the amnesty law, (8) expediting the deportation of illegal aliens, and (9) limiting the number of years that a guest worker may stay in the CNMI.

The main reason for limiting the length of stay for guest workers is to prevent them from becoming long term (5 years or more) residents without gaining the right to vote. This limitation would not just satisfy the US' concerns, but would be fair to the guest workers because, no matter how long they stay in the CNMI, they would not be able to become voting citizens under the CNMI laws. The idea to not let guest workers become voting citizens was envisioned and agreed to in the Covenant.

In giving the CNMI control over immigration, the parties to the Covenant intended to grant the CNMI the ability to bring in guest workers without being overwhelmed by "immigrants" who would become citizens. Because the population was so small in the 1970's, the Covenant negotiators envisioned that allowing "immigration" through the US immigration laws might soon annihilate the Chamorro and Carolinian society.

Giving the CNMI control over immigration is an innovative arrangement which kills two birds with one stone. It stimulates and facilitates economic development, while maintaining political control among the people who gave up their lands and their sovereignty in order to further secure the national defense of the United States.

No doubt, limiting the length of stay for guest workers is uneconomical for private businesses. It is too costly to train someone to become a valuable and devoted employee only to lose him/her after 3 or 4 years and try to find a replacement. That is why all previous laws of this nature have been repealed whenever the time came for thousands of guest workers to be sent home.

However, the CNMI leaders have to make a difficult choice. Either they effectively control immigration, which means slower economic growth, or do nothing and have the US apply its laws, which means voting rights for the guest workers and lost of political control for the Chamorro and Carolinians.

It appears that the CNMI leaders have opted to control immigration, stop the abuses of guest workers and avoid the application of US immigration laws in order to keep control of their economic and political destiny.

Sincerley yours,



Ramon G. Villagomez
Fina Sisu Village
Saipan, MP 96950
Jesus Christ. Talk about a prophetic letter. I may be wrong, but it appears to me that the CNMI did the opposite of what he suggested. In doing the opposite, it would appear that the CNMI chose not to "control immigration, stop the abuses of guest workers and avoid the application of US immigration laws in order to keep control of their economic and political destiny."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Commercial Fishing in Kiribati

On my way back from Orlando I picked up a travelogue of an American who spent two years living in Kiribati. The book is The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J. Maarten Troost. Most Micronesians would probably find it offensive, but for the many ex-pats living in Micronesia it should be a fun read. While Saipan is nowhere near as remote or undeveloped as Tarawa in Kiribati, I felt like I knew where this guy was coming from.

One of the passages in the book was about commercial tuna fishing. In the lead up to the passage he is complaining about the food and how they have fish for every meal. He preferred eating tuna to some of the other types of fish, but one day the tuna disappeared from the local fish stands.
I biked the entire length of South Tarawa searching for a tuna. But there was nothing. Just the dreaded salt fish and a few sharks. It was as if giant nets had suddenly appeared to enmesh every tuna in the greater Tarawa area. It was like that because that's what had actually happened. The Korean fishing fleet had gathered in Tarawa Lagoon to offload their catch onto huge mother ships. Emptied of fish, the trawlers immediately set forth to empty the seas around Maiana and Abaiang, the fishing grounds that supplied Tarawa. I could see them from the house, giant fishing machines with industrial silhouettes that I had last seen in New Jersey, and I could only imagine the effect of their wakes on inshore canoes. That the government of Kiribati allowed this was deplorable. There are two million square miles of ocean in Kiribati's exclusive economic zone in which the trawlers can fish, and yet they were permitted to work the twenty square miles of water upon which half of the nation's population depends for sustenance, betraying again the ineptitude and petty corruption of Kiribati's leaders. The fish sellers were glum. Each day they appeared with a few reef or lagoon fish, all that their husbands and brothers and fathers could catch now that the deepwater fish, the fish that could be consumed with a strong likelihood of maintaining one's stomach intact, had been netted, destined for the canneries of Korea. Usually, we could weather these periodic convergences of idiocy and bad luck, but during these same tuna-less weeks an event of cataclysmic proportions occurred, an event that tested our very will to live. The beer ran out.
Interesting, huh?

I've got the book in my office if anyone wants to borrow it. I also just finished Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman if anyone wants to read that one, too.

More Rolling Blackouts

Last night as Edz and I strolled down the Paseo around 8 PM everything around us suddenly went dark. Power outage. Apparently two people tried to make toast and it overloaded the CUC generators.

Before the blackout we were on our way to get something to eat at Hawaii Bar & Grill, but without power they can't cook. Some of the other Garapan restaurants have generators so we decided to go somewhere else.

We ended up at Kinpachi. I had grilled beef and Edz had fried chicken.

The power came back on before we finished eating, but it went out again a few minutes after walking through the front door. Frustration ensued.

******
As I left the office tonight I noticed that the streets were abnormally dark. The lights were out for the second night in a row.

My apartment has a generator, so I can blog about this annoyance in air conditioned comfort, but I sure feel for all those homes and businesses sweltering in the dark right now.

Mariana Trench in Greenwire

Earth News has reprinted the entire Greenwire article on the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument (you need to subscribe to Greenwire to read their stories, so a big thanks to Earth News!). The article talks about the Bush Administration plan to scale back their plans for marine monuments.
An ambitious Bush administration plan for designating vast new marine conservation areas in the Pacific Ocean — the president’s bid for a positive environmental legacy — is likely to be scaled back in size and scope, according to administration officials and conservationists who have been briefed on the proposal.
The article touches on many things that we could be using to rebrand our islands. These are things that are appearing in media all across the world right now. This is leading people to shift their image of our islands away from sweat shops and more towards our natural resources. Imagine if we tried selling our islands' image as an underwater Yellowstone and Grand Canyon as the article suggests.
The Mariana Islands have unique geology that marine groups liken to an underwater Yellowstone and Grand Canyon combined. Marine life thrives around hydrothermal vents, mud volcanoes and pools of boiling sulfur. The area hosts 19 species of whales and dolphins and abundant shark populations. The deepest spot on the sea floor is in the Marianas Trench: Mount Everest could sit on its bottom and still be covered by more than 7,000 feet of water.
The article is lengthy, but it is a good read. It has the best description of the so-called Blue Legacy I have read to date, too.
The other two, more ambitious, proposals [Mariana Trench and Line Islands] are intended to appeal to Bush’s desire for a legacy.
Of course if you scroll all the way to the bottom, you'll eventually get to my quote. I'm talking about the scaled back protections and areas under consideration.
“Imagine if they did that at Yellowstone … imagine if they just did the geysers instead of the whole picture,” said Angelo Villagomez, part of the Friends of the Monument group in the Marianas. “It’s not what we wanted. A big part of this is we want the world to take notice. We would be really disappointed if Bush would do a postage-stamp approach, with a series of postage stamps on a map.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

George W Bush AssaSHOEnation

So I'm imagining that at all future Presidential press conferences reporters will have to trade in their leather shoes for rubber slippers. Stories related to the George W Bush Shoe Incident now account for three of the top 10 stories on CNN.  This is clearly the most important thing going on in America and the World today.

In the interview with his brother, Dhirgham al-Zaidi, we find out that the Shoe Terrorist is usually "calm and polite" and that his brother was "shocked" to find him at the center of this SHOEtastrophy.

My favorite are the story highlights that make it sound like this is a story worth discussing:
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
-Iraqi TV reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush remains in custody
-Journalist being tested for alcohol and drugs to determine his state of mind
-Muntadhar al-Zaidi called the incident a "farewell kiss" to a "dog"
-Reporter's arrest draws angry protest in Baghdad's Sadr City
Like millions of people around the world I think this is a funny story, but come on, CNN, you're better than this story! While I'm looking forward to future Youtube videos of this clip intermixed with the Star Wars Kid, this story should have no place on CNN.

Maybe it should get the 30 seconds at the end of your regular broadcast, but that's it.

I can list a dozen George W. Bush related stories that should be getting aired, but they're not because some Egyptian jerk in Iraq thought he'd make a "statement" and maybe get some laughs or get on TV.

******
Alright, so after posting that I went and looked at some of the Star Wars Kid videos. This one struck me as funny.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

George W. Bush Shoe Incident


An end to Global Warming? Rainbows and unicorns fly out of President Elect Barack Obama's butt? Britney Spears finds a cure for cancer?

Surely something akin to these headlines is making news in the world today? Nope.

This is the top story on CNN:
(CNN) -- President Bush made a farewell visit Sunday to Baghdad, Iraq, where he met with Iraqi leaders and was targeted by an angry Iraqi man, who jumped up and threw shoes at Bush during a news conference.

Bush ducked, and the shoes, flung one at a time, sailed past his head during the news conference with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in his palace in the heavily fortified Green Zone.

The shoe-thrower could be heard yelling in Arabic: "This is a farewell ... you dog!" He was dragged out of the room, screaming.
Some jerk threw a pair of shoes at President George W. Bush at a press conference in Iraq and this is the most important thing happening in the world right now? I gotta say though, President Bush moves pretty quick for an old guy. I don't think John McCain would have been able to duck that fast.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mexican Night

Anne Hawaii Bar and GrillThis is Anne. Anne is the bartender at Hawaii Bar & Grill...and no, she's not Hawaiian.

Tonight is Mexican Night at Hawaii Bar & Grill. I'll be stopping in at around 7 PM for chicken enchiladas with beans and rice...and no, Anne is not Mexican, either.

Anyone want to join me?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coral Reef Alliance Endorses Monument

A while back the Coral Reef Alliance sent me some Coral Reef Alliance t-shirts and some information booklets on coral reefs.  I forget the exact reason why.  Might have been for some marine debris removal day or something.  Or maybe they're just generous and like sending green t-shirts to environmentalists working in far off locales.  Either way, in return I sent them some Beautify CNMI t-shirts just for being so awesome.

They asked me a while back if there was anything they could do to help with the monument.  I asked if they could send a letter to President Bush asking him to protect the entire ecosystem with the strongest possible protections.  They agreed, but took it to the next level and put information about the monument on their website and asked their members to write letters to boot.

Thank you so much, Rick!

So do you want to be cool and popular like the members of the Coral Reef Alliance? Then take a minute and send an email to President Bush! Thanks!
Copy and paste the following letter into an email addressed to President George W. Bush and send it to comments@whitehouse.gov (please bcc: info@coral.org, so we can track the number of letters sent):

President George W. Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20050

Dear President Bush,

I’m writing today to show my support for designating a Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. I urge you to conserve this valuable ecosystem with full protection for the unique geological and biological features of the area, including (1) designating the area as a no-take zone and (2) extending the boundaries of the monument to the limits of the Exclusive Economic Zone around the three northern islands, including the submerged lands, the water column, and the biological life.

There are precious few marine areas on the planet where extraction is now prohibited. It would be a missed opportunity to recognize this very remote site with only half-measures. Closing the monument waters to all extraction will have no negative economic impact on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. In fact, designating this area as a no-take zone will enhance tourism and help the commonwealth economically.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands represents an attractive opportunity for establishing one of the world's largest no-take marine reserves. It is a highly unique area adjacent to the deepest undersea canyon on the globe with an enormous variety of unusual habitats. I urge you to follow the bold precedent you set when you created the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2006. Setting aside an entire ocean ecosystem will capture the world’s imagination—and confirm the United States as the global leader in marine protection.

Thank you,

[Sign your name, or remain anonymous if you choose.]

Time for more Coed Soccer

The soccer gods have spoken and they say that we are going to have more coed soccer starting in January. Interested? Drop me a line so we can get an idea of our numbers. Here is the story in today's Saipan Tribune:
The Northern Mariana Islands Football Association will be kicking off the 2009 season with the NMIFA Co-ed Soccer Spring League at the CPA Field.

“The co-ed soccer league is starting in January as a non-competitive recreational league to provide the opportunity for adults who are new to soccer, people who are out of shape, or people who are getting creaky, to have an opportunity to learn and to play the world's most popular sport. The main purpose is to have fun and to learn the game.” said David Khorram, who is organizing the league along with Jaime Saiki and Angelo Villagomez.

Khorram added they are looking to start the event on Jan. 5 with one game to be played in each playing day. Games will be played every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and will start at 5:15pm. But Khorram said schedules are tentative.

An “Intro to Soccer” camp will be held on Jan. 3 to teach participants drills on dribbling, passing, shooting, and other basic skills.

Khorram is inviting interested individuals, especially those with no prior soccer experience to join the camp and the league.

“I've had a great time with the past two summer co-ed leagues. There are lots of opportunities for the island's talented players to be involved with soccer year-round. For those of us with less skill, the co-ed league is the place to be. We're looking at having it run for many more weeks of the year, and drawing only a limited number of the talented players,” Khorram said.

Players joining next month's league will be classified into three categories. A players are those with the ability to play in the men's or women's league, or have significant experience playing soccer. B players have some soccer experience and with moderate stamina, while C types are those new to soccer, or completely out of shape.

“The league will limit the number of 'A' players per team, and the role of these proficient players will be to teach and to support the development of the less skilled players,” Khorram said.

Each team will be composed of 11 players.

If interested to play or for more information, contact Villagomez at 285 6462 or email angelovillagomez@gmail.com.

The Force Unleased


The Monument is important, but not as important as Star Wars video games. I picked up The Force Unleased on PS3 on my way back to Saipan. You know where to find me if you want to play.

PacificaDave

Saipan USA FisheriesThis is Dave. Dave is one of the people involved in the new longliner company on Saipan, Saipan USA Fisheries. Dave posts on the blogs as PacificaDave.

Dave has posted a number of colorful blog comments on this blog, many of which he later deleted. His lastest blog comment, posted on my All Things Considered post, reads:
once again, Marine Preserve or Marine Sanctuary,I agree, NOT MONUMENT! you are trying to give the northern islands to the military!

BUSH is not a conservationist and will never be known as one!

HE IS INTO WAR!
HE LIKES WAR!
HE MAKES MONEY OFF OF WAR
HIS FRIENDS MAKE MONEY OFF OF WAR
and he likes a place to keep his war machines private, like in the northern islands.
Submarine Superhighway?
Sonar proving grounds?
whales love sonar
think about that for a while.
I wish Dave would stop writing things like this. Immature and misleading comments like this are not necessary, nor are they productive towards the type of discussion that should be happening in our community.  Our people deserve better.

******
There was an article in today's Marianas Variety discussing this new commercial longliner fishing venture. The article says that USA Islands Seafood is dedicated to helping local fishermen.  Readers of the online version of the Variety are able to leave comments on news stories. I figure I'd post all of them here verbatim:
The Hawaiian longline fishery has ruined the big game fishery in their adjacent waters. Gone are the swordfish, large tunas, wahoo as well as the marlin, mahi and other large pelagics. They were shutdown long after the damage was done and it is estimated that it will take thirty to fifty years for the populations to recover. That is a major reason that Mr. Crabtree wants to relocate his fleet to our waters. The only ones to benefit from such a venture will be himself and the stockholders in his organization. A longliner usually has a crew of four including the captain and can set up to sixty miles of line with a bait as close as every three hundred feet. They catch everything including turtles, marlin, sailfish and all are killed or sold. Without any restrictions on the sale of protected fishes such as the marlins and sailfish the large pelagics in our waters will soon vanish. Very few people will benefit from this scam. At the most a fe...

******
The real title for this article should be "Investor Vows to Screw local fisherman".

******
Longliners are highly efficient instruments of destruction to commercial fisheries. Hawaii fisherman used to attack them out at sea with assault rifles, and burn the ones in port down to the waterline. CNMI local fisherman would do themselves and the CNMI a great service by doing the same.

The only thing Crabtree is out to help local fishermen attain is fiscal and ecological
bankruptcy and starvation.

Keep 'em out!!!

******
Now you will see the end of the fish stock in the "pristine" Northern Islands in your
lifetime. What will be left for the next generation after these and the other proposed foriegn fishing fleets buy their rights to also fish in the water up North. This is another page in History that this Gov. and legislatures will be remembered for.
I did not edit these comments, nor did I leave any of them out (it is possible that comments will be posted after I post this).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mariana Trench in Honolulu Weekly

Honolulu Weekly has a cover story about the proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. The title of the story is Legacy blues: Will Bush's big environmental push be thwarted by bureaucrats?

The article gives a case for conserving the area under consideration in the Marianas:
The first group, and the most interesting to science, are the islands of Maug, Asuncion and Uracus in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, which are just south of Iwo Jima, Japan. Their sponsor is the Pew Environmental Group, a part of the Pew Charitable Trusts that also helped persuade Bush to turn the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands into the Papahanaumokuakea monument.

The Marianas are rich in submerged volcanoes that put out much more gas than other submarine volcanoes, which leads to an exceptional diversity of life forms. Scientists say Maug in particular will be intensely studied in the future to understand how coral reacts to the acidification that is expected when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets absorbed into the oceans.

The waters of the proposed monument extend to the Marianas Trench, the deepest underwater canyon in the world, and to a group of seamounts that have more hydrothermal life than anywhere else, including the oldest living things on earth–bacteria–and the world’s first hydrothermal vent-dwelling fish.
The article gives a taste of some of the opposition originating from the Honolulu-based Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, known as Wespac.
Andrew Salas, a former member of the Marianas House of Representatives, said that without Wespac’s intense lobbying, “There would have been a bit of grumbling because relations between the Marianas government and the federal government are pretty bad these days, but that’s it, because the overwhelming majority of the people support the monument.”
The article then ties WESPAC to the opposition in Saipan:
In Saipan, much of the political elite has ties to Wespac. The governor’s chief of staff, Ray Mafnas, is a senior Wespac official. Arnold Palacios, Speaker of the House, is a former member of the Wespac council. He wrote in a letter to Bush that the “loss of control over such a vast area of land and water is an assault on the traditions and culture of the islands.” The man he appointed as chairman of the House Federal Relations Committee, Representative Diego Benavente, who engineered the approval of two anti-monument resolutions, is also president of the Saipan Fishermen’s Association. Last year, it received a $150,000 grant from Wespac to open a store to sell its catch. It closed two months after it opened because of unexpected expenses “like utilities, rent, and salaries,” the local press reported. Benavente was quoted as saying, “We ran out of money, basically.” Asked where the money had gone, Wespac officials declined to comment.

Juan Borja Tudela, the mayor of Saipan, where most of the Marianas’ 65,000 people live, pleads that the monument waters should be left under the control of Wespac, which he calls “much more sensitive to the Pacific Islanders’ way of life.”

Wespac vice-chairman, Manny Duenas, head of a fishermen’s group in Guam, goes further in his own letter to Bush. “The taking of our marine resources may be construed as being no different than cattle rustling” and it would “serve as a springboard to ensure the cultural genocide of a people,” he wrote.

Similarities in style between anti-monument letters from Saipan and from Wespac-affiliated officials in Hawai’i have led some monument proponents to wonder if all were drafted at 1164 Bishop Street, the agency’s seat.

Innovative Education in the Marianas

Northern Marianas College students and the friends of the monument
Monument Mania: Edwin Corea, Angelo Villagomez, Yolani & Chinelle Camacho (I don't remember which is which), Dyenina Diaz, John Joyner, Yuting Jin, Ken Kramer, Emelaine Fejaran, Laurie Peterka and Belinda Norita at Northern Marianas College.
The Friends of the Monument and the Not-so-Friends of the Monument were invited to a presentation at the Northern Marianas College this afternoon on the proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. The presenters, five students taking the "Current Issues in the CNMI" class, made a fifteen minute video on the issue and debuted it today.

In making the video they interviewed Friends of the Monument Ken Kramer, Ike Cabrera, and Andrew Salas and government officials John Joyner and Sylvan Igisomar. They also sat in on a classroom presentation I made and participated in the White House Public Workshop back in October. They broke the video down into four parts: they explained monuments, allowed the Friends to give their arguments for, allowed the Not-so-Friends to give their counter-arguments against and then finished by asking a series of questions that citizens should be asking themselves, their leaders and each other.

They did a great job gathering their data (although I wish they had delved deeper and made some analysis) and all in all I think it was a good experience for them. They were able to participate in an important social issue, learned that reasonable adults can have a difference of opinion, learned how government and policy works (or doesn't work) and were able to meet officials in both the federal and local government.

The exercise of building support for a marine monument has already benefited our community. Not only have we gained international media attention for our fragile, beautiful natural resources, which benefits our tourism industry, but our children are learning about civic issues and the environment.

Over 500 students wrote letters to President Bush sharing their opinion on the marine monument and over 1000 public school students sat in on a marine monument discussion in their schools. Additionally, students at Hopwood Junior High School recently participated in a marine monument debate as well as a scientific symposium at American Memorial Park.

Kudos to our innovative island educators who are using this issue to help their kids learn about the world we live in.

******
The NMC students conducted a survey as part of their project. They interviewed a random sampling of CNMI residents and found that supporters outnumbered non-supporters by a 2:1 ratio. They found that 37% were "For it," while only 16% were "Against." 33% said they "Don't Know" and 9% said they "Don't Care."

Will you play with me?

oreo kenobi billagomezI love having an office companion. How could you resist this little guy? Is he the cutest dog or what?

...or am I the biggest loser for taking and posting pictures of my dog?

oreo kenobiHe's just so happy all the time. How could you not love him? By the way, what do you think of his new Superman dog tag? And his new haircut?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

German Drinking Song

Did you know that the music for the Commonwealth anthem comes from an old German drinking song, 'Im Schönsten Wiesengrunde?'

Check it out (with accompanying video from the German film 'Stalingrad'):



The words are:
Im schönsten Wiesengrunde ist meiner Heimat Haus,
da zog ich manche Stunde ins Tal hinaus.
Dich, mein stilles Tal, grüß ich tausend mal!
Da zog ich manche Stunde ins Tal hinaus.

Muss aus dem Tal jetzt scheiden, wo alles Lust und Klang;
das ist mein herbstes Leiden, mein letzter Gang.
Dich, mein stilles Tal, grüß ich tausendmal!
Das ist mein herbstes Leiden, mein letzter Gang.

Sterb ich, in Tales Grunde will ich begraben sein;
singt mir zur letzten Stunde beim Abendschein:
Dich, mein stilles Tal, grüß ich tausendmal!
Singt mir zur letzten Stunde beim Abendschein!

[English translation:]

My home is in the most beautiful meadow-vale
I have lingered many an hour in this vale
I greet thee my peaceful vale a thousand times!
I have lingered many an hour in this vale

Now I have to leave this vale with its delights and sounds
It is the most bitter pain, it will be my last journey.
I greet thee a thousand times my peaceful vale.
It is the most bitter pain, it will be my last journey.

If I die, I want to be buried down in this vale.
Sing for me at my last hour in the evening's light:
I greet thee my peaceful vale a thousand times
Sing for me at my last hour in the evening's light.
Using a drinking song for your anthem has precedent. Did you know that the tune for the 'Star Spangled Banner' is an old drinking song, too?

Monday, December 08, 2008

Ike and Andrew on All Things Considered

Ike and Andrew were featured in a story on All Things Considered today. The transcript is available, but the audio is not yet online.
Ike Cabrerra, from the island of Saipan, is one of just a handful of people who have ever made it to the north end of the island chain.

"There's no place in the world compared to this area," Cabrerra said. "Most of the islands are volcano."

The waters are rich with undisturbed sea life and home to some of the world's most majestic underwater geology, including the deepest canyon in the ocean, the Mariana Trench. But all is not perfect in paradise. While locals like Cabrerra support a marine preserve, their elected officials do not.

So Cabrerra traveled to Washington to lobby for the protected area. His traveling companion, Andrew Salas, said that the politicians don't object to conservation, but they are upset with the federal government. It seems Uncle Sam recently took control of immigration policy for the Northern Marianas and also instituted the federal minimum wage.

"So this awesome idea to protect those islands came in at the wrong time and everyone thought, 'Oh, another federal intervention,'" Salas said.

Salas and Cabrerra went to the White House this week to plead for complete protection for an area the size of Arizona. They brought with them petitions signed by businesses, school children and 6,000 local residents. The island only has 10,000 voters.
I'll link to the audio when it is up.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Barack Obama and Blue Steel

Barack Obama Action FigureKilili is going to go to Washington, DC to represent our people in the United States Congress. He is going to bring home the bacon, so to speak. An educational program here and an environmental program there and he can really help turn these islands around. With that said, when I went to Washington, DC, the only thing I brought back was a Barack Obama action figure.

It is an action figure we can believe in. Says so on the box.

Mariana Trench in the Christian Science Monitor

The international attention focused on our islands continues almost day to day. There is a front page article in the Christian Science Monitor about our marine monument today. Here are a few snippets:
The islands, atolls, and seamounts that would be conserved are remote. But they may also represent unique opportunities for research. In addition to its reefs, a northern Marianas reserve would include a section of the Marianas Trench, formed by the collision of two plates of the Earth’s crust and home to the deepest spot on the seafloor. The area hosts 19 species of whales and dolphins. Life thrives in the extreme environments around hydrothermal vents. The seascape includes enormous mud volcanoes and pools of boiling sulfur
This is the kind of stuff we could be using to rebrand our islands. Imagine if we had a visitors center similar to the Sant Ocean Hall, but tailored to our unique culture, biology and geology.

The article also discusses some of the local concerns.
Meanwhile, locals have expressed concerns that restrictions will be too tight. Indigenous people in American Samoa and the Marianas were concerned they would be banned from fishing and other traditional practices. There are other worries about Washington impinging on undersea mining projects for minerals on the seafloor off the Marianas Trench. These local concerns are being addressed, says James Connaughton, head of the president’s Council on Environmental Quality.

[snip]

One concern shared by local fishermen and US Pentagon officials centered on navigation rights through any proposed reserve, particularly around the Marianas. But the president’s directive to assess the potential marine reserve sites reaffirmed these navigation rights.
This kind of stuff in the international media puts to rest the argument that this is being done without local input.

Click here to read the entire article.

Sant Ocean Hall

One of the things I really wanted to do during my visit to Washington DC was to visit the Sant Ocean Hall. It is the newest exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History and considering the work I've done over the last three years, I was really stoked to see it.

Yap rai in SmithsonianI walked into the museum from the Constitution Avenue side, the side not facing the National Mall. I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by something from Micronesia; a giant stone rai from Yap is just outside the gift store next to the escalator leading up to the Sant Ocean Hall. I'm not from Yap, nor have I ever been to Yap, nor does this stone money have anything to do with the ocean exhibit, but it was interesting knowing that something from my part of the world made its way into the Smithsonian.

Sant Ocean HallSomebody who works on fishing issues told me that the exhibition was just short of lame, but I'd have to disagree.  I was blown away.  I was totally impressed with the displays. They covered everything, from fishing, deep see vents, coral reefs, seamounts, to the human effects on our oceans, and of course, display after display on scientific discovery.  Basically, if it has to do with the ocean, it is covered somehow in the exhibit.  There are even penguins!  I love penguins!

right whale sant hallInside the exhibition one is meant to feel like they are in the middle of the ocean.  There are giant 10 foot tall screens showing scenes from the ocean up near the ceiling and ocean creatures are displayed everywhere.  Not only can you find a giant full grown North Atlantic Right Whale, but there is also a real, honest to goodness giant squid sitting in several gallons of formaldehyde. Cool or gross depending on how you feel about giant invertebrates.

Mariana Trench Sant HallI am proud to say that the Mariana Trench gets a mention in the exhibit.  It is one of the areas they used to explain tectonic plates. (I hope that we get to put a big circle around those northernmost waters soon!)

As I passed from display to display, from fishing to coral reefs to deep sea vents, I couldn't help but think that some of this stuff would be great in a visitors center on Saipan. We have a lot of the same habitats and issues as described in the exhibit.

dumbo octopus deep oceanWe have deep ocean.  Check out the model of a Dumbo Octopus in the Deep Ocean display. These deep ocean guys could and should be our mascots, not Saipanda. We could call the Dumbo Octopus mascot, Octo-sai-dum-panda.

sant hall hydrothermal vent displayWe have hydrothermal vents.  In fact, the hydrothermal vents in our waters, places where chemosynthetic bacteria are the primary producers, have been called a "biodiversity hotspot" by NOAA scientists. We also have unique hydrothermal vents that occur in shallow water in the Maug lagoon. Coral grows near these hydrothermal vents, making them one of the only habitats in the world where chemosynthesis and photosynthesis occur simultaneously. It is also interesting to note the these corals can survive in very hot, very acidic water. They could be studied and may have applications to help us better understand global climate change.

seamountsWe also have seamounts in our waters. These are like giant underwater mountains where filter feeding life forms thrive. Some of the seamounts in the proposed marine monument are home to the highest remaining densities of sharks in the entire Pacific Ocean.

It wouldn't be too hard to take some of these displays, tweak them a little bit for our local conditions, throw in some displays about volcanism and of course our local culture and people, and voila! Instant visitors center! All tourists, students and locals are welcome to visit.

deep sea bamboo coralAs for the rest of the exhibit, I saw the bamboo coral donated to the Sant Hall by the Deep Sea News guys. (Hi, Peter, thanks for adding me on Facebook!)

There was even an undersea remote operated vehicle hanging from the ceiling. I already mentioned the penguins, too, right?

******
I managed to see a few of the monuments, too. I didn't get to see everything, but I feel like the side trip north was worth it.

american flag sunsetI stood beneath the shadows of the Washington Monument as the sun set one night. The sky was spectacular. Saipan isn't the only place with beautiful sunsets.

US Capitol BuildingAs I turned around and looked in the other direction, the United States Capitol Building, home to the Senate and House of Representatives, gave off a soft glow. I could barely tell it was 35 degrees out.

White HouseNotice the black limos in front of the White House? Could that be George W. Bush or was Laura just going out for some Starbucks?

washinton memorialThe view of the Washington Monument from the World War II Monument at dusk was impressive.

lincoln memorialThe view of the Lincoln Memorial was equally impressive. I wonder where they are going to put the Barack Obama monument?

Barack Obama Angelo VillagomezBy the way, Barack says "hello."