Thursday, September 30, 2010

Words I Do and Do Not Use

I discuss political language on this blog from time to time. Mandatory reading for any student of political language are Politics and the English Language by George Orwell and Don't Think of an Elephant by George Lakoff.

Politics and the English Language is a relatively short essay written in 1946. Penguin Books sells a small book called Why I Write by Orwell that contains it. You can probably find the whole thing online, too, but I'm not going to look for you. Orwell basically argues that political language is used to hide something, rather than explain something.

The perfect example of this that you might be familiar with would be the phrase "revenue generating" that is being bandied about the CNMI these days. Revenue generating isn't actually about generating revenue, it is about raising taxes. The first person I heard talk about revenue generating was Joe Camacho during his time in the 16th Legislature. Now nearly all of the elected officials in the CNMI are banging on the revenue generating drum. Somehow "slush-fund generating" doesn't have the same ring to it.

Now when you hear Don't Think of an Elephant, what do you think of? If you said Megan Fox, then you obviously think Michael Bay is a talented director and deserve to die. Most people would answer, an elephant. Lakoff explains how the human mind thinks in frames and metaphors and how the specific language that we use has implications in how our minds understand the world.

Using the example of "revenue generating" again, revenue and generating, taken on their own are positive words. Most people like the idea of revenue. That's money coming in, making it possible for you to feed your family and make your mortgage. Generating is also a positive word. Generating is making something. Making things is good. Put them together, regardless of their true meaning, and people get a warm fuzzy feeling, even if revenue generating is really about tax increases and less money in the pockets of businesses and workers.

With that short intro to my totally unqualified lesson, let me explain how my language has changed as an environmentalist, both as a policy wonk and as a para-biologist.

I do not use the word pristine.

In 2009 I traveled to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. When I landed on Maug I was greeted with marine debris, derelict fishing gear, and waters that were supposedly pristine, but in truth no where near their historical abundance. If Maug is not pristine, there is no place on the planet that is pristine. That is a sobering thought, that humans have damaged every single corner of the earth.

When I hear people use the word pristine, I cringe. I heard it used to describe Saipan during the Coral Reef Task Force earlier this month. I'm sorry, but with most of the island's beaches closed due to red flags most of the year, pristine is something long gone from these shores.

I do not use the phrase shark-infested waters.

Once upon a time there were shark infested waters. And then the 1.3 billion people in China turned their country into the second largest economy on the planet. The wealthy and powerful middle class in China marks all important occasions with a $100 bowl of shark fin soup. Unfortunately for sharks, China has more rich and powerful middle class people than the United States has people. Shark populations, as a result, have been obliterated. All the big sharks are heading towards extinction, and fast.

I do not use the word decimated.

You will often hear people say that the fish populations around the world have been decimated. Well, the fish have not been decimated. Decimated refers to a reduction of 10% (deci- means ten). The loss of fish has been much worse than 10%. Since 1950, 90% of all the big fish in the ocean have been eaten by the great hairless apes. If only the fish had been decimated, there might still be a lot of fish. As unbelievable as it may sound, some species of fish, like bluefin tuna and several species of shark, are actually heading towards extinction.

Speaking of extinction, I do use the word extinction.

In my lifetime, species in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have gone extinct. Extinct is forever and forever is a very long time. I predict that (if nothing is done) the Marianas fruitbat and nightingale reed warbler will go extinct within my lifetime. Bats have already been extirpated from Saipan, and the only time individuals show up is when they fly over from the other islands. The populations in the Northern Islands are probably a fraction of what they were 20 years ago and it is only a matter of time until the last one is dropped into a boiling pot of coconut milk.

I do use the phrase natural heritage

There are cultural implications in environmental protection. As an indigenous Chamorro, part of how I self-identify is attached to the island of Saipan and the surrounding ocean. A world with fruit bats, coconut crabs, and abundant reef fish is central to the Chamorro culture. Most Chamorro men identify themselves as fishermen or farmers, even lawyers serving on the Supreme Court (I know this from personal experience). When the local government does not enforce the environmental laws of the CNMI and allows continued degradation of the CNMI's natural resources, that has an effect on my cultural relationship with the island, changing my culture for the worse. Furthermore, the handful of guys poaching fruitbats and turtles, burning hillsides, killing endangered Napoleon wrasse for sport, and dumping their household trash in public places, are denying unborn generations of indigenous Chamorros and Carolinians the foundation on which their culture was created, their natural heritage.

Monday, September 27, 2010

There is No Government Shutdown

Whether or not the governor signs a budget bill by Friday, there will be no government shutdown. The Marianas Variety reports today that should Governor Fitial fail to sign a budget bill passed by the House and the Senate, 767 'nonessential' employees will be sent home. The CNMI government employs over 5000 people, and that number does not include the hundreds and possibly thousands of people under contract (the janitors in every government office and public school, not to mention a whole cadre of consultants). Even ignoring the number of people under contract, the percentage of government workers who will lose their salary because of an imminent shutdown is under 15% of the total.

That is not a government shutdown. It is a government slowdown, at best.

15% may seem like a lot, but take into account that the number of government employees is at an all-time high. Last year the Marianas Variety reported that 1200 workers had been hired in the lead up to the 2009 election. I know some have accused the Variety of lazy reporting with that story, but even using half that number is roughly equal to the number of people who will lose their income during the government shutdown.

The government shutdown will in essence bring the CNMI government back in line with pre-election spending.

I am heavily emphasizing that my conclusions are based on the reporting of the Marianas Variety. Therefore it stands that if those stories and the information contained within them are inaccurate, my conclusions will be off. However, the 1200 number comes directly from Mark Aguon of the CNMI Retirement Fund and the 767 number comes straight from Oscar Babauta, Secretary of the Department of Public Lands.

This is not a criticism; it is only an observation.

The government shutdown will be extremely difficult for the 15% of government employees that are affected, but it will have very little effect on the economy or overall government services, other than destroying morale, perhaps. I remember that during the bi-weekly government furloughs in 2006, most, if not all, of the workers who were supposed to be working did not go to work. The entire Legislature, which had exempted itself from the furloughs, was closed for business, but almost every member was still drawing a salary, all from the comfort of home. I predict the same thing will happen with the government shutdown on Friday. Although 85% of the government is supposed to be at work, I'm sure many of them will be at home.

Again, this is not a criticism. It is simply an observation and a prediction.

The government shutdown will also not be felt by the large number of people double dipping into the CNMI Retirement Fund: people drawing salary and retirement. Sure, they might lose their salary if they are on the unfortunate 'nonessential' list, but they will still get their retirement benefits. Also, most of the Legislature is retired, meaning that they choose to draw a higher retirement salary instead of the rather meager Legislature salary. They essentially work for free, drawing only a retirement pension (there are other perks to being a lawmaker other than salary). Again, the government shutdown will not affect them one bit.

Speaking of the retirement fund, it is one of the main causes of this debacle. One of the directors at an unnamed local agency just retired. He is 37. And he'll draw a huge pension for the rest of his life.

I don't have a lot of sympathy for retirees when I hear stories like that. Nor do I have sympathy when I hear about the near-death retiree who adopts all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren on his death bed, so that the kids can draw pension benefits until they turn 18. Doing so has almost become Chamorro custom.

Abuse, greed, and graft has put the CNMI in this position. And the chickens are coming home to roost. Unfortunately, the people at the bottom of the totem pole are going to feel the impacts the hardest, which is really hard to watch. This is shameful and sad.



The Marianas Variety today reports that the number of employees to be furloughed is over 1400. I wonder what that number will be tomorrow?

UPDATE: 10/5/2010

The Saipan Tribune reports that only 1000 people have been furloughed, about equal to the number of people that were hired in the lead up to the 2009 election.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Colleen's Big Fat Cape Cod Wedding

Friday morning I got up before the cocks started crowing and boarded a flight to Boston, Massachusetts to attend my cousin Colleen's wedding. The ceremony was held by the shore down in Falmouth on Cape Cod, so after my flight landed, I rented a car and drove myself down.

falmouth dockThe invitation warned that their might be "beach weather," and despite a sunny morning, Cape Cod did not fail to deliver a foggy afternoon. I have to say though, after the summer we had in DC, a little cool weather was a welcome respite.

Colleen looked stunning in her wedding dress. Here she is being walked down the aisle by Uncle Bob and Auntie Judy.

And here are my cousins Bridget, Melanie, and Joey (or is it Joe now?) wishing their sister and new brother-in-law a happy life together. The bald guy isn't family, by the way. He was the super cool wedding DJ.

I don't get up to Massachusetts often enough and it is always great seeing the family. The greatest thing about going up there? Being taller than Bobbie and Sean, my two older cousins.

It was a short trip, but definitely worth it. Congrats Colleen and Brian!

The next morning I got up and drove back to Boston for my flight to DC. Along the way I stopped for 30 minutes in Plymouth (I only had one quarter for the parking meter).

I took a picture of Plymouth Rock.

Then I ran over to the Mayflower II, a replica of the original Mayflower, and spent 15 minutes and $10 rubbing elbows with about 50 German tourists.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Most Popular Book in Guam

I don't know how long this will last, but as I type this, Our Northern Islands is the #1 book on Guam. Please visit the link as soon as possible. The book could drop lower in the rankings if people start snatching up copies of Field Guide to Caves and Karst of Guam.

I am thankful to everyone who has purchased the book so far. While sales haven't been as brisk as the latest Dan Brown novel, they have been steady and the story of Dennis' adventure to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument is guaranteed to be shared with a lot of people. Sharing the wonder of the Northern Islands is necessary if people are going to learn to care about them.

The copies I shipped to Saipan have yet to arrive, but when they do, I will announce where you can get your copy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

International Shark Sanctuary Challenge

I have written extensively on the Micronesia Challenge, former Palau President Tommy Remengesau's challenge to all of Micronesia to "effectively conserve 30% of near shore resources and 20% of terrestrial resources." Today his successor, President Johnson Toribiong, joined by Honduran President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, announced his own challenge. This challenge may not have an official fancy name such as the International Shark Sanctuary Challenge, but the challenge is a watershed moment in marine conservation, nonetheless. Today the two presidents challenged the entire world to create shark sanctuaries in their waters. Right now this challenge is being broadcast across the globe, including on the BBC, AFP, and several spanish media outlets. The story is also making the rounds on the blogosphere.

From Honduras News:
"Honduras and Palau, two countries that have stopped shark fishing in their waters, are urging the rest of the world to conserve the world’s dwindling shark populations or run the risk of losing the ocean’s top predator and throwing the marine food chain out of balance.

To coincide with the High Level Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to review the Millennium Development Goals, which include a target for preserving global biodiversity, President Johnson Toribiong of the Republic of Palau and President Porfirio Lobo Sosa of the Republic of Honduras issued a challenge to other world leaders to work together to save the world’s sharks.

The two Presidents are calling on coastal countries to establish shark sanctuaries in their waters, where no shark fishing is permitted, and for all fishing countries to end shark finning and the global overfishing of sharks."
About a year ago Palau became the first country in the world to create a national shark sanctuary. In the year since, both the Maldives and Honduras have banned all commercial shark fishing in their waters as well.

This is an exciting development. These three small countries are paving the way in showing the world the importance of protecting sharks. All of the large predators on land are protected; it only makes sense that the biggest predators in the ocean garner the same level of protections.

Hopefully these attempts to protect sharks will not be too late to save several shark species from the brink of extinction.

kesennuma japanOne third of all pelagic shark species are listed as threatened or near threatened by the IUCN. Some species' populations have been reduced by as much as 99%. That means that if something is not done, charismatic species like the white shark and the hammerhead may go the way of the Mariana mallard.

The major threat to shark populations is fishing. A recent meta-analysis by Ferretti et al found that even light fishing can have a dramatic effect on shark populations. Seen hundreds of schooling sharks around Saipan lately? Overfishing is to blame. The best way to protect sharks is to create shark no-take zones where populations can thrive. Marine protected areas work. Period.

The Ferretti et al meta-analysis also explores the ecological role of sharks. Sharks have been found to influence the recruitment of new coral on coral reefs. When sharks disappear, coral-dominated reefs may transition into algae-dominated reefs. Sharks may also influence the distribution of sea grass in Australia, the commercial scallop industry off the east coast of the United States, and commercial fishing in South Africa. Taking out the top predators in an ecosystem can have cascading effects on the entire community. This has been proven with wolves and mountain lions on land; it only makes sense that the principle would apply to sharks in the ocean.

For those of you living on Saipan, all you have to do to understand that marine protected areas work is to go snorkeling at Micro Beach and then Managaha. Can you guess which one is the marine protected area? Even though people are still catching fish at Managaha, it is one of the few places on Saipan where you can still see lots of fish and regularly see sharks (although the tourists are trampeling and killing the coral).

But it isn't light fishing that is driving sharks towards extinction. It is mechanized, targeted industrial fishing. Commercial fishing operations target sharks for their fins, which are used for soup in Asian restaurants. The shark fin itself is tasteless and only adds texture, but eating it is a sign of wealth. It is served at weddings and other celebrations for as much as $100 per bowl.

Often times the sharks have their fins cut off at sea and are thrown back into the ocean still alive and unable to swim. There is an animal cruelty component to this practice, but it is also wasteful. It is like killing an entire elephant for only the tusks, or a rhinocerous for its horn.

In the CNMI, anyone who goes bottom fishing catches sharks. And many of the guys who go trolling probably have stories about interactions they've had with sharks. What is done with the sharks caught in the CNMI probably depends on the fishermen. Some might get used for soup; some are used for meat. I'm sure many are just killed and thrown back in the water, wasted. I don't think any are thrown back in alive.

There is a small movement in the CNMI to protect sharks. In August there was a well-attended showing of Sharkwater and there is a Facebook group with over 400 fans. I believe one of the legislators has looked into legislation based on the recent shark fin ban in Hawaii, too.

Creating a shark sanctuary or banning shark products in the CNMI would not only be good for the environment, it would bring world wide attention. And the local leader who became the champion of sharks would be like Presidents Toribiong and Lobo, garnering positive international attention for their home.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


From Delegate Gregorio Camacho Sablan's office:
Washington, DC — Dr. Debra T. Cabrera of Saipan has been sworn in to serve as one of 17 members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. Acting Solicitor General of the United States Neal Kaytal administered the oath of office at a formal ceremony in the Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Tuesday. Dr. Cabrera was nominated to serve on the Commission by Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan
.That's a photo of Deb taking the oath to become a part of the commission. So what is the commission? Kilili again:
President Obama created the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by Executive Order in October 2009. The mission is “to improve the quality of life of AAPIs through increased participation in Federal programs in which AAPIs may be underserved,” according to the Executive Order.
Deb's service on this commission is a big deal. Not to put any pressure on her, but she is going to advise the president on issues affecting all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders whether they live in the territories, San Diego, Brooklyn, or any point in between. Think of the millions of people the president could have chosen. One of the seventeen is from Saipan and currently works on Guam. Like I said, this is a big deal.

Several speeches at the event highlighted how AAPIs came to America and how we have made contributions to make this country a better place. Commission member Hines Ward, wide reciever for the Pittsburg Steelers, became the only Korean-American to win a Superbowl MVP trophy; others became business owners; all have contributed to the fabric that makes this country great.

Sitting in the audience only strengthed my convictions that the long toiling contract workers in the Northern Mariana Islands have earned the opportunity to obtain improved status.

None of the candidates for US delegate in the Northern Mariana Islands are supporting improved status and I find that extremely disappointing. And I know all four campaigns read this blog; If I am mistaken, please correct me.

For the record, what I am calling "improved status" would be to follow one of the five recommendations of the Department of the Interior to " consider permitting alien workers who have lawfully resided in the CNMI for a minimum of five years to apply for long-term status under the immigration and nationality laws of the United States." I would actually prefer the recommendation to apply to all alien workers. An argument can be made that businesses need those workers, but we are talking about our fellow community members, our friends, and members of our family. We were given the chance to contribute; they should be given the same opportunity.

But back to the AAPI event: I got to meet Deb for the first time, even though we lived on the same 15 mile long island for half a decade. I also met her brother, Dr. Felix. And Kilili was there, too.

Kilili was very gracious and invited me to sit up front with him and Dr. Felix. Thank you for the honor, Kilili!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dennis Chan and his Northern Islands

From Saipan Tribune editorialist Jaime Vergara:
Our Northern Islands is actually the title of a book produced collaboratively by Dennis Chan on text and Angelo Villagomez on editing, layout, graphics and publishing. The deft touch of the editor is obvious, but the youth and spirit of Dennis comes through. Subtitled The first expedition to the Mariana Trench National Monument, it chronicles a trip taken by Friends of the Monument after the declaration by GWBush of the surrounding area of Asuncion, Maug and Urucas-the northernmost islands of the Marianas chain-as a marine protected area.

One of the friends funded the trip with the caveat that a young person be chosen through an essay contest to experience the islands and return to tell of the experience to peers. Dennis Chan, 18-year-old Saipan born and bred, won the essay and this book is a coffee table conversation piece that chronicles the journey in words and pictures.

Dennis' staccato narrative from notes in a log/journal notebook handed him at the start of the trip, with the cadence and idiom of the classroom hallways, is given recognizable mainstream form by our erstwhile mayor of Saipan's watering holes, and Saipan's almost Matua with the Matachang service style of 2009 election, now within the beltway habitué of the nation's capital, Angelo Villagomez. The racy tone in the recollection like that of the two-day-old chaffy underwear is ordinary enough, but might in the telling have gotten an “R” rating from Hollywood's MPAA!

Not a few of the younger Chan siblings were in my class at SVES and their dad Norman is known for setting up refined gastronomic fan dian (restaurants, literally, rice shops). Dennis at the International School was once characterized as a “slick talker like a used-car salesman” (with no offense meant to the guys down the car lot, only to admire their marketing skills), and we did get the chance to see him perform in one of the island's debating events. He is an MHS grad.

What comes through loud and clear in the book is that Dennis is no country bumpkin. The urban comfort of globalized Saipan was not missed in his obvious upbringing and Dennis might know the principle of friction, but may not know how to kindle wood were he stuck on an island without any amenities, and his life depended on it.

A queasy stomach got him green by the gills as soon as the waves hit starboard on the navigatinal float Lady Carolina, and on the return from Maug and Uracus through Agrihan and Pagan, side-stepping the patty cakes on the ground and the buzz in the air from the bees and flies, our cosmopolitan dude bedrudgingly started fending for himself.

In one of the book's photos, Dennis holds a huge coconut crab with the mixed expression of “I would love to have this under my belly cooked and relished slowly, but do I have to hold this live one for a frigging picture?” His pose on Lady Carolina in Uracus from the southeast is priceless and would make an excellent resumé promo and an application supplement to an institution of higher education anywhere in the world!

Dennis is currently registered at the Northern Marianas College, our local and only community college. A colleague took exception to his remaining on island when his obvious talents could be challenged more thoroughly elsewhere. In a sense, the two-year associate liberal arts degree from NMC might not be a bad place for Dennis to exercise self-reliance and self-motivity in nurturing his own self-confidence for a larger field elsewhere.

Besides, the social networking that prestigious universities offer their studentry may be useful at spring break in one of the instant “student” towns, but only rarely, unless it is accompanied by aristocratic pedigree, does it lead to an apartment on Park Avenue, or a tenure at Cambridge.

On the other hand, Dennis should not be denied the resources to move elsewhere two years hence, should he so desires. SHEFA and the local Chamber of Commerce scholarship might not be a bad place to start. I would not recommend the poker house as an option!

The awe and wonder in Maug and the circumnavigation of the northernmost island Uracus (Farallon de Pajaros) is the heart of the trip: “There are so many places to see in the world, and I'm sure I'll always say I'll come back, but life, life's got so much to do and other places to go. I may never be in Pagan again or Maug or any of our Northern Islands. The thought is a sad one, but it makes the moment even more special” and the stopovers in Agrigan and Pagan, its humanness. “Pagan, the heights, the vistas, the beach, and all that beauty. I think beauty should be bought in the effort to see it, and so I did. I arrived at beauty; I roamed through it with blistered feet and sore groin.”

Youthful enthusiasm and neophyte adventure jumps out of pages of this book. Now, Angelo needs to get a sequel out from his adult and professional perspective (and encourage colleagues-two professional writers, a photographer, navigators and environmentalists-to produce their memories and recollections as well).

Our Northern Islands
The first expedition to the Northern Mariana Trench National Monument
Dennis Chan

Monday, September 13, 2010

Now Available: First book about Mariana Trench Monument

Saipan, CNMI – Last summer, Dennis Chan, anchored to the shores of Saipan his entire life and freshly graduated from Marianas High School, entered an essay contest: Why I want to visit the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. He won. Two weeks later he was on board the 105-foot Lady Carolina, skimming the surface of the Philippine Sea headed for Maug.

The story of Dennis’ expedition, the first of its kind since the declaration of the Mariana Trench Monument on January 6, 2009, is told in a new book, Our Northern Islands.

According to Saipan Tribune contributor Jaime Vergara, “Youthful enthusiasm and neophyte adventure jumps out of the pages of this book.”

Our Northern Islands also contains over 70 full color photos by Angelo O’Connor Villagomez. Villagomez was the Saipan coordinator of the campaign that led to monument’s creation and is a director of the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument, the organization that spearheaded the expedition.

“Since most people will never get to visit the Northern Islands, it is my hope and Dennis’ hope that this book will bring the Northern Islands to the people living on Saipan, Tinian, Rota and around the world,” said Villagomez.

There are 10 mostly-uninhabited islands north of the capitol island of Saipan in the Marianas archipelago. They are collectively known as the Northern Islands. Five of the islands are wildlife refuges and the waters surrounding the northernmost three comprise the Islands Unit of the Mariana Trench Monument.

During the expedition Dennis visited Maug, Agrigan, Pagan, and Sarigan and circumnavigated Uracas, the northernmost point in Micronesia.

Our Northern Islands is available on and at Both companies ship books anywhere in the world, including Saipan. The book will be available at a location on Saipan soon.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of Our Northern Islands will support the educational programs of the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument and create more opportunities like the one Dennis had.

WANTED: Writers from the Northern Mariana Islands

Saipan, CNMI – A quartet of local writers from the Northern Mariana Islands is accepting submissions for an upcoming anthology of local writers they are tentatively calling Stories from Wild Bills Cafe: Life, Love and Spicy Tofu in the Northern Mariana Islands.

“A number of local writers have been throwing around an idea to create a compilation of local work for years now,” said Angelo O’Connor Villagomez. “A group of us have been meeting together over spicy tofu and chiliburgers at Wild Bills these last few months and we’ve finally decided to put it together.”

When asked how long the anthology would be and how many writers would be included, Villagomez said that the book would be “about 200 pages, which will probably fit about 15 -20 writers.”

The editors of Wild Bills Café are Jane Mack, Joe Race, Jaime Vergara, and Villagomez.

The inspiration for the name of the anthology comes from Wild Bills Café on Beach Road in Garapan.

“I talked to the owner Bill about the name, and he’s allowing us to use it,” explained Race, a local novelist and former police officer. “Our idea is to focus the attention on a physical place to ground all the stories.”

Race also said that the book would promote the Northern Mariana Islands and might even turn Wild Bills into a destination for tourists, readers, and writers.

“Saipan, Tinian and Rota are home to several dozen newspaper reporters, bloggers, novelists, poets and amateur writers,” said Mack, a novelist and lawyer. “There are also a number of writers from the Northern Mariana Islands living and working abroad, but who write about home. These are the people we want to include in this first edition of Wild Bills.”

Writers interested in submitting work for the anthology can contact the editors at Submission guidelines are available upon request. Writers whose work is chosen for submission will receive two (2) copies of Stories from Wild Bills Café.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

First Chamorro Name on US Currency

gumataotaoCan you identify the first Chamorro name to ever be printed on US currency? If you guessed Villagomez, you guessed wrong. If you guessed Gumataotao, then you probably know that Rosie Gumataotao Rios is our current Treasurer. Rosie isn't Chamorro, but her husband Jose Diaz Gumataotao is a Chamorro from Guam. Feel free to use this factoid at your next beach bbq.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Carnival of the Blue XL

life begins at 40Another summer has ended, the kids are back in school and Carnival of the Blue is back at the Saipan Blog, your humble host for the fourth consecutive September. They say that life begins at 40, and so it is with Carnival of the Blue. For 40 straight months ocean bloggers the world over have come to rely on Carnival of the Blue to provide the best in ocean blogging. This month's carnival is no different; I received nearly 30 (!) ocean blog submissions, and almost all of them relate to the theme Top of the Food Chain.

Now, I always co-opt Carnival of the Blue to promote my own selfish propaganda, so here it goes: After successfully lobbying President George W. Bush for the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument and unsuccessfully running for Mayor of Saipan, I moved back to the mainland United States and somehow landed a job at the Smithsonian Institute. So what am I doing at the Smithsonian? I'm creating Google Ocean content in a collaboration between Google, the Smithsonian Ocean Portal and Mission Blue. I've already created nearly 150 Google Ocean posts for the Explore the Ocean layer, and more are on the way. My posts will have a permanent home on the Ocean Portal by the end of the year, but in the meantime they can be viewed on the Mission Blue website or by downloading Google Earth. Also, if you are participating in the 24th Coral Reef Task Force Meeting in Saipan next week, I'll be presenting a workshop on Google Ocean along with Dr. Bob Richmond from the University of Hawaii.

With that out of the way: On to the carnival!

carnival of the blue 40Alright, so when you hear the words predator and ocean put together, what do you think of? A lot of people would say sharks and several bloggers contributed shark blogs.

Since this is my blog, let's start with me. Did you know that there are over 440 species of sharks? Two of those species are endemic to the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that they live in those waters and nowhere else. I wanted to create Google Ocean posts of both endemic species, but photos were hard to come by. I found a photo of the Gulf of Mexico Smoothound Shark taken by Andy Murch, but the Campeche catshark was impossible to find. It turns out that the only specimen ever found (!) was sitting in a jar in the Smithsonian Museum Support Center's Pod Five (made famous in Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol). Luckily, Dr. Sandra Raredon was able to fish him out of his permanent ethanol bath and take this photo.

campeche catshark Parmaturus campechiensisI imagine he was cuter when he was alive. Both endemic species have since been uploaded to Google Ocean. Check out the Gulf of Mexico Smoothhound Shark and the Campeche Catshark on the Mission Blue website.

Bryan Skerry (thanks for submitting these posts, Jeff!) had two shark blogs posted at the New England Aquarium Global Explorers Blog this month. Clear Water & Mighty Makos discusses encounters with makos, while Thinking About Sharks offers some thoughts on shark conservation with photos of Caribbean reef sharks, an oceanic whitetip shark, a mako shark and a thresher shark.

Speaking of aquariums, Al Dove, senior scientist at Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta and junior blogger at Deep Type Flow, offers us Dancing with a Giant, a post about his encounter with the Whale Shark, a shark that has been deadly to millions upon millions of...plankton.

Richard from the RTSea blog brings us Sharks Bite Back Without Biting: study finds deadly bacteria, a blog about a new study showing deadly bacteria in the mouths of seven different species of shark. Gross.

The Dorsal Fin tells us about a blue shark that beached itself and some people who tried to save it in New Jersey shark story reels in the media.

Chuck at Ya Like Dags offers up The Jaws of Death: How Spiny Dogfish Destroy Their Prey, a blog about predation, biomechanics, and spiny dogfish (that's a shark, by the way).

Our second to last shark post comes from shark guru David Shiffman at Southern Fried Scientist. Shark Week 2010: A big step in the right direction! is a quick rundown on this year's Discovery Channel Shark Week. My impressions? Ultimate Air Jaws was awesome! And the Dos Equis commercial convinced me to go out and buy this t-shirt.

And since he likens himself as the Yoda of shark bloggers, David also bats cleanup in our shark section. His second offering is Shark Conservation: The problem, the goal, and how to get there, a detailed introduction to the world of shark conservation by a marine biologist.

And that's it for apex-predators. Now onto some adora-predators:

Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of sea urchins (do sea urchins have hearts?) like looking into the face of this beady-eyed killer. You and I, however, are not sea urchins (at least I'm not), and what we see is a seafood aficionado in serious need of a hug. Sadly, California's sea otter population has declined for the second consecutive year. Infectious disease, including a number of issues connected with their food chain, is continuing to stress this fragile population. A young otter now on exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium will not be released to the wild after succumbing to intestinal parasites from eating sand crabs. Read more at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Blog's Sea Otter Census.

vaquitaCarly at the Featured Creature delivers The Rarest & Smallest Cetacean, a blog about the fewer than 150 Vaquitas remaining in the wild. It is time for people to become aware of this wonderful creature. Follow the link to learn how you can help.

Corey Finger at 10,000 Birds brings us soaring photos of common terns carrying breakfast. Sucks to be you, breakfast!

Moving on to the cool stuff: Invertebrates!

sharktopusSurprisingly nobody submitted a post on Sharktopus this carnival. Perhaps because he isn't real?

Samia Madwar is a guest blogger at the Ocean Portal this month with her post Pinning Down the Jellyfish. Quick: without clicking on the link, can you name the three classes of jellyfish?

Dustin from Spawning is Imminent wrote about jellyfish, too. His post War on Man is about the recent outbreak of jellyfish and man-o-wars on Spain's coasts and shares an interesting story about a friend and her run in with a Portuguese man-o-war. I know what you're thinking. You can't wait to read whether or not he had to pee on her.

From jellyfish to starfish, John at Kind of Curious takes us on a tidepool tour of Olympic National Park with Tide Pools at Rialto Beach. Meanwhile, Marcus Ng from the The Annotated Budak blog takes us on a tour of the tidepools of Singapore's Cyrene Reef with Stellar by Starlight and Fishtrapped.

Miriam at Deep Sea News gives us Attack of the “Sea Angel” Pteropods!!! No commentary necessary. Speaking of Deep Sea News, they had big news today: Rick MacPherson has joined the ranks of DSNers...less than three weeks after crying on my shoulder that nobody was reading his blog Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice and Sunsets. You can't make stuff like that up (Alright, so I made that up).

Michael Bok from Arthropoda delivers a post on the ninjas of the deep: mantis shrimp. How mantis shrimp see circularly polarized light discusses, um, how mantis shrimp see circularly polarized light.

Susannah from Wanderin' Weeta gives us two posts this month. In the holdfast: feathers, spines, eyes and ... mustaches? has some cool photos of the polychaetes, mussels, worms, and sea urchins living in a holdfast. In Full Tank she shows us what she has in her tank.

Hannah Waters from Culturing Science gives us Marine Snow: dead organisms and poop as manna in the ocean. It is a well-known fact that any blog post with poop in the title is likely to be good reading.

I was hoping that someone would catch on that humans are at the top of the ocean food chain and I wasn't disappointed. Mark Powell at Blogfish submits Climate change creates a war over fish, a discussion on how climate change is driving fish stocks away from their traditional grounds.

And since this is the year that BP destroyed the Gulf of Mexico, no Carnival of the Blue would be complete without blog posts about Deepwater Horizon. Rich Maltzman from Earth PM gives us Green Project Management and the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill while Emily Fisher from The Beacon (Oceana's Blog) gives us Stormy Seas at Oil Spill Ground Zero. By the way, the Oceana Latitude is in the Gulf of Mexico investigating the oil spill until the beginning of October. To learn more check out their blog and expedition website.

And that is your Carnival of the Blue. I'll see you in twelve months for Carnival of the Blue 52!

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Thundercats 2011

New thundercats 2011George Hasselback can confirm this: the Thundercats were the coolest cartoon from the 1980s.


A couple of weeks ago I came across this announcement on MTV that Warner Bros. is making a new Thundercats cartoon for the Cartoon Network. This is probably the best thing to happen to America since the invention of the steam engine. Or SPAM.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Friends of the Monument join call for Coral Reef Conservation

obyan beach underwaterThe Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument are back in the news, this time calling for the US Senate to pass strong conservation-minded coral reef legislation:
September 3, 2010, Saipan, CNMI / Our coral reefs are in trouble. Almost 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been lost and an additional 35% are threatened according to the expert opinion of 372 coral reef scientists and managers from 96 countries who contributed to the latest Status of the Coral Reefs of the World, published in 2008.

In response, a coalition of non-governmental organizations and environmental stakeholders issued a letter today calling for the US Senate to pass strong conservation-minded coral reef legislation. The US House version of the reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act passed in September of last year. Further movement of the legislation now depends on the US Senate.

Thirty-five organizations signed the Senate corals letter. Groups represented include leading organizations such as the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), International Society for Reef Studies, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Surfrider Foundation, Greenpeace USA, Environmental Defense Fund, World Wildlife Fund, Coastal States Organization, and Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument.

The Coral Reef Conservation Act authorizes grants for coral reef conservation activities. Funds are awarded under six program categories: State and Territory Coral Reef Management; State and Territory Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring; Coral Reef Ecosystem Research; Projects to Improve or Amend Coral Reef Fishery Management Plans; General Coral Reef Conservation; and International Coral Reef Conservation.

The coalition expressed alarm about the declining health of coral reef ecosystems and the threats coral reefs face. Major threats noted include coastal runoff, overfishing and overharvesting, vessel impacts, invasive species, and coral bleaching, disease, and ocean acidification caused by unregulated greenhouse gas pollution.

Measures before Congress, supported by the coalition, include provisions to increase the status of protection for corals in all U.S. waters, increase funding for coral reef conservation efforts, provide support to better understand and manage the trade in coral reef wildlife, and support communitybased approaches to coral reef stewardship, among others.

“Coral reef ecosystems face growing threats from overfishing, habitat destruction, poor water quality and disease”, said Dr. Andrew Baker, a coral reef biologist at the University of Miami and a 2008 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation. “When you add the devastating impacts of our carbon dioxide emissions, which lead to warmer and more acidic oceans, coral reefs worldwide are left reeling from the impacts. The decline of coral reef ecosystems worldwide underscores the need for Congress to pass coral reef legislation, while also renewing its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas pollution.”

“These valuable and fascinating ecosystems are disappearing within our lifetimes, and their loss will have significant economic, social, and environmental consequences in the United States and worldwide,” said Steven Lutz, Executive Director of Blue Climate Solutions, the group that organized the coalition effort. “The Senate has a fantastic opportunity to protect and conserve coral reefs by passing this important legislation.”
The text of the letter signed by Friends' Chairman Ike Cabrera is as follows:

The Honorable John D. Rockefeller IV
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

The Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchinson
Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

The Honorable Maria Cantwell
Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard

The Honorable Olympia J. Snowe
Ranking Member
Senate Subcommittee on Oceans
Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard

September 3, 2010

Dear Chairpersons and Ranking Members:

As organizations and stakeholders involved with coral reef conservation, we are profoundly alarmed about the threats these unique and invaluable ecosystems face in the United States and around the world. We urge your support for a strong conservation-minded reauthorization of the United States Coral Reef Conservation Act.

Coral reefs provide many important services; they protect coastlines from the damaging effects of storms, and are vital to the economies of many coastal communities in the U.S. and around the world, through revenues generated in tourism and fisheries. The diversity of life they support establishes them as treasure troves of discovery for applications in medicine and industry.

However coral reefs are declining at an alarming rate. Almost 20% of the world’s coral reefs have been lost and an additional 35% are threatened according to the expert opinion of 372 coral reef scientists and managers from 96 countries who contributed to the Status of the Coral Reefs of the World: 2008 report. The major threats to coral reefs include coastal runoff, overfishing and overharvesting, vessel impacts, invasive species, and coral bleaching, disease, and ocean acidification caused by unregulated greenhouse gas pollution.

These valuable and fascinating ecosystems are disappearing within our lifetimes, and their loss will have significant social, economic, and environmental consequences in the United States and worldwide.

We commend the positive steps taken in the reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act by the Senate. We respectfully ask you to adopt the strongest possible language for the conservation and protection of coral reef ecosystems in the reauthorization of this important legislation. Measures we support include provisions to:

• Increase the status of protection for corals in all U.S. waters;
• Support community-based approaches to coral reef stewardship;
• Enable management to effectively address the threat of vessel groundings and seek appropriate liability for such
incidents (with narrowly defined exceptions);
• Support cooperative relationships with universities and other academic bodies, and non-governmental
organizations in promotion of coral reef conservation;
• Enable all relevant federal agencies to effectively participate in coral reef conservation;
• Provide additional accountability for federal funds used for coral reef conservation efforts;
• Provide support to better understand and manage the trade in coral reef wildlife;
• Strengthen U.S. international coral reef conservation efforts; and
• Authorize increased funding to protect these extraordinary habitats.

Please join the effort to conserve our coral reefs by supporting the reauthorization of the Coral Reef
Conservation Act.

Sincerely yours, (signed by the following thirty-five organizations and stakeholders)

Blue Climate Solutions - Steven J. Lutz, Executive Director, Miami, FL

Center for Biological Diversity - Andrea A. Treece, Senior Attorney, Oceans Program, San Francisco, CA

Coastal States Organization - Kristen Fletcher, Executive Director, Washington, DC

Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) - Rick MacPherson, Director, Conservation Programs, San Francisco, CA

EarthEcho International - Philippe Cousteau, CEO and co-founder, Washington, DC

Environmental Defense Fund - Cara Cooper, Coral Specialist, Saint Petersburg, FL

Fauna & Flora International - Katie Frohardt, Executive Director, Washington, DC

Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument - Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chairman, Saipan, CNMI

Greenpeace USA - Phil Kline, Senior Ocean Campaigner, Washington, DC

International Society for Reef Studies (ICRS) - Richard Aronson

Natural Resources Defense Council - Lisa Suatoni, Senior Scientist, Oceans Program, New York, NY

NAUI Worldwide - Jed Livingstone, Vice President, Riverview, FL

Nova Southeastern University National Coral Reef Institute (NCRI) - Richard E Dodge, Dean, Wendy Wood-Derrer, Assistant Director of Development, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Ocean Conservation Research - Michael Stocker, Director, Lagunitas

Ocean Defenders Alliance - Kurt Lieber, Founder and President, Scott Sheckman, Acting Executive Director, Huntington Beach, CA

Oceanic Defense - "Educate. Activate" - Samantha Whitcraft, Director, Conservation Biology, Miami, FL

Palm Beach County Reef Rescue - Ed Tichenor, Director, Boynton Beach, FL

Project AWARE Foundation - Jenny Miller Garmendia Director, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

Reef Check Foundation - Gregor Hodgson, Ph.D., Executive Director, Reef Check Foundation, Pacific Palisades, CA

Sailors for the Sea - Dan Pingaro, CEO, Newport, RI

Save Our Seas - Capt. Paul Clark, President, Hanalei, HI

Sea Turtle Conservancy (formerly the Caribbean Conservation Corporation) - David Godfrey, Executive Director, Gainesville, FL

SeaWeb - Dawn M. Martin, President, Silver Spring, MD

Sierra Club - Bruce Hamilton, Conservation Director, San Francisco, CA

South Carolina Coastal Conservation League - Dana Beach, Charleston, SC

Surfrider Foundation - Chad Nelsen, Environmental Director, San Clemente, CA

The Humane Society of the United States / Humane Society International - Teresa M. Telecky, Ph.D., Director of Wildlife, Washington, DC

The Interfaith Council for the Protection of Animals and Nature - Lewis Regenstein, President, Atlanta, GA

The Ocean Foundation - Mark J. Spalding, Ph.D., President, Washington, DC

The Ocean Project - Bill Mott, Director, Providence, RI

The Snorkel Bob Foundation - Robert Wintner, Executive Director, Kihei, HI

Urban Environment League - Fran Bohnsack, President, Miami, FL

Urban Paradise Guild - Sam Van Leer, Executive Director & Founder, North Miami, FL

WIDECAST (Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) - Karen Eckert, Ph.D., Executive Director, Beaufort, NC

World Wildlife Fund - Roberta Elias, Senior Program Officer, Marine and Fisheries Policy, Washington, DC