Sunday, December 23, 2012

Show us the maps!

From Delegate Sablan:
Public needs more time to comment on endangered corals - The public needs information and opportunity to comment on the proposal to list 29 species of corals found in the Northern Marianas Islands as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Three weeks have passed since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed the listing, yet no maps showing the location of the corals have been provided for public review. As Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, I asked my colleagues from Hawaii, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which also have corals proposed for listing, to join me in a letter to NOAA asking that they provide the maps to the public and extend the comment period to 90 days after doing so. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands should have access to a complete set of materials so they can understand the proposal; and they should have sufficient time to submit informed comments.
The implementation of the Endangered Species Act has been somewhat of a disaster on Saipan.  59 of the corals up for listing are in the Pacific, but I'm not sure how many are in the territories.  A more sustainable plan for protecting these coral species would be to designate critical habitiat under the Office of the Marine National Sanctuaries, therebye guaranteeing funding for enforcement, education, and continued scientific research.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I HEART Shark Stanley

Yes, I wear a tie everyday.
Shark Stanley is going to change the world, but he needs your help.  Check out Shark Defenders for more.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Unknown in the Cooks

I had nothing to do with this.
As of 12-12-12, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, American Samoa, and Tokelau all have in place domestic measures banning the sale, trade, possession, and commercial fishing of sharks in all waters under their jurisdiction.  If you were to add up all the ocean inside of those white lines, this area would be roughly the size of Australia.  Is this the beginning of a Polynesian Regional Shark Sanctuary?  And how about Micronesia, the leaders of which recommitted last week to a regional shark sanctuary?  Is a Pacific Shark Sanctuary looming in the future?

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Famous in French Polynesia, Too

The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meets in Manila
Last Thursday, French Polynesia announced on the floor of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission they were fully protecting all species of shark in waters under their national jurisdiction.  Take a hard look along the left edge of this file photo from AFP, and you'll see me playing Angry Birds on my phone. 
French Move Boosts Shark Sanctuaries

PARIS — Green campaigners on Friday hailed a decision by France that they said would create the world's biggest shark sanctuary.

On Monday, the government of French Polynesia included the mako, the last shark that was not protected in its waters, on the list of fish banned from capture or trade in its vast territorial zone in the South Pacific.

The move was announced on Thursday at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Manila, where nations also agreed to take steps to protect whale sharks from tuna nets.

"At more than 4.7 million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles) of ocean, this designation doubles the size of the area already protected by all six existing shark sanctuaries," said Josh Reichert, head of the Pew Environment Group.

But, he said, "sharks are threatened throughout much of the world's oceans, and there is a great need to protect them before they slip below levels from which they may never recover".

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Really Famous in Manila

Please Share, Retweet, Like, and Pin this image
Asia and Pacific nations agreed at a meeting in the Philippines on Wednesday to take steps to protect whale sharks in a victory for the world's largest fish, officials said.

Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission nations agreed that tuna fishers must stop setting their nets around the vulnerable giants in order to catch smaller fish that gather underneath them, said Palau fishing official Nanette Malsol.

She said the deal binds tuna-fishing nations such as the United States, China, and Japan, and was a victory for a coalition of small Pacific nations, called the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, that has been campaigning for this measure.

"This rule follows negotiations by the Parties to the Nauru Agreement for three years to try and get the big fishing nations to adopt protections for whale sharks," said Malsol, who also heads the coalition.

The small Pacific island nations said they already imposed such a rule on their own tuna fishers.

Smaller fish like tuna congregate under whale sharks, so fishermen often seek the giants and set their nets under them to catch the other fish, said Angelo Villagomez, a spokesman of the the US-based Pew Environment Group.

As a result, whale sharks, which are considered a vulnerable species, often get entangled in tuna nets and die, he said.

Fifty whale sharks were recorded having died from tuna nets in 2010 and 19 in 2011, said Villagomez, adding that there were likely many other cases which went unreported.

Parties to the agreement reached at the Manila meeting Wednesday must free any whale shark that gets caught in their nets and must also record and report any incidents involving the giant fish, Malsol said.

The Pew group, which is also attending the meeting, is pressing for other measures to protect 143 other threatened species of sharks that are affected by tuna fishers.

However Villagomez said he doubted they would pass as some fishing countries actively catch these sharks.

Whale sharks measure as much as 12 metres (39 feet) long but are harmless to humans and feed on tiny marine animals. They have become popular tourist attractions in countries such as the Philippines, Mexico and Australia.

Published by AFP on Thursday, December 6, 2012.

Famous in Manila

Angelo Villagomez of the
Pew Environment Group
shows a sample of a line
 and hook.
MANILA, Philippines — Pacific island nations and environmentalists raised an alarm Sunday over destructive fishing methods and overfishing that they say are threatening bigeye tuna — the fish popular among sushi lovers worldwide.

Palau fisheries official Nanette Malsol, who leads a bloc of Pacific island nations, said at the start of a weeklong tuna fisheries conference in Manila that large countries should cut back on fishing, curb the use of destructive fishing methods and respect fishing bans to allow tuna stocks to be replenished in the Pacific, which produces more than 60 percent of the world’s tuna catch.

The annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, which regulates commercial fishing in the vast expanse of waters from Indonesia to Hawaii, is to approve steps aimed at protecting the bigeye and other threatened tuna species, along with giant whale sharks. More than 600 delegates from about 40 Asian and Western countries, along with environmental activists, are attending.

Malsol said she expects heated debate. Proponents of the multibillion-dollar fishing industry have squared off with conservationists in the past over the best ways to protect the bigeye and other species without considerably setting back the lucrative business.

Read the full story on the Washington Post.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Typhoon Bopha Heading Our Way

The Joint Typhoon Warning Center says that Tropical Storm Bopha, soon to be Typhoon Bopha, is heading towards the Philippines.  For now it looks like it will hit south of Manila, but we are on alert.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Two Weeks in Manila

Edz and I are spending two weeks in the Philippines.  I'm here to attend meetings related to sharks and Edz is here to watch Filipino television, eat goat food (she calls it something else), and spend time with family.  The meetings will keep me busy about 12 hours every day, so she's going to head to Batangas tomorrow morning.

I was excited to see this poster as I was exiting customs and immigration.  Whale sharks will be one of the issues discussed at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and this poster shows how they are very important to the local tourism economy .  The whale sharks that create jobs here are the same ones that are sometimes killed in the high seas.  If you want to know more, my brilliant team of conservationists drafted this policy statement.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Last weekend Edz and I visited the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.  It was a crisp fall afternoon the day before our one year anniversary.  How do I know that?  The date is inscribed on my ring.  It was a chilly day and I felt really bad for some of the animals -- not to mention my tropical wife.  It doesn't get this cold in Manila or Saipan.  And although I've never been there, I don't think it gets this cold on the African savannah, either.  Sorry, Mr. Lion.

Uncle Beazley, the triceratops that used to be on the National Mall has been transferred to the zoo and given a fresh paint job.  It's funny what you remember from your own childhood because I distinctly remember climbing on him during my first visit to Washington, DC and playing a game with the other kids where we would line up and take turns clambering on his tail.  I also remember reading The Enormous Egg, the book Uncle Beazley made famous.  What I don't remember is if I read the book or met the dinosaur first.

I was informed that this is Jacob's girlfriend.  Yes, that Jacob.  Just like how everyone assumed by fluffy, sissy dog was a girl, I assume that all badass wolves are boys.  Or maybe I've seen Twilight.  Alright, delete the badass part.

I loved the beaver!  This is Willow, a female beaver.  I'm not sure how she got her name, but she can easily be identified because she's missing a chip out of her tail.  Beavers evoke The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for me and how our babysitter Kit Porter used to read the book to my brother, Alex.  The volunteer manning the beaver exhibit told us that Willow was going to disappear into her beaver dam for the remainder of the winter soon.  As soon as the water freezes, she and her two friends retreat into her den until the spring thaw (they go for the occasional swim, but they won't surface until the ice is gone).

These two stuffed animals are in one of the monkey cages to provide companionship to the lonely monkey that lives there.  And for anyone who has ever had a dog, you know what kind of companionship stuffed animals provide.

I've put on some serious weight since the middle of the summer.  I'm getting close to tipping the scales over 230 lbs., which according to scientists at the Smithsonian, makes me about the size of a small panda.  But from this bronze statue, I may already be a medium panda.  Dang it.  I wanted to be a kung fu panda.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was the best movie of 2011.  I have nothing more to say.

I felt bad for this cheetah, too.  While the fall leaves probably make great camouflage, there wasn't much room for this cheetah to run.

'Cause This Is Thriller, Thriller Night
And No One's Gonna Save You From The Beast About Strike
You Know It's Thriller, Thriller Night
You're Fighting For Your Life Inside A Killer, Thriller

I think otters, whether from the sea or the river, are just about the best animals ever.  If I die and am resurrected, I want to come back as an otter.  But only if I can swim faster than great white sharks.

Want to see a peacock?

And can you guess why Edz liked the flamingoes?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

This year I have grown into a fat panda.  I am not thankful for that.
This year I'm thankful for having a job where I get to do exciting things, collaborate with brilliant people, and protect a few endangered animals along the way.  I was able to visit four foreign countries and two US territories this year.  The highlight was filming sharks off the shores of the US Army installation on Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands.

I'm thankful for a first year of marriage that while rocky at times, didn't end in murder, suicide, or divorce.  We successfully navigated the process of getting Edz a US visa and a few months ago she hopped on a plane and moved to America.  Ikea, squirrels, fall leaves, shopping malls, and national parks are the wonders of America that she's most thankful for.  And she's looking forward to snow.

This year I saw my little brother graduate from college which was a very proud moment for the entire family.  Speaking of my little brother, I have been playing catch up to him.  He got married last year; then I got married last year.  They got pregnant; and now we got pregnant.

Yeah.  Edz is having a baby.  And there's a pretty good chance I'm the father.

So the next Thanksgiving and all those that follow will be very different.  And while the first 34 have been great, I'm thankful for what lies ahead.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Kilili Wins

As I predicted, Gregorio Camacho "Kilili" Sablan wiped the floor with his opposition and has been reelected by an unprecedented 58 point margin.  This is a very good development for the Northern Mariana Islands.  Congratulations to both candidates.  Now is the time to come together behind Kilili's commanding political mandate to move the Commonwealth forward.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Hello Kitty for President

Hello Kitty for President Campaign Headquarters are next to my office. Here's a video and a couple of photos.

Campaign consultants Angelo Villagomez and Rick McPherson.

Giving fashion tips to our founding fathers.

Helping us gain independence.

Showing support in the neighborhoods.

Meeting the candidate

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Not Screwing Around

I'm not sure if he's doing it as an American citizen or a member of Congress or both, but today Delegate Gregorio Camacho 'Kilili' Sablan called for the United States Justice Department to investigate federal crimes allegedly committed by the Fitial Administration.

Kilili and a growing number of American citizens are calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to "Demand Federal Action to Root Out Corruption in the NMI." From the petition:
As part of the American political family, the people of the Northern Marianas expect the full protection of federal law, specifically we expect the U.S. Department of Justice to take aggressive action against public corruption in our islands.

But we have been disappointed.

We do not understand how the U.S. Attorney can sit idly by, when day after day our news media report on the abuse of office by elected officials in the Northern Marianas:

· Police officials and higher-ups appear to have used their authority to obstruct justice, facilitating the escape of Attorney General Edward Buckingham to avoid charges of public corruption.

The U.S. Department of Interior Office of Inspector General found that Mr. Buckingham may have violated CNMI ethics laws in approving a contract for management of federal Recovery Act funds.

· The U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that Mr. Buckingham may have voilated the Hatch Act by using government time, personnel, and other resources for political purposes related to a federal election.

· A federal prisoner was released from prison without court order allegedly to meet with Governor Fitial for purposes of giving him a “massage.”

· Federally funded employees of the Northern Marianas government have lost their jobs or been threatened with reprisal for exercising their right to support candidates for public office on their own time and using their own resources.

· The terms of federal grants regarding staffing are ignored, further increasing the power of local government officials to create a climate of fear and tighten control over employees’ freedom of political expression.

Meanwhile, requests from the public and from elected officials in the Northern Marinas for action by the U.S. Department of Justice in our islands to date seem to fall on deaf ears. Perhaps, this is because the Northern Marianas still lacks its own U.S. Attorney, for whom law enforcement in our islands would be the priority, not an afterthought.

We, the undersigned, therefore, petition U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to take positive and public action to assure the U.S. citizens of the Northern Mariana Islands that federal law will be fully enforced in our islands. We demand that he use his authority to investigate thoroughly the all too apparent corruption in our local government and bring to justice those who abuse the public trust.
To quote the Vice President, this is a big fucking deal.  A member of Congress is calling on the Attorney General to investigate a sitting American governor.  This does not happen very often.

Calling this an election year stunt trivializes the situation.  Kilili is expected to wipe the floor with his Republican challenger and does not need to burn the political capital in order to win reelection.

Waiting for Hurricane Sandy

NOAA has the most up-to-date information when typhoons hit Saipan.  The newspapers only publish every 24 hours on weekdays and if the storm comes over the weekend, you're screwed.

Life in the mainland is completely different.  Every news outlet from TV, radio, and Internet have morphed into Your Storm Center For the Latest News.

It looks like there is a good chance work will get canceled tomorrow.  I had better go get more beer, I just hope there is some left.  As of yesterday, every can of tuna, soup, vegetables, and bottle of water had been sold in all of Northern Virginia.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Little Pink Riding Hood

Last weekend Edz and I went hiking on Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park.  Photos are posted to Facebook.

Yes We Can Again

Last week Edz and I went to an Obama rally in Fairfax.  We heard the first utterance of Romnesia, which I'll savor for years if Romney wins.  I posted photos on Facebook, including closeups of the President.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Republican Corruption in the Islands

During the two years he was secretary of Commerce, Michael Ada managed the commonwealth's grants and projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. But last August, he told Gov. Benigno Fitial (R) that he intended to leave government, kick-starting discussions that led to the two developing a private contract for Ada's not-yet-formed company to manage the ARRA projects of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

Five days after Ada resigned as Commerce secretary, the government awarded the contract to his new company, Integrated Professional Services. Ada and his business partner did not obtain a business license until the next day; the day after that, the new company received a $78,418 check.

"Ada used information not generally available to the public for his own economic benefit. Only Fitial and Ada knew of the possibility of privatizing CNMI ARRA management until after they agreed to the framework of the deal," according to the report. "The ARRA management contract was never advertised, and the public did not know of the privatization of ARRA management until after IPS was awarded the contract."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Thanks, Sir Richard

Sir Richard Branson and the Ocean Elders want your thoughts on the top 10 countries protecting and destroying the ocean.  I know my readers are dying to hear my opinion (both of you).  Palau will probably get the top spot, with the rest getting mixed reviews.  And I've got some thoughts on the flip side, but probably shouldn't post them on the Internet.

My favorite part of his blog? He posts a Pew Environment Group video about the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary! I was in Saipan last June for a public showing of the whole movie Sanctuary: Last Stand for Sharks at American Memorial Park.  Thanks, Sir Richard!

Share for Manta Ray Protections

Brazil, Ecuador, and Colombia have put forth a proposal to list manta rays at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.  If successful, governments will have to manage the trade of these charismatic animals.  Want to show your support?  Post this photo to Facebook and Twitter.  You can Pin it, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Lib, Namu, Jabwot, and Ailinglaplap

I was in Pohnpei two weeks ago attending the WCPFC TCC (Google it if you really want to know).  I took the Micronesia Island Hopper home and on the leg between Kwajalein and Majuro noticed some islands out the starboard window.  These are four islands that I am pretty sure I will never visit; and they are probably islands you will never visit, either.  I took some photos out the window and I think they are worthy of sharing.

I saw the first island while we were flying into Kwajalein and then again when we were taking off.  Lib is less than 1 square kilometer in size and has a population of about 100.

Closer to Majuro I saw two atolls out the window.  Four of the 54 islets of Namu atoll are inhabited.  800 residents lived there in 1998.

Jabot and Ailinglaplap
Then as the sun was setting, we flew past an atoll and an island.  Jabot is the small rocky island in the foreground and Ailinglaplap is behind it.  While only about 100 people live on Jabot, Ailinglaplap is home to 2000 residents.

And for now, that is all I know about these islands.  They are dots seen from an airplane window.  Maybe one day I will visit, but I doubt it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Angelo Villagomez: Famous on Boing Boing

Last month this photo of me holding two coconut crabs was featured on Boing Boing.  I'm finally famous!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why I Like Governor Fitial

Last night I had dinner with some family members on Guam and the conversation turned to Saipan politics -- as it always does.  One of my cousins attended the rally to impeach the governor held along Beach Road a few weeks ago and said that she had asked one of the administration's supporters to list some good things the governor had done, but that the supporter had not gotten back to her.

The people who want to see Fitial removed from office have little understanding of why anyone would remain silent about his perceived misdoings, never mind support him.  I can think of a few reasons to support the governor:

- He is a relative or friend
- He is is a political ally
- He provides employment

For thousands of people living on Saipan, these three reasons are enough.  Case closed, they support the governor.  Many of my very close relatives support the governor for these reasons.  The governor's godfather is Ignacio Pangelinan Villagomez; IPV is my grandfather.  By the Chamorro interpretation of Catholic convention, he is my father's brother.  Governor Fitial is my Uncle Ben.  And I'm the 50th grandchild in my family.  The governor is literally Uncle Ben to hundreds and thousands of people (not to mention his biological family and extended family!)

Thousands of people continue to support the governor in much the same way millions of Americans are able to overlook President Barack Obama's shortcomings in order to ensure Democrats maintain control of the White House.  For example, I may not like the health care law, but Mitt Romney has made some very strong statements against marine protected areas (not to mention evolution and climate change).  Obama is not necessarily the lesser of two evils, but in my opinion he is certainly better than Mitt Romney.

And to prove my point, here are some reason's to support Governor Ben Fitial:

- The Fitial Administration has been a stalwart supporter of Beautify CNMI.
- Governor Fitial is a regional and global leader in environmental protection with his support of the Micronesia Challenge and the Micronesia Regional Shark Sanctuary.
- In 2008, Governor Fitial hired Aggreko to provide temporary power relief so that the generators could be fixed, ending months of blackouts.
- Despite 50% drop in government revenue, nobody in government has lost a job.
- Governor Fitial supported the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.
- Governor Fitial is extremely pro-business and supports local control of immigration and minimum wage.
- Governor Fitial supports casinos, development, and the militarization of the Northern Islands, which many believe will bring economic benefits

I'm sure the supporters have other reasons, but these are the ones that popped into my head as I was writing this blog (and I don't want to be accused of being part of the governor's propaganda machine).

And for the record, three years ago I wrote that the governor should resign:
"(I)t is not too early to call for his resignation. We shouldn’t have to impeach him. We shouldn’t have to wait for him to be indicted. He has shamed himself, shamed his office, and shamed us. Governor Fitial should resign."
But at this point I don't really care if the governor resigns or gets impeached.  Things won't change much under an Eloy Inos Administration.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Micronesia Speaks Up to Save Sharks

Sharks are rapidly disappearing from the world's oceans, primarily as a result of the demand for their fins, which are valued as a soup ingredient in some cultures. Each year, up to 73 million of these animals are killed by humans. However, advocates in the Pacific would like to put a stop to this activity.

Soon, an area covering more than 2 million square miles of the western Pacific Ocean—approximately two-thirds the size of the land area of the United States—is slated to become the world's largest shark sanctuary, and the first created through a regional agreement among governments. The resolution, which was negotiated last year, also authorizes the development of a regional ban on the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins in the waters of Palau, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the Federated States of Micronesia, which includes Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae.

This short video, produced by the Pew Environment Group, demonstrates the need for countries to implement the agreement and recounts the successful efforts of Guam, where thousands of students and other citizens spoke out about the importance of safeguarding these important keystone species.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Until Next Month, Marshalls

I'm in the San Francisco airport headed back towards Washington, DC.  As I type this, I have already been traveling for 24 hours.  This journey started at the Ebeye dock at noon on Monday, then we departed the Kwajalein airport 7 hours later, arriving in Honolulu 9 hours before we left Ebeye.  The best connection I could get had an 8 hour layover here in San Fran, so here I sit, catching up on email, uploading my photos, and catching up on certain things related to work.

Shawn and I (but mostly Shawn) captured some amazing images in the Marshall Islands this past week and we'll be working on the resulting products in the upcoming weeks.  We've already had stories run in the Marshall Islands Journal and Marianas Variety; I also did an interview with Radio New Zealand, which should play some time this week.

I've got less than a week in DC then I am heading back out to the Pacific.  At the end of my next trip, I will hopscotch across the Marshall Islands, touching down on Kwajalein and Majuro on my way back home.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Angelo Villagomez: Production Assisstant

As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm on assignment this week in the Marshalls Islands with my filmmaker friend Shawn Heinrichs making a video about the Marshall Islands Shark Sanctuary.  I think this the second official project I've worked on with Shawn.  In 2011 we both worked with students and conservationists on Guam to pass a shark fin ban.  Shawn filmed and edited a short film, Guam Shark Tsunami, about the efforts of the hundreds of school children supporting the passage of the law.

So not to change the subject, but what do you think of my new haircut?  I knew I was going to end up on camera this week, so I didn't want to look like the disheveled hippie I normally resemble.  I even shaved.

Even with all the development around Majuro, there are still some great healthy looking coral reefs.  I'm no coral reef biologist (my favorite topic while in school was the evolutionary interaction between tree squirrels and oak trees), but that looks like some serious coral cover to me.

You'll notice I'm not using a snorkel in these photos,  I don't think I ever blogged about it, but a grey reef shark in Chuuk ate my snorkel in July.  I have to buy a new one, but would gladly accept a donation.

I wish I could make a career out of playing a tourist enjoying a coral reef, but somehow I imagine there is a lot of competition for that job.  And I bet most photographers would rather have a hot girl in a bikini.  Speaking of which...

I post this final photo as a warning to all my young readers (both of you).  This is what 10 years of Bud Light and fried chicken will do to your abdominal region.  I have three skinny younger brothers under the age of 25.  Boys: this is your future.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Pretty Birds and Pristine Beaches

There isn't an unfished beach on this planet clear of plastic bottles and other marine debris washed up on it shores, but I think Eneko Island in the Marshall Islands comes pretty darn close to what I think of when I hear the word pristine.

I visited Eneko in 2007 when I attended my first Micronesians in Island Conservation retreat.  The island is now exactly like it was then.

These birds are called fairy terns.  Aren't they pretty?