Friday, April 30, 2010

How big is 200,000 gallons?

According to CNN, the Coast Guard reports that 210,000 gallons of crude oil are pouring into the Gulf of Mexico per day from the oil well damaged by the explosion of the Deep Horizon oil rig. That means that 210,000 gallons poured out yesterday, 210,000 gallons will pour out today, and 210,000 gallons will pour out tomorrow.

So how big is 210,000 gallons?

Well, the giant aquarium at the New England Aquarium is 200,000 gallons. Here is a picture I took of the top of the aquarium looking down when I visited this past January:

new england aquarium tankThat's a lot of water. Here is another picture taken from the New England Aquarium blog:new england aquariumThe tank is 23 feet deep and 40 feet wide and contains about 600 animals. That's a big tank.

So to imagine the damage caused by this oil spill, try to imagine someone filling this tank with crude oil and then dumping the contents into the Gulf of Mexico. And as the oil hits the water it spreads out, floating on top of the ocean, until it is only a few molecules thick - and this is happening every day until the well, which sits at the bottom of ocean, is closed off.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rollins College: Playboy's 2010 #7 Party School

rollins collegePlayboy ranked Rollins College the #3 Party School in America in 2002, my first year at the school. Contrary to urban myth, it was the only the second time Playboy had ever published such a list.

In 2006 another list was published, but this time Rollins was left off. For the 2009 list we reappeared in the #17 slot and last week Playboy announced that for 2010 we were back in the top 10:
CHICAGO, April 16 /PRNewswire/ -- For only the fifth time in its 57-year history, Playboy magazine has released its list of America's Top 10 Party Schools. The much-talked-about rankings, featured in the magazine's May 2010 issue (available on newsstands and at on Friday, April 16), were determined by Playboy's editors, with input from the magazine's campus representatives, models, photographers, online voters, and student readers.

The following schools have earned a spot on Playboy's 2010 Top 10 Party Schools list:

University of Texas at Austin
West Virginia University
University of Wisconsin-Madison
University of Miami
East Carolina University
Arizona State University
Rollins College
University of California-Santa Barbara
Plymouth State University
University of Iowa
While it is great for my alma mater to receive national recognition, I'm not sure if this is the kind of national recognition I want. Every time Rollins appears on a list like this the value of my degree is diminished.

I had a world class education at Rollins. I took advantage of their international programs and studied in London and Costa Rica. My largest class might have had 35 people in it; the average was closer to 10. And I was recruited right out of the classroom for my first "career" job.

Rollins prepared me for life in the real world. I took what I learned and went on to found Beautify CNMI and Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument. I also led a local campaign that built support for the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. All this before my five year college reunion.

Then a couple of fraternity pledges write some exaggerated stories to Playboy and now I'm that guy who went to the party school. Thanks a lot.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Zaldy on the Church

I enjoyed reading the Marianas Variety's editorial by Zaldy Dandan from last Friday and I wanted to share it with you:
I FIND it amusing that because of what the New York Times calls “a sexual abuse crisis,” some commentators now believe that the Roman Catholic Church is “doomed.”

A British opinion writer in Uganda titled his recent piece “The Catholic Church’s Funeral,” in which he lashed out at the church’s “wretched backward teachings on contraception,” and declared that “I for one would not mourn at its funeral but celebrate.”

The church is Western civilization’s most ancient and enduring institution. For over 2,000 years, as an American political science professor once noted, “it has been a target of all the great movements of European history — the Renaissance, the Reformation, the French Revolution, the industrial revolution, communism, and fascism. Through it all, the Catholic Church has endured, and at times even prevailed.”

So no, I don’t think that pedophile priests can accomplish what cataclysmic historical events have failed to do. In the CNMI and back home, Asia’s only Christian nation, life as a Catholic goes on for the faithful. In a society where the church is the central feature, we have learned how to separate the decency of our faith from the fickleness of its adherents.

In late 19th-century Philippines, the Spanish friars were considered by our patriots as the principal enemies. A lot of these priests were notorious for their abusive behavior, which included avarice and lechery. When the revolution broke out in 1896, many friars were summarily executed, but native priests simply took over the parishes and the church lived on. During the 1899 constitutional convention, the provision that would have made the Catholic Church the state religion of the republic was defeated by a single vote only.

For Catholics in the NMI and the P.I., the church is not just a set of beliefs, but an abiding presence from the moment we’re born: christenings, confirmations, fiestas, Lent, Christmas, weddings and funerals. To turn our backs on the church is like forsaking cherished memories. To abandon our faith because some of our priests are sick perverts is like saying we should give up on the entire human race because of the barbarism we have inflicted on one another since time immemorial.

For every degenerate priest there are hundreds who are true and good like the courageous priests back home who publicly criticized the dictatorship even when it meant detention and torture, and who, together with nuns, blocked the tanks at Edsa in 1986. Here in the CNMI, Bishop Camacho spoke out against labor and human rights abuses when the government was still denying them. And then there was Father Maximilian Kolbe. During World War II in Poland, he was arrested by the Nazis for providing shelter to refugees, including 2,000 Jews. In Auschwitz, where he was imprisoned, the rule was that if one of them escaped, 10 would be locked in a bunker where they would be starved to death. In July 1941, one of the prisoners couldn’t be found. It turned out that he drowned in the camp latrine. But the Nazis believed he had escaped so they selected 10 men, one of whom had a wife and children. Kolbe volunteered to take his place. After weeks of dehydration and starvation, and with the rest of the men already dead, Kolbe was still alive. The Nazis then killed him with an injection of carbolic acid.

These are the priests who, for the faithful, represent what is pure and sacred in their church.

The church, to be sure, must do a better job of screening new priests and going after those who commit wrongdoing. But as long as humanity exists, there will be virtue and depravity among us, even in an institution that tries to help us make better life choices.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Beautify CNMI Steward

Saturday morning Beautify CNMI announced and awarded the winners of their annual Steward and Champion Awards. For the last three years I was the one taking the nominations, making the decisions, and handing out the awards. This year it was done by the people who have stepped in to run Beautify CNMI in my absence.

And you know what those crazy people did? They honored me with a Beautify CNMI Steward Award.
beautify cnmi awardsBeautify CNMI announced the winners of their annual Environmental Champion and Environmental Steward Awards on Saturday. The awards were given out to recognize individuals, organizations, and businesses that have proven to be environmental leaders in volunteering and advocating for the environment in the Commonwealth. Awards were presented, April 24th at the Flametree Arts Festival’s main stage at 10 AM.


The Environmental Steward award recognizes a person or group that leads the community in activities that help protect our environment in a variety of ways. This individual or group has demonstrated the need to take pride in our islands and to take care of the place we all call home. They serve as an example for others, especially the next generation, to follow.

This year Beautify CNMI will recognize Shirley’s Coffee Shop and Angelo O’Connor Villagomez as the 2010 Environmental Stewards.


Angelo O’Connor Villagomez is being recognized for his untiring efforts with numerous environmental volunteer activities, dedication to teaching and encouraging others and leading by example. Since first helping to spearhead Beautify CNMI! in 2006, Villagomez organized and attended literally hundreds of trash cleanups and tree plantings. In 2008, Villagomez helped lead the community outreach and public education effort that lead to the creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. Villagomez is a spirited environmental leader working on issues from his heart. “Angelo’s energy and enthusiasm helped take our efforts in cleaning up Saipan to a whole new level. He is missed, but we try to carry on in the path he helped us get started,” said Joe Kaipat, Department of Environmental Quality and strong Beautify CNMI! member.
It really means a lot to me to be recognized. Thank you. And thank you to everyone who volunteered with me; I didn't do anything alone.

I am so happy to see that Beautify CNMI continues to be successful. They just completed another huge island wide cleanup and I'm sure more projects are in the pipeline.

Next year will be the five year anniversary of Beautify CNMI! I can't wait.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day Message from Jane Lubchenco

The Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument wrote to NOAA Administrator a few weeks ago making a number of requests. We received her reply on Earth Day.

It ends with:
I would like to thank the Friends of the Monument again for their continued diligence and perseverance in helping to make the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM) a reality. Without strong community support and work, as you have shown in these past years, the MTMNM would never have been created.


Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D.
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere
Happy Earth Day, indeed!

Want to buy some deuterium?

I remember Senator Louis Crisostimo telling me some time during 2008 that he opposed the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument because the trench contained a special kind of water that could be used in fuel cells. I thought he was out of his mind.

I came across a blog today that linked to the story that put the idea into his head (I have reposted the entire article because the Marianas Variety does not have it archived):
by Agnes E. Donato
October 31, 2003

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, ) – The world’s largest deposit of deuterium, which can replace most forms of fuel in powering engines, can be found in the Marianas and Philippine trenches, according to a research by a local group.

Former Rep. Manasses S. Borja and Melqui Pacis, of Western International Corp., said the Marianas and the Philippines have a deuterium deposit 868 miles long — 52 miles at its widest point, and 7 miles at its deepest point in the Marianas.

This deposit, they added, is "replenished by nature 24 hours a day" through the north equatorial current tidal flow which carries deuterium all the way from Central America.

Deuterium, a form of concentrated hydrogen, is used in the production of natural gas now utilized in Canada, America, Germany and Sweden, to provide fuel for cars, trucks and jet planes, said Pacis and Borja, who is running for a Precinct 2 seat in the House of Representatives.

"Deuterium can replace gasoline, (liquefied petroleum gas), (liquefied natural gas), Avgas, etc. in powering all types of internal combustion engines. It does not emit pollutants or any harmful carbon monoxide and does not cause any environmental problems because it is in the water family," they said.

They added, "Deuterium as hydrogen fuel can also be used for cooking, lighting, and heating, and as heavy water fuel for reactors in electric power generation. (Aside from the CNMI), only the Philippines can supply all the requirements in deuterium as hydrogen fuel and as hydrogen for food, chemical and metal industries worldwide for the next two centuries."

Borja and Pacis are urging the governments of the CNMI and the Philippines to promote the deuterium deposit to investors.

Borja and Pacis reported that prospective investors from the U.S., Japan and Saudi Arabia had expressed interest in the project.

"The rule of thumb investment estimates is about $200 million for every 1 million barrels daily production capacity — a very much lower investment-capacity ratio than petroleum production," they said. "At 12 million barrels per day capacity, the estimated total investment is $2.4 billion."

Marianas Variety:

Copyright © 2003 Marianas Variety. All Rights Reserved
I'm thinking that their thinking went something like this:

"This deuterium stuff can be used to create something called heavy water."

"Yeah, I bet because it's heavy it sinks."

"Hey, isn't the Mariana Trench really deep?"

Who knows? Maybe in 100 years I'll have to eat my words. Maybe the Mariana Trench has the largest deposit of deuterium. And maybe Manasses S. Borja and Melqui Pacis are the the Michael Faraday and Benjamin Franklins of our our time. Maybe. But not likely.

I call shenanigans on this one.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Disneynature’s Oceans Disappoints

As someone who considers himself an environmentalist, I’m supposed to tell you how great the new Disneynature movie Oceans is and that you just have to go see it. But you know what? About an hour into watching the movie tonight I couldn’t help from thinking, “God, this sucks.”

Without a doubt the movie is beautiful. I particularly enjoyed the nighttime shots of the coral reef, the bait balls of mackerel and sardines, the spider crabs, the dolphins, the whales, and the blanket octopus.

Yet although beautiful, the movie lacks a soul. No story is told; no lesson imparted. The film is just 87 minutes of, “whoa, did you see that!” and “man, that is so cool!”

I think I get what the filmmakers were trying to do. They were aiming for warm and fuzzy. They were thinking that if they show some high definition video of a couple of cute little sea otters, environmentally conscious kids across the globe will pressure their parents into buying sustainable seafood, or something along those lines. I like to call it feel-good environmentalism.

Hasn’t the environmental movement grown beyond that? Maybe I’m expecting too much of Disney, a company best known for making children’s films, but I really expected there to be some sort of take home message or lesson. And I mean a lesson other than polar bears and walruses are adorable.

Oceans does not paint a realistic portrait of the state of the ocean. Yes, all the things they recorded exist and with enough time and enough money you could go see them, but the film barely scratched the surface on the influence humans are having on the world’s oceans.

In the film we see tuna being caught in a purse seine and the problem of bycatch gets a brief mention as turtles and a whale shark are shown trapped in nets; we also see a sea lion swimming in polluted waters. But those scenes are short and transition quickly to some ice-skating penguins. No kidding.

The problem of marine debris is glanced over; there is no mention of over-fishing; and nothing is said of reducing the amount of plastic we use or of the benefits of creating marine protected areas.

I was expecting so much more from this film. The impression one gets when they leave the theater is that the ocean is teaming with life, is spectacular beyond belief. In reality, however, the oceans we have today have but a fraction of the plentitude known by previous generations.

Even in my own lifetime I’ve seen that plentitude diminished. The ocean I knew as a child is not the ocean I know today. When I was young we never had to check to see if the beach was “red-flagged.” There were also a lot more fish back then.

I’m not that old, either. One can only imagine how much we’ve lost since the time of my grandparents.

Ignoring the facts on the state of our oceans will do us no good. This movie should have included footage of the Japanese slaughter of whales (despite worldwide bans on whaling), marine debris washing up on Midway or Maug (two of the most remote places on Earth), hunting for bluefin tuna with helicopters (because they are more rare than polar bears), harvesting of turtle eggs for food (or harvesting turtles for that matter), driving over turtle nests in pickup trucks, dumping trash in the ocean, ghost nets and ghost traps killing fish, a bottom trawler scraping the ocean floor, a shrimp boat throwing bycatch overboard, dynamite fishing, tourists stepping on coral reefs, SCUBA divers collecting live corals, shark finning, and any number of unsustainable activities that people currently undertake in our oceans.

Or maybe I’m just taking this movie way too seriously. Those ice-skating penguins were really cute, after all.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I am Sharktopus!

sharktopusThe true reason I supported the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument is revealed at last...

Now do you think if I had listened to my father and gone to law school I'd have professional colleagues who put pictures of me like this on their blog? More importantly, do you think if I went to law school I'd even have professional colleagues with blogs? Probably not.

Sharktopus 1, Law School 0.

And thanks, Rick.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jamaican on Saipan

I can't tell you how many times I've been asked the question, "Is there a book about Saipan you would recommend?" Usually the person asking the question is someone living in the United States considering a move to Saipan; other times it is just someone who wants to know what it's like out here (well, there, since I'm writing this from Florida).

I used to recommend Saipan: the ethnology of a war-devastated island by Alexander Spoeher. This book doesn't tell you anything about the Saipan that is, but it contains gobs of information of the Saipan that was (it was published the same year one of my parents were born). I also direct people's attentions towards The Saipan Blog and the We Love Saipan Network.

I am now adding Jamaican On Saipan: The True Story of One Man's Escape from the Rat Race to Live a Personal Nomadpreneur's Dream!: (A Unique Travel Guide by Walt Goodridge to my book list. Let the news go out to all who will listen: My list now contains two books.

Regular readers of this blog probably recognize Walt's name. He's the skinny Jamaican dude (yes, there is a Jamaican living on Saipan) that writes for the Saipan Tribune every Wednesday. We've planted trees together; hiked down to Forbidden Island together; created websites together; why, we've even played soccer together (although our team Taya Talent never won a single game).

Walt describes himself as "just an ordinary guy living a vegan lifestyle on a tropical island in the Pacific Ocean." Even if you aren't a skinny Jamaican I recommend his book. Walt captures the essence of tropical living in Jamaican on Saipan. Your experience in paradise will likely not be the same as his, but you can expect to do things you never dreamed of doing.

Saipan is a place where you can be anything, but don't take my word for it. Read Dr. David Khorram's blog post, Saipan: What I like about you. You trust a doctor, don't you?

In my tenure on Saipan I won national environmental awards, met the President of the United States, ran for political office, visited an active submarine volcano, fell in love, fell out of love, fell back in love, all while managing to not miss a single episode of LOST thanks to the Internet.

Walt's book is a great read. I recommend it.

You can order your copy of Jamaican On Saipan: The True Story of One Man's Escape from the Rat Race to Live a Personal Nomadpreneur's Dream!: (A Unique Travel Guide from

Writing a Book

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a drop in the frequency of postings. I've gone from about two posts a day to barely one every other day. Apologies. I promise I have a good excuse.

You see, I am writing a book and it has been sucking up all my attention.

I've written about 50,000 words so far; When all is said and done the book will likely be in the 250-300 page range. The outline of my story is pretty much done and now I am filling in some of the plot holes and working out the grammar. I hope to have it ready for publishing by next month.

If you enjoy reading the Saipan Blog, you'll probably enjoy reading my book. And in case you were wondering, the first working title was "Letters," but that won't be the final name.

As I get closer to publishing expect me to write about the publishing process. I may also send out a sample chapter or two - to the Under the Pala Pala list - so you need to sign up.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

1 in 72,800,000

cnmi quarterThis blog is always chock full of information that you never knew you needed to know.

Today's important fact has to do with the 50 State Quarters Program. Did you know that only 72,800,000 Northern Mariana Quarters were put into circulation in 2009, making it the quarter with the lowest circulation in the history of the American quarter (that's only enough for 1 in 4 Americans to own one)? There were 20x fewer NMI quarters cast than Virginia quarters, the state with the highest circulation (1,594,616,000). How crazy is that?

Hold on to your 2009 NMI quarters, people. Those babies are going to be collectors items one day...especially if China invades us!

Dems choose Jesse Borja as delegate bet

Yes, I am still the Press Secretary.
jesse borjaIn a meeting on April 13, 2010, the Central Executive Committee of the NMI Democratic Party unanimously voted Jesse C. Borja as their candidate for CNMI Delegate to the United States Congress.

Party chair Jesse J. Torres had this to say of Borja's nomination: “We are proud to announce that Jesse Borja is our official candidate. We selected him based on his education and experience, and because of his deep-seated belief in the ideals of the Democratic Party.”

The NMI Democrats are inviting the public to the Democrat Reunion General Meeting at the Minachom Atdao in Susupe on April 30 at 6:30pm. Jesse C. Borja will be speaking at the event and the NMI Democrats will be registering new Democrat members.

“Jesse is the kind of candidate that the New Democratic Party is looking for,” said press secretary Angelo O'Connor Villagomez. “I look forward to the community getting the opportunity to better know him.”

Borja received his juris doctorate from Georgetown University and has been a member of the CNMI Bar Association since 1974. He served as an associate justice of the CNMI Supreme Court from 1989 to 1993 and as lieutenant governor from 1994 to 1998. Borja was also a member of the Northern Mariana Islands Commission on Federal Laws. He is currently in private practice on Saipan.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rare Endemic Plants up for Review

According to the Bonner County Daily Bee, the Pacific Region of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is initiating a five-year review of three rare plants found only in the Northern Marianas Islands and protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The reviews, announced Wednesday, include plant species Nesogenese rotensis, Osmoxylon mariannense, and Serianthes nelsonii. All are currently listed as Endangered.

As part of the reviews, FWS is opening a 60-day public comment period for the submission of scientific and commercial information relevant to their listing status under the act. The public, government agencies, tribes, industry and the scientific and conservation communities are asked to submit information by June 7. However, the agency accepts new information about any listed species at any time.

According to FWS, A species could be recommended for reclassification from endangered to threatened or be removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. Any recommended change in classification would be subject to a separate rule-making process that includes opportunities for public review and comment. If no change in classification is recommended, the species would remain under its current listing status.

More information on each tree, "borrowed" from the CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife:
serianthes nelsoniiSerianthes nelsonii
Serianthes nelsonii (Fire tree, Trongkon guafi) is a native tree that is endemic to the Mariana Islands. The flower is a deep pink pompom, similar to the Monkeypod. This large tree can grow to about 2m in diameter and over 30m in height. On Rota, there are approximately one hundred and twenty-one trees in upper elevation forests.

nesogenes rotensisNesongenes rotensis
Nesogenes rotensis is a very small herbaceous, creeping plant with pointed toothed leaves. It has small white flowers with five petals that develop anywhere along the branch. It grows in small clumps with many branches growing in different directions. The leaves are greenish-yellow, and it often grows under other low lying shrubs, making it very difficult to see. The only known population of N. rotensis is found along the rocky coast of Pona Point on Rota.

oxmoxylong mariannenseOxmoxylon mariannense
Osmoxylong mariannense is a soft-wooded tree that is endemic to Rota. These trees are only found in the Sabana area of Rota at high elevations. They grow to about 10m in height. The fruit of O. mariannense is a cluster of large dark blue berries at the end of branches.
Here is link to more info on Serianthes nelsonii from the University of Guam.

Carnival of the Blue 35

The best in ocean blogging, Carnival of the Blue, is now live at OH, FOR THE LOVE OF SCIENCE.

Future of the Marianas to be unveiled in San Diego

Hey there, Taotao Marianas, for $825 and the cost of a round trip ticket to California you can find out what is being planned for the build up of United States military forces in Guam and the Northern Marianas!
Confab to unveil $20B opportunities in Guam buildup

SAN DIEGO, Calif.-The Hita I Marianas (“We Are The Marianas”) Conference will be held in San Diego, California from May 25-26, 2010, bringing together government, business and industry leaders to provide a comprehensive overview of the $20 billion military and civilian development program planned for the Marianas region, home to the U.S. territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. One of the largest U.S. Department of Defense construction projects in 50 years, the program is poised to transform the Marianas into one of the fastest growing economies in America.

Targeting businesses looking to explore new opportunities in the Asia-Pacific region, the conference will provide detailed information relating to the U.S. military buildup in the Marianas. With the impending closure of military bases in Okinawa and other strategic locations in Japan and the surrounding area, the Mariana Islands are gearing up to support the relocation of over 19,000 military personnel and their families, with a projected population increase of as much as 80,000 within the next decade. The program is drawing the attention of businesses throughout the U.S. who are keen to learn more about this opportunity, particularly in light of a slumping national economy.

Bringing together key business people and top federal, military and government officials, including CNMI Gov. Benigno Fitial and Guam Gov. Felix P. Camacho, this groundbreaking conference will address topics including:

The strategic importance of the Marianas buildup and what it means for the future of America's military presence throughout Asia;

The size, nature and timing for both military and civilian construction, service and infrastructure development contracts that will be awarded over the next five years;

The potential for housing, and commercial real estate development as well as the financial incentives available for businesses looking to establish long term investments in the Marianas;

The various business opportunities available in different fields, including: Architecture and Construction, Real Estate, Federal Contracting, Tourism and Gaming, Financial services, Transportation and Shipping, Agriculture, and Retail and Wholesale services;

The appropriateness of the Marianas as a platform for business development and expansion in Asia, including the tax and legal advantages to companies operating in the region.

The selection of San Diego as the hosting city is extremely relevant, with the city’s three largest industries being defense, manufacturing, and tourism, respectively. Businesses from San Diego and the surrounding area are well positioned to take advantage of the opportunities presented for agriculture, biotechnology/biosciences, electronics manufacturing, defense-related manufacturing/construction, financial and business services, software development, telecommunications, wireless research, and tourism.

Registration for the event is limited to 500 participants, with discounted early bird rates of $675 for registrations received prior to May 7, 2010; regular event pricing is set at $825 per person. For more information, including a complete agenda, session descriptions, logistics and registration details, visit (PRWeb)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Giant Filipino Lizard Has Two Penises

Put this one down in the "How Frickin' Awesome is That?" Category. AFP reports of a recently discovered giant lizard with two penises found in a river valley on northern Luzon Island in the Philippines.
Photo via

BIOLOGISTS have reported the discovery of a spectacular species of giant lizard, a reptile as long as a full-grown man is tall, and said it is endowed with a double penis.

The secretive but brightly-coloured beast, a monitor lizard, is a close cousin of the komodo dragon of Indonesia.

But unlike the fearsome dragon, it is not a carnivore, nor does it feast on rotting meat.

Instead, it is entirely peaceable and tucks into fruit.

Dubbed Varanus bitatawa, the lizard measures two metres in length, according to the account, published by Britain's Royal Society.

It was found in a river valley on northern Luzon Island in the Philippines, surviving loss of habitat and hunting by local people who use it for food.

How many of the lizards have survived is unclear.

The species is almost certainly critically endangered, and might well have disappeared entirely without ever being catalogued had a large male specimen not been rescued alive from a hunter last June.

Finding such a distinctive species in a heavily populated, highly deforested location "comes as an unprecedented surprise", note the authors, writing in the journal Biology Letters.

The only finds of comparable importance in recent decades are the Kipunji monkey, which inhabits a tiny range of forest in Tanzania, and the Saola, a forest-dwelling bovine found only in Vietnam and Laos.

V. bitatawa has unique markings and an unusual sexual anatomy, according to the study.

Its scaly body and legs are a blue-black mottled with pale yellow-green dots, while its tail is marked in alternating segments of black and green.

Males have a double penis, called hemipenes, also found in some snakes and other lizards.

The two penises are often used in alternation, and sometimes contain spines or hooks that serve to anchor the male within the female during intercourse.

V. bitatawa has a relative in southern Luzon, V. olivaceus, but the species are separated by three river valleys and a gap of 150km and may never have met up.

One reason that the new lizard has gone undetected, the researchers speculate, is that it never leaves the forests of its native Sierra Madre mountains to traverse open spaces.

The discovery "adds to the recognition of the Philippines as a global conservation hotspot and a regional superpower of biodiversity", the authors conclude.

The giant lizard should become a "flagship species" for conservation efforts aimed at preserving the remaining forests of northern Luzon, which are rapidly disappearing under the pressure of expanding human population and deforestation.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Under the Pala Pala XII – Monument Promises Coming True

Under the Pala Pala XII – Monument Promises Coming True

Island Decisions and Island Opinions are made Under the Pala Pala

We’re going to get a Marianas Trench Eco-Discovery Center! The Marianas Variety and the Saipan Tribune both reported today that $220,000 has been set aside to “develop a process” for consulting the public regarding a visitors center for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

This is great news! Governor Ben Fitial, Representative Greg Sablan, the Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument, NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries, and even President Barack Obama deserve much thanks. Although the Bush Administration promised a monument visitor center, it is the work of these individuals that is bringing the promises of the monument to fruition.

About a month ago, the Friends of the Marianas Trench Monument got this ball rolling and wrote to both Governor Fitial and Representative Sablan asking them to work with NOAA to engage “the CNMI community to design a Mariana Trench Visitor Center.” During the week that Agnes McPhetres and I spent in Washington, DC last February we identified funds already appropriated by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama that could be used to design such a visitor center. All the Governor or the Congressman would have to do was to write to NOAA Office of Marine National Sanctuaries to request that the funds be used to design a visitor center.

The Fitial Administration and NOAA have since come up with a work plan for developing a visitor center at the Old Japanese Lighthouse on Navy Hill. This is wonderful news!

The Old Japanese Lighthouse is an excellent site for a visitor center because of its link to maritime history and its panoramic view of the Saipan Lagoon and Managaha. The Old Japanese Lighthouse is also on the National Registry of Historic Places, making its selection even more meaningful.

Congratulations and thank you to everyone who is helping the promises of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument come true.

Angelo O’Connor Villagomez
Winter Park, FL


Under the Pala Pala is the regular commentary of environmentalist and erstwhile politician Angelo O’Connor Villagomez. Pala pala is the Chamorro word for an outdoor shelter traditionally made of wood and thatch used for staying out of the sun, cooking, eating, drinking, singing, and talking. Sign up to subscribe via email at

Skype: saipanblogger

Monday, April 05, 2010

My Freezer is colder than Challenger Deep

When I checked my blog stats today I noticed that I had a referral from the Deep Storage Project website. I wrote about these guys a few times last year and not in a very flattering way, I might add (I must have been mad at Oreo; my blog post is ridiculous).

I clicked through some of the pages and found that even though they've had to push their timeline back by about a year, it looks like the "artist" known on "Hornsleth" still plans on dumping a really ugly 24 foot sculpture stuffed with medical waste into the Marianas Trench.

I have a problem with that.

First of all, the coordinates they give on their website, 12° 55' 25" N / 166° 11' 59" E would put the future site of their planned crime scene somewhere between the Republic of the Marshall Islands and Wake Island. I have marked the Deep Storage Project coordinates on the map below with an "A." Notice how far away it is from the 1000 mile long Marianas Trench.

deep storage projectFor the record, I've been to the Marshall Islands. It is 8 hours by plane away from Guam and is nowhere near the Marianas Trench. "Hornsleth" is either really bad at geography or is hoping you don't know how to read a map.

As I worked my way through the website I noticed that the "artist" has picked up a few "advisors" from Guam. Two of them are professors at the University and one is Guam's Delegate to the United States Congress, Representative Madeleine Bordallo. Another page on the website has pictures of "Hornsleth" during his recent visit to Guam. It is accompanied by an essay from a Guam art teacher that references an "uninformed, political activist, environmentalist." I'm guessing that's me.

horsleth guamI actually have to give "Hornsleth" credit here. He obviously cares what the local people think and I am impressed that he took the time to fly all the way to Guam to hear some local concerns. The only problem is that Challenger Deep, the deepest, darkest place in the world's ocean's, the place "Hornsleth" advertises as the place where he is going to dump his sculpture, is in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), not Guam.

challenger deepYou see, Challenger Deep lies outside the Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States. I hope the President of the FSM and the Governor of Yap don't mind that "Hornsleth" went to Guam instead of coming to visit them.

Or perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps "Hornsleth" doesn't intend to dump his sculpture at the coordinates on his website or in the deepest, darkest place in the world's oceans. Perhaps he went to Guam because he plans to dump his sculpture in a portion of the Marianas Trench within the United States Exclusive Economic Zone.

Well, if that's true then I have some really bad news for him. The entirety of the submerged lands making up the Marianas Trench within the United States Exclusive Economic Zone is protected as a part of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument. If he dumps his sculpture there, he'll be breaking the law.

On Page 3, in the first paragraph under the heading Management of the Marine National Monument, the Presidential Proclamation creating the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument reads, "The Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce shall not allow or permit any appropriation, injury, destruction, or removal of any feature of this monument except as provided for by this proclamation or as otherwise provided by law."

Dumping the sculpture within the borders of the monument would get "Hornsleth" in trouble with both Interior (United States Fish & Wildlife Service) and Commerce (National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration). He might want to rethink his plans.

In fact, if he plans on sailing from Guam, using a vessel from Guam, or dumping in any ocean waters under U.S. jurisdiction, "Hornsleth" might want to rethink his plans.

Title I of the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) prohibits all ocean dumping, except that allowed by permits, in any ocean waters under U.S. jurisdiction, by any U.S. vessel, or by any vessel sailing from a U.S. port. The act bans any dumping of radiological, chemical, and biological warfare agents and any high-level radioactive waste, and medical wastes (the blood and tissue samples inside the sculpture qualify as medical wastes).

The MPRSA authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess civil penalties of not more than $50,000 for each violation of a permit or permit requirement. Criminal penalties (including seizure and forfeiture of vessels) for knowing violations of the act also are authorized. In addition, the act authorizes penalties for ocean dumping of medical wastes (civil penalties up to $125,000 for each violation and criminal penalties up to $250,000, five years in prison, or both).

Like many other federal environmental laws, the MPRSA allows individuals to bring a citizen suit in U.S. District Court against any person, including the United States, for violation of a permit or other prohibition, limitation, or criterion issued under Title I of the act.

Furthermore, the U.S. Coast Guard is directed to conduct surveillance and other appropriate enforcement activities to prevent unlawful transporation of material for dumping, or unlawful dumping.

So basically, if "Horsleth" tries to dump anywhere in the ocean, he'll have the Coast Guard and the EPA after him and he may be liable for civil and criminal penalties. He may also face some jail time, as would anyone who assists him. Furthermore, anyone can bring a case against him, including me.

ocean litter bugAnd if "Horsleth" tries to dump within the borders of the monument, on top of the Coast Guard and the EPA, he'll have USFWS and NOAA breathing down his neck. Isn't that exciting?

I think it is time for "Horsleth" to pull the plug on this ill-conceived plan; He should just go ahead and return everyone's money.

And one final note, people out there have to be morons to fall for this stupid idea. The temperature at Challenger Deep is a mere 2.5° C; it isn't even freezing. The freezer in my kitchen would do a better job of preserving people's DNA than this stupid sculpture.

If you would like to share your opinion with "Hornsleth" you can call him at +44 - (0)781 6839 451 or email him at

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Froilan Goes Big Time

Check out CNMI House Speaker and former Governor Froilan Tenorio in the preview for Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

Tip-o-the-hat to Wendy for the link.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Atlantic Morning


Coffee in hand I tumble out on the back porch to see a pod of dolphins crashing through the surf no more than 150 feet off shore. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. No fewer than ten dolphins take turns cresting the surface as a pelican wades patiently behind them.

This is my first time seeing dolphins from the condo at New Smyrna Beach. Mom says they see them all the time.

My family's condo is in New Smyrna along a stretch of beach that doesn't allow cars. Further north the beach is a highway of fumes and tanned bodies; down here the only traffic is people jogging and riding bikes and the occasional sea turtle laying eggs.

Closer to shore a man is practicing using a throw net. I notice when he pulls it in that it is smaller than the ones my father used on Saipan; when he holds it up it is about as tall as him, probably 5 to 6 feet long.

He throws it differently from Dad, too. Dad would hold his 8 foot net about a third away from the opening and loop the rest in his right hand, holding it together between his thumb and index finger. Dad would pinch a length of the net between his right elbow and his torso and then reach into the opening to take about half of the net into his left hand. As he prepared to throw, Dad would pull the net to his right and then swing to his left like he was swinging a baseball bat.

The man on the beach holds his smaller net with his right hand at about the midpoint and lets the center of the net hang. As he prepares to throw he grasps a corner of the net near the opening and draws it across his body, holding his arm out to his left parallel to the ground, the net sprawled across his chest.

He winds to his right and as he swings to his left releases the net. It doesn't open into the wide demi-sphere I remember my father throwing; it doesn't really open up at all. He pulls the circular net back to him by the string attached to its center and starts the process all over again.

A young boy wearing a yellow shirt and a baseball cap walks up to the man and watches from about ten feet behind. It is probably his son or his nephew. The man lets the boy try throwing the net. I notice that the boy is left handed.

Neither man nor boy notices the dolphins splashing around no more than 150 feet past where the net lands. Perhaps they can't see them. I'm on the sixth floor and can see everything.

These two aren't the only ones fishing this morning. Old men with their beer bellies making them look like pregnant walruses dot the shore with fishing rods standing at attention in the sand. They cast their lines and then they wait. One man stands in the waves with his hands on his head, willing the fish to bite. Another watches a young boy on his skim board. I assume it is his grandson.

The beach is alive in the morning. Bikers, joggers, and walkers move up and down the shore as sanderlings run in circles, avoiding the waves if they get too close. Sun worshipers are already setting up their chairs and towels. Umbrellas and shade tents go up. Surfers paddle out to sit on their boards just beyond the break.

A quarter mile out a paddle boarder makes his way back in to shore. I wonder if he can see the dolphins. Nobody on the beach or in the waves has seemed to noticed them, not even the surfers.

As I gaze out on the Atlantic my thoughts go back to my island in the Pacific. With enough wind and enough time I could sail from this beach to the shores of Saipan. My two oceans are one.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Papahanaumokuakea eclipsed by Chagos

Today, the Saipan Blogger commended U.K. Foreign Minister David Miliband for designating the Chagos Islands as the world's largest marine reserve. The islands and their surrounding waters cover 210,000 square miles, an area larger than California and more than 60 times the size of Yellowstone National Park. The new marine protected area is larger than the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (~145,00 square miles) and the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (~12,000 square miles) combined.

The 55 tiny Chagos Islands are the world's largest atoll, square in the middle of the Indian Ocean. They hold half of the world's remaining healthy coral reefs, 175,000 breeding seabird pairs and threatened Hawksbill and Green Turtles.

"Well, it's huge, the Chagos Islands alone will make up 40% of the world's marine reserves," says Jay Nelson of the Pew Environment Group. "We're still absorbing the news."

Congrats, Jay. Congrats, Pew. Congrats, World.

Visit Global Ocean Legacy for more information.