Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Harry Blalock Facts

Harry Blalock is the owner and operator of Axe Murderer Dive Tours on Saipan. If you live on Saipan and want to learn to dive or if you plan on visiting and need a dive master, visit his website and give him a call.

In the meantime, let's finish a journey that started over a year ago in the comments section of this blog.

Vote for your favorite Harry Blalock facts in the left column.

<-------VOTE HERE. Read all the original Harry Blalock facts here.Feel free to add more! The winning fact gets...nothing!
  • Megalodon did not disappear because of the pressures of natural selection, but was shamed into extinction by Harry Blalock.
  • The Marianas Trench was formed when someone told the Pacific Plate Harry Blalock lived on Saipan.
  • Saipan only gets hit by typhoons when Harry Blalock is off island.
  • Sharks are taught that, should they encounter Harry Blalock underwater, they should remain calm and slowly swim away.
  • Harry Blalock does not need a dive knife. Old fishing line makes sure it stays out of Harry Blalock's way.
  • Harry Blalock does not need to control his buoyancy. He just scares the surface and seafloor away.
  • Harry Blalock was the monster in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but it was changed to a giant squid so as not to frighten children.
  • How does Harry Blalock cause tsunamis? Shut the hell up, that's how.
  • Harry Blalock does his laundry at the washing machine in the Grotto.
  • America's Day begins on Guam, but finishes when Harry Blalock says it's finished.
  • The Titanic sank when it hit Harry Blalock.
  • Harry Blalock was the first to find Nemo
  • The sound of one hand clapping is Harry Blalock.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Lost Symbol: Inside the REAL Pod Five

invertebrate zoology collectionLast week I posted a picture of me standing in front of the entrance to Pod Five at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center.

The Smithsonian Museum Support Center (SMCS) in Silver Hill, Maryland, just outside of the Washington, DC is one of the locations featured in Dan Brown's book and upcoming movie The Lost Symbol. In the book Pod Five of the SMCS is home to the super-secret laboratory where Katherine Solomon studies noetics, but in real life it is home to the National Museum of Natural History's scientific specimen collection. Pod Five is as wide as a football field and three stories tall and all the rooms are stacked from floor to ceiling with scientific specimens collected from across the globe.

I am working on collaborative project between the Smithsonian Ocean Portal, Mission Blue and Google Earth and today went back to the to talk with some of the curators about getting photos and data and to look at some of the scientific specimens from the Gulf of Mexico, including sponges, coral, tube worms, crabs, lobsters and a giant squid.

The collection is spectacular. Some of the specimens were collected by Charles Darwin. The lobster in this jar was collected in 1932 and was as thick around as my thigh (and I'm not exactly a skinny guy). There is some really cool stuff.

gulf of mexico giant squidThis is the giant squid that NOAA caught in the Gulf of Mexico alive last year. It is only the second giant squid ever found in the Gulf. This isn't, however, the giant squid that is featured in The Lost Symbol.

This is the giant squid that was featured in the book. My rough estimate is that he's at least four times larger than the first giant squid pictured above. Pretty cool, huh?

We also looked at a lot of the smaller stuff. Here is a short video of us in the crab room up on the second floor:

The reason we are focusing on the Gulf of Mexico is because this 150 year old collection is going to be very important in assessing the damage caused by the 2010 BP Oil Spill. Similar to the little anecdote of the crabs Bill Moser describes in the video, the scientific specimens in the Smithsonian collection, collections that were made before the spill, can be compared to collections made after the spill. I'm not a taxonomist or an expert in invertebrate zoology, but scientists who specialize in those fields will be able to compare population size, sizes of individuals, whether or not species are appearing in places where they were historically located and so forth. This type of data will help assess the extent to the damage. Again, pretty cool, huh?

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Saipan Blogger Invades Pod Five

I get to do some pretty cool stuff. This morning I had an appointment at the Smithsonian Museum Support Center in Maryland (SMSC). What is the SMSC, you might ask? Well, have you read Dan Brown's latest novel?

From The Lost Symbol (page 33):
The sign on the door announced:


The Smithsonian Institution, despite having more than a dozen massive museums on the National Mall, had a collection so huge that only 2 percent of it could be on display at any one time. The other 98 percent of the collection had to be stored somewhere. And that somewhere...was here.
smscAccording to Smithsonian Magazine, Dan Brown got it mostly right. The SMSC stores about 40% of the collection, not 2%. Most of the collection is held in the museums down on the National Mall. Even so, in the book, a lot of the action takes place in the SMSC, especially in the super-secret Pod Five. A few pages later:
Her footsteps clicked rhythmically down the cement corridor that ran like a spine through the SMSC. Known as "The Street," the corridor connected the building's five massive storage pods. Forty feet overhead, a circulatory system of orange ductwork throbbed with the heartbeat of the buildling - the pulsing sounds of thousands of cubic feet of filtered air being circulated.

Normally, during her nearly quarter-mile walk to her lab, Katherine felt calmed by the breathing sounds of the building. Tonight, however, the pulsing had her on edge. What she had learned about her brother today would have troubled anyone, and yet because Peter was the only family she had in the world, Katherine felt especially disturbed to think he might be keeping secrets from her.

As far as she knew, he had kept a secret from her only once... a wonderful secret that was hidden at the end of this very hallway. Three years ago, her brother had walked Katherine down this corridor, introducing her to the SMSC by proudly showing off some of the building's more unusual items - the Mars meteorite ALH-84001, the handwritten pictographic diary of Sitting Bull, a collection of wax-sealed Ball jars containing original specimens collected by Charles Darwin.

At one point, they walked past a heavy door with a small window.

Katherine caught a glimpse of what lay beyond and gasped. "What in the world is that?!"

Her brother chuckled and kept walking. "Pod Three. It's called Wet Pod. Pretty unusual sight, isn't it?"

Terrifying is more like it. Katherine hurried after him. This building was like another planet.

"What I really want to show you is in Pod Five," her brother said, guiding her down the seemingly endless corridor. "It's our newest addition. It was built to house artifacts from the basement of the National Museum of Natural History. That collection is scheduled for relocation here in about five years, which means Pod Five is sitting empty at the moment."

Katherine glanced over. "Empty? So why are we looking at it?"

Her brother's gray eyes flashed a familiar mischief. It occured to me that because nobody is using the space, maybe you could use it."
If you read the book you know what is inside Pod Five.

pod fiveAnd that, my friends, is the door to Pod Five (you probably have to click on the photo to be able to read that the door does in fact say "Pod 5.")

smithsonian museum Any guesses as to what is really inside Pod Five? I'm going back there on Thursday and will post photos about a week from now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Spear Fishing News

The Marianas Variety reports that Guam is considering banning spear fishing, a non-traditional fishing technology introduced in recent decades:
HAGÅTÑA — While agreeing with the argument of the Guam Fisherman’s Cooperative that pollution poses a threat to the island’s marine resources, researchers at the University of Guam’s Marine Lab maintain that scuba spear-fishing contributes to the decline in local fish stock.

Brett Taylor, a research associate with the Marine Lab, said the scientific evidence speaks for itself.

After collecting years of empirical data, Taylor argued that the older, larger species of the atuhong, or humphead parrot fish and the tanguisson, or humphead wrasse, are disappearing in large quantities because of scuba spear-fishing.

Manny Duenas*, president of the Fisherman’s Coop, opposes Bill 397, which seeks to ban spear-fishing on Guam, arguing that this fishing method is not the cause of the dwindling fish stock within Guam’s oceans.

Taylor, however, said a study conducted by the Marine Lab showed the average age of fish on Guam has declined over the years, specifically those located in non-preserved areas that are commonly fished around Guam.

According to data collected by UOG’s Marine Lab and the Guam Department of Agriculture, “without eggs from the larger fish, these particular species are on the verge of being extinct in local Guam waters because they sleep in the open area and are easier to catch while using scuba.”

These types of fish take many years to reproduce, UOG researchers said.

A 2008 study on the status of the coral reef ecosystems of Guam showed that while there are many factors involved in the decline of fish population, fisheries impact is certainly a major contributor.

Scuba spear-fishing seems to be detrimental because it reduces the number of fish eggs released every year because the method targets large fish that are easy to catch while they sleep.

Data which has tracked fishing patterns on Guam since 1985 attributes 85 percent of the recorded atuhong and tanguisson catch to fishermen using scuba.

Taylor said the Marine Lab is not necessarily against spear-fishing in general. “Under no circumstance are we saying that fishing is bad. Subsistence fishing is a wonderful thing, but when you commercialize a dynamic fishery, like a coral reef fishery, it can be extremely detrimental to fish stock,” he said.

Alexander Kerr, associate professor at the Marine Lab, said reef fish are important to Guam because without such, there would be no fish to consume algae that smother young corals, which in turn could cause reefs to die.
I have not read the language of this bil, but I would hope that it makes exceptions for spear fishing that passes down cultural and traditional fishing practices. I am assuming that Chamorros traditionally used spears for fishing, but I do not know specifically how. I think that this traditional fishing should be explored and included in this bill.

For the record, chumming the ocean for days and then using long fins and high powered spear guns to catch fish is not cultural or traditional.

*This is the same Manny Duenas who accused James Connaughton, a Jew, of being a Nazi. He also called me a coconut brained idiot (an idiot who is brown on the outside and white on the inside). Name calling is the last (or first) resort of someone who cannot win an argument by wit.

Monday, July 19, 2010

LINK TO ME: Find Your Blue

Copy and paste the code from the textboxes into your blog or website template to add these badges:

find your blue
From the Ocean Portal website:
Welcome to the Ocean Portal – a unique, interactive online experience that inspires awareness, understanding, and stewardship of the world’s Ocean, developed by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and more than 20 collaborating organizations.
You can also follow the ocean portal on Facebook:

Ocean Portal on Facebook

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Paper park, paper council

It has been 1 year, 6 months and 12 days since President George W. Bush created the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. The declaration signed all those days ago mandated that a five-person advisory council be created three months after the declaration. That council still hasn't been created.

The Marianas Variety reports:
NONE of the supposed CNMI representatives to the advisory council for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument whom Gov. Benigno R. Fitial nominated last year have been appointed.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council member Benigno M. Sablan, who is one of the nominees, said their names were submitted in Jan. 2009.

“We don’t deserve this kind of treatment,” he told the Variety.

Aside from Sablan, the other nominees are Fish and Wildlife Director Sylvan Igisomar and Senior Policy Advisor Dr. John Joyner, who replaced the original nominee and former Wespac advisory panel member Joaquin Villagomez.
First of all, Governor Fitial doesn't get to nominate any individuals to the advisory council. He only gets to make recommendations. Nominations and recommendations are completely different things.

The declaration reads:
The Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce, within 3 months of the date of this proclamation and after considering recommendations from the Governor of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall establish the Mariana Monument Advisory Council to provide advice and recommendations on the development of management plans and management of the monument. [emphasis mine]
I agree that the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce should consider Governor Fitial's recommendations (after all, they are required by law to do so), but they should also take into account the recommendations of other people who have a stake in the monument's management. For example, I think that someone from the Legislature should be on the council. It would also be appropriate to have a scientist or a cultural expert on the council.

I'd also like to see a conservation-oriented, rather than a commercial fishing-oriented, person on the council. Although the governor has described Sablan, Igisomar and Joyner as the “champions of reasonable, practical and meaningful conservation efforts and practices," I think most people can read between the lines to understand the intention of the words "reasonable" and "practical" in this case. For those of you who can't read between the lines, you can read the Division of Fish & Wildlife's official monument website, Marianas Conservation.

no pew monumentOr perhaps you're more of a visual person? There's (from left to right) Joyner and Igisomar with John Gonzales, Jack Villagomez and Frank Rabualiman.

It makes me wonder if perhaps the real reason the monument advisory panel has not been created is because the people who have been recommended to be a part of it have made public their intention to destroy the monument, to negate the monument, to open the monument back up to commercial fishing. Maybe the Secretaries of the Interior and Commerce are waiting for recommendations who are champions of "science-based" and "community-supported" conservation, instead?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Double Rainbow OMG

This is the original Double Rainbow video, and no, Double Rainbow wasn't written by Usher:

that's a full rainbow
all the way
double rainbow
it's a double rainbow
all the way
that's so intense
whoa man
whoa ho ho ho
omg omg-od od od
oh my wow

Naturally the Internet has taken to making spoof videos. This is an R&B inspired Double Rainbow song, perhaps Justin Timberlake could remake this one of these days? Perhaps a duet with Usher?

For some reason this techno-inspired Double Rainbow song makes me think of Lady Gaga. Or maybe the Black Eyed Peas?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Something Smells Fishy

Bree Reynolds, one the all-time Beautify CNMI all-stars, is in Washington, DC this week for an education conference. Last night she and I met up with some other former Saipan residents for dinner at the Bilbo Baggins restaurant in Old Alexandria. We laughed about the good old days and reminisced on some of our favorite stories from the last few years, including Harry Blalock's Crab Eviction and the Great Napoleonic War of 2008.

I got home late and before crashing into bed, checked the Saipan news to see if anything interesting was going on. A story about a scuba diver getting bent and dying caught my eye.

The Saipan news is always a day or so behind, but the Guam-based Pacific Daily News was reporting that a man who had been night diving outside the Tanapag lagoon went to the hospital showing symptoms of decompression sickness and then died four hours later. My first thought was, "a night dive outside the Tanapag lagoon?"

Who dives outside the Tanapag lagoon, never mind a night dive outside the Tanapag lagoon? Nobody. Nobody dives there during the day. Nobody dives there at night. Nobody.

You can probably guess what was really going on without me spelling it out. Four days ago I wrote the following words:
A sizeable portion of fish for sale at roadside stands are caught with scuba spearfishing, which is theoretically illegal. In fact, freediving spearfishmen like Felix, Morito the shark feeder, and Troy complain about how the commercial fishermen have an unfair competitive advantage over them because they break the law and how they are the ones truly responsible for the collapse of Saipan's fishery.
This guy was obviously fishing with scuba and like I have mentioned in previous posts, fishing with scuba in the Northern Mariana Islands is illegal.

I checked the news again this morning to get the full story. A report appears in the Thursday, July 16 editions of both the Saipan Tribune and the Marianas Variety, but neither paper questions why somebody would be night diving outside the Tanapag Lagoon. The deceased's employer, who was one of my opponents in the 2009 Saipan Mayor campaign, is quoted in the Marianas Variety saying that the deceased was, "a very good and a hardworking employee. He was excellent in bottom-fishing, trolling, and in diving." No reason is given as to why the deceased was scuba diving at night in a place where people don't usually scuba dive. Only the TV news, KSPN, suggests that he may have been fishing. They bring up the fact that the deceased was employed as a fisherman and that scuba spearfishing is illegal.

saipan fishingIn fact, the deceased was a very good fisherman. A very, very, very good fisherman. Here he is with one day's catch. The photo is ripped from his employer's Facebook page.

I get angry when people break the fishing rules. I also get upset when the local government doesn't enforce the law. It would be incorrect to call Saipan lawless, because Saipan has plenty of laws. Saipan just doesn't have much enforcement.

I am interested to see what happens here. Environmental laws were clearly being broken, but the employer is from a prominent family, but much like me, has been out of sorts with the Fitial Administration. I wonder if this will get swept under the rug or if something will actually be done. Will the Division of Fish & Wildlife cite the owners of the company, the managers, the employees or nobody at all? I wonder.

Local fisherman should be up in arms that one of their own is breaking the law to gain an unfair advantage over them. The scuba ban was put in place to create a so-called "human-limit marine protected area." The idea was to restrict the allowable catch to those fish that can be caught with one breath, giving fish a refuge at depth to grow and reproduce. Since the ban on scuba isn't being enforced, this "marine protected area" doesn't exist and thus the claims by the local Division of Fish & Wildlife that they are managing our waters are moot. What is the point of having management if management is not enforced?

This type of reckless, greedy behavior has done more to destroy the Chamorro culture than the influence of any other culture, Asian or Western (yes, that is a dig). Here is a description of the Tanapag Lagoon from Tanapag elder Pete Teigita:
"In those days there were a lot of fish," Pete recounts. "We didn’t need to use a net. You could go out free diving and catch a lot of big fish. You could choose what kind of fish you wanted to catch. We did spear fishing mostly during daytime. Sometimes we’d go at nighttime when we needed to catch what we call hiteng, rabbit fish. Sometimes we go outside the reef just to catch lobster and things like that."
Compare that to the Tanapag of today, where in order to catch fish fisherman have to go outside of the lagoon to the open ocean. How much culture has been lost already, do you really want to lose even more?

Sharktopus is Coming

Sharktopus is coming soon!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fishing Contest: Kill the last Napoleon wrasse on Saipan and win a prize!

troy williamsIt turns out Troy Williams didn't like me calling him out for killing Napoleon wrasse in Saipan's (or Tinian's) waters. To express this displeasure he printed himself up a shirt to let the world know how cool he is. Isn't he a cool guy!

I have a problem with tourists, especially tourists who work for the Guam Visitors Channel, coming to Saipan and killing an endangered species. It is one thing for a local to catch this fish to sell or eat it, it is another for a tourist to do so. In fact, I have defended the priviledge of local fisherman to catch this fish. When Felix Sasamoto caught a Napoleon wrasse at Obyan beach in 2008, I was the first person to publicly defend him.

napoleon wrasseThe Northern Marianas are a decade behind in recognizing the need to protect the Napoleon wrasse. Australia has full protections. So does Palau. A dozen other nations have limited protections. And since protections are not in place here, the fish is fair game for anyone with a spear.

Yet the fact remains that the IUCN lists the Napoleon wrasse as an endangered species. The CNMI Division of Fish & Wildlife, notably Mike Trianni with the fisheries division, tries to claim that it is uncommon, but not endangered. Seeing as DFW has overseen the collapse of Saipan's fishery over the last two decades, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I trust IUCN more.

But I'm probably just dreaming. Even if there were protections for the Napoleon wrasse on Saipan, the law wouldn't be enforced. There is still fishing going on in the local marine protected areas; you can see Harry Blalock removing fishing line wrapped around coral heads in the Bird Island Marine Preserve on MSNBC last year. I also remember in 2008 when DFW Director Sylvan Igisomar reprogrammed the fuel budget for the enforcement boats to his travel budget. Good luck patrolling our waters from the dock, boys! And a sizeable portion of fish for sale at roadside stands are caught with scuba spearfishing, which is theoretically illegal. In fact, freediving spearfishmen like Felix, Morito the shark feeder, and Troy complain about how the commercial fishermen have an unfair competitive advantage over them because they break the law and how they are the ones truly responsible for the collapse of Saipan's fishery. The sport spearfishermen just get more attention because they send their photos to the newspaper, post them on Facebook and wear t-shirts that say, "Die Fishies, Die!"

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Say no to crackheads

Today my muse is my fellow Irish-Chamorro American, Stanely McGinnis Torres. Thank you, Stanley.

Stanley wrote a letter to the editor published in July 9's Marianas Variety that lists four cures for what ails the Northern Mariana Islands. Stanley believes that the salvation of our islands are to be found in (1) nuclear energy, (2) gambling, (3) drugs (4) and pawning off the remainder of our most cherished natural resources.

Let me address nuclear energy first. Nuclear energy is a controversial topic, even among environmentalists. On the one hand, nuclear energy has no emissions and could slow global climate change, on the other, nuclear energy is responsible for Godzilla, Planet of the Apes, the bad guy from Superman IV and Lindsay Lohan.

According to a United States government website, the smallest nuclear plant in the United States generates 476 MW of electricity. A recent story in the Saipan Tribune quoted Commonwealth Utility Corporation assistant executive director Abe Utu Malae saying that peak load on Saipan was 44 MW. That means that the smallest nuclear plant currently in use would provide enough energy for 11 Saipans. Building a nuclear power plant would be like lighting a forest fire, when all you need to do is light your cigarette. And, no, we can't export the excess electricity to the rest of Micronesia with a really long power cord. The feasibility of that idea has already been shot down.

I will address gambling, drugs and pawning off the remainder of your belongings in one fell swoop. Let's imagine that the Northern Mariana Islands were not an archipelago and government, but instead a person. What kind of person resorts to gambling, drugs and pawning? What stage of life does a person usually resort to gambling, drugs and pawning? I'd venture that such a person is a crackhead one hit away from overdosing.

Can you think of any 10-year old kid that goes around saying that when they grow up, they want to be a crackhead? Of course not! You've hit rock bottom if all you can offer yourself is to sell drugs, gamble your last $20 in hopes of hitting the jackpot or pawning your mom's (stolen) jewelery.

I'm not saying that Stanley Torres is a crackhead, in fact, I'm not even going to finish this sentence.

Unofficial CNMI Sex Offender Registry

Sexual assault has become one of the hot topics on Saipan since two girls were recently raped in broad daylight in two separate incidents (one of the girls has since said she invented her story, although the doctors at the Commonwealth Health Center found evidence she had intercourse). There have been calls for a CNMI Sex Offender List to be published. Both Jane Mack and Wendy Doromal discuss the specifics on their respective blogs, so there is no need to point out the shortcomings of our local government. Again.

I will, however, direct you to the Isa Drive blog, the anonymous blog that has compiled a list of Saipan's Rapists and Saipan's Pedophiles. The local government claims the CNMI Sex Offender List is made up of 104 individuals. I count only 85 on the Isa Drive blog.

This list should be passed around to all parents with children living on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. As you may notice, most of the victims have been children, especially young girls.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Tourists are still killing fish

bumphead parrotfishHow do you feel when tourists visiting Saipan post pictures of themselves killing rare charismatic megafauna? This green humphead parrotfish is listed as a species of concern by the National Marine Fisheries Service. It's not officially endangered, but ask yourself this, how many of these babies have you seen in the Saipan Lagoon recently?

It is one thing for a local to catch this fish using local methods, but for a Japanese dive shop owner to charge a tourist to board a dive boat to go spear fishing? That doesn't sit well with me.

Just like the Napoleon Wrasse Troy Williams sold to a Garapan chinese restaurant for $1/pound, I'm sure this fish sold for all of $50. Maybe $60.

Tourists who kill rare species during their vacation on Saipan hereby make the official Saipan Blog Asshole List.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Independence and Liberation

This year I celebrated American Independence Day in our Nation's capitol. A friend of a friend is a retired major in the Army and he was able to gain us entrance to Fort Myer, where we watched the fireworks over the Washington Monument from an unobstructed hillside on Whipple Field. While we waited for the fireworks to start we sipped on mojitos and gorged on a traditional meal of KFC. The fireworks were a sight to behold and afterwards we partook in that other American tradition: sitting in traffic.

Scene in the Camp at Chalan Kanoa. Photograph from the CNMI Museum.

Back in Saipan, the local government doesn't officially recognize Independence Day; we celebrate something we call Liberation Day, which coincidently also happens to fall on the Fourth of July. In one of the many ironies that makes Saipan, Saipan, Liberation Day commemorates the anniversary of the day the Chamorro people living on Saipan were liberated from the US Military, not by the US Military. For two years after the invasion of Saipan, the indigenous people of Saipan (and the Japanese, Okinawan and Korean civilians living there before the invasion) were forced to live in an internment camp called Camp Susupe. Our Liberation came when the United States released us from a cage.  Liberation Day only commemorates Saipan's liberation from the Japanese in the sense that it commemorates the end of the war's hostilities and America's need for a launching pad to invade Japan.

Camp Susupe (Japanese Section) Saipan, 1944. Photograph courtesy of the CNMI Historic Preservation Office.

The release from Camp Susupe on July 4, 1946, set the indigenous people down the path towards self-government, something they had not had since Magellan "discovered" the islands, and something not achieved until January 9, 1978. The annual celebration of Liberation Day helps remind us of our democracy's humble beginnings, beginnings much humbler than those of the land- and slave-owning gentlemen who signed the US Declaration of Independence in 1776.

In practice, however, Liberation Day is more a celebration of Independence Day than it is a reminder of the horrors of war or of the beginnings of democracy in Saipan. In essence, we celebrate our liberation from and relationship to the United States on the same day. And this supposed parodox plays out every single day in Saipan. For example, in the local House of Representatives, one member calls America an enemy, while another serves in the Army Reserve. Patriotism runs deep, but so does anti-Americanism.

Just another day in paradise.

Deep-sea Mining Update

The Internet says that the Chinese are going to make an attempt at deep-sea mining. From the Independent:
The Chinese government has just lodged the first application to mine for minerals under the seabed in international waters, in this case on a ridge in the Indian Ocean 1,700 metres (more than 5,000ft) below the surface.
This is worrisome. First of all, even on land, mining is one of the most dangerous endeavors a nation can undertake. It seems like every few months there are reports of coal miners dying in West Virginia, China or South America. If mining is dangerous and difficult to do on land, undoubtably mining is going to be even more difficult and more dangerous at the bottom of the ocean.

The technology hardly exists to put (living) humans on the ocean floor. In fact, there have been more men on the moon than there have been on the deep ocean floor; and more robotic exploration of the surface of Mars than of the ocean. I'm not taking crazy pills; do a Google search of "Philippines [or insert some other third world country] mining disaster" to see the horrible, permanent damage mining has done across the globe. Combining the inherent risk of mining disaster with the potential of ocean currents to transport the damage over hundreds of miles of open ocean only multiplies the danger of undersea mining. The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico should serve as a cautionary tale of how wrong things can go at depth.

I am also concerned that it is China undertaking this endeavor. To put it lightly, working conditions in Chinese factories are often not up to the standards of most developed nations. I do not think the Chinese are very likely to implement the environmental safeguards an undersea mining operation would need. Hell, BP, the supposed "green" oil company, didn't implement the environmental safeguards necessary to prevent their oil spill.

And now for the official Saipan Blog, Saipan angle:

According to scientists from the United States Geological Survey, the most likely places for undersea mining in the Northern Mariana Islands are the extinct submarine thermal vents off the coast of Rota. Politians on Saipan, desperate to make a quick buck, want to figure out a way to "harvest" those resources. I think they are shortsighted; even with the close proximity, I doubt any of the economic benefits from mining would accrue to the local economy.

For example, any mining operation would likely not be based in Rota, due to the lack of a harbor or infrastructure to support a mining operation; the operation would likely be based out of Guam, if not Singapore. Also, any royalties from the mining would go the United States government, not the Northern Mariana Islands government or the local Rota government. The only economic benefits to Saipan or Rota would be residual, mainly from mining employees spending their paychecks in the local bars (similar to the economy of the pre-positioned ships off the coast of Saipan, the operation of which is done from Guam).

However, even though the Marianas' economy would only benefit peripherally from undersea mining, they would have to take on all of the environmental risk. So let's imagine for a moment that the environmental impact of an undersea mining sediment plume is as large as say, the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A quick visit to If It Was My Home shows the spacial extent of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill superimposed over anywhere on the globe. Here it is superimposed near one of the thermal vents off the coast of Rota:

oil spill rotaIt may be difficult to gauge the extent of the affected area from this map, since there is so much ocean in this screen capture, but were the Gulf of Mexico oil spill superimposed to Rota, it would swamp all the inhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, destroying all fishing, all SCUBA diving, and all other economic activity related to the ocean (i.e. tourism) in the entire Commonwealth. What would happen to the economy, not to mention the culture, of the Northern Mariana Islands, if the the ocean was no longer habitable? I, for one, am not willing to take this risk.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

We Are the Smithsonian!

smithsonian staff photoToday was my fourth day at the Smithsonian. Yes, that is why I moved to Washington, DC. I am working for the Smithsonian. So anyway, today was the Smithsonian Staff Picnic at the Folklife Festival. One of the activities was a staff photo, with the staff arranged in giant human Smithsonian starburst.

From the Smithsonian Newsdesk:
Standing in the shape of the Smithsonian Institution sunburst, close to 4,000 Smithsonian staff, interns, fellows and volunteers gathered on the National Mall in front of the Smithsonian Castle on Thursday, July 1, for this group portrait. This was the first-ever attempt to gather the employees and others for a group shot in the Smithsonian’s 164-year history and was the largest gathering of Smithsonian employees, fellows, interns, volunteers and retirees to date. The photo was organized by the Smithsonian Community Committee and was taken during the Smithsonian Staff Picnic, held annually on the National Mall.
smithsonian human sunburstVisit the Smithsonian Newsdesk to see more pictures from today.

I can be seen in both photos. I'm wearing a white shirt and a blue tie and on the side closer to the Smithsonian Castle (the second photo was taken from a window near the top of the tower). Good luck finding me!