Saturday, March 31, 2012

This Tagaman Champion Wears Spandex

With a name like Tagaman, you would think every local would want to compete.  Taga is the mythical Chamorro chief who demonstrated a series of physical feats to become the chief of Tinian.

Tagaman is a triathlon that I've wanted to compete in since I weighed 160 lbs and could knock out a 16 minute 5000m.  For many years, Saipan was just too far away and the cost of an airline ticket too prohibitive to compete.

Then I lived on Saipan, and I have no real excuse for why I didn't compete.  I wasn't really training at the time, and my time was filled with weekend beach cleanups, tree plantings, and of course collecting signatures in support of marine conservation.

I signed up to compete in 2009, but my determination did not outlast my equipment.  I finished the swim in just under an hour, but my borrowed equipment broke while I was tackling the last big hill in Marpi.  The cleat on my shoe broke off, and peddling was near impossible.  I tried for a bit, but gave up when the last place competitor passed me.

I was in Guam for almost all of March, and Tagaman  was conveniently scheduled for the last day of the month.  So I signed up and started training.  I ran 350 miles between January 1 and March 5.  When I started traveling, I didn't do much training...

But I finished the race.  And I won my age group.  I was the top finisher out of one competitors in the 30-34 range.  My official time was 5 hours, 33 minutes, and 42 seconds (the amateurs start 2 minutes after the pros).

Friday, March 30, 2012

Famous in Guam

I just spent an incredible 3 1/2 weeks in Guam working with some of the coolest people I've ever met.  The trip was work related, so I'm not really at liberty to discuss what I was doing, but if you do a Google search for "Angelo Villagomez Guam," you might find this video that played on KUAM tonight:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

When All Other Arguments Fail, Scream Louder

So I went to an event last night and talked to a WESPAC dude from Hawaii and we chatted about many of the things John Gourley included in his latest love letter to those of us who want to see a healthy ocean for future generations.  I sometimes wonder if they ever read our campaign materials.  Like ever.  I read all their stuff, it's only fair.

I learned something during my time advocating for the Mariana Trench Monument that has been very helpful in my work across the Pacific: Nobody reads long letters.  Well, not nobody.  John's friends will read it and my friends will read it.  John's friends will slap him on the back and say how smart he is and tell him he's doing a great job.  My friends will get heated and email each other and say we have to respond.  The federal managers of the monument will also  read the letter and some will allow themselves to get steamrolled with criticism from someone with not one, not two, but three current contracts with WESPAC.

But nobody else will read the letter.  Long letters in the newspaper are not an effective communication tool in the Pacific (or anywhere, really).  If that were the case, then Ron Hodges and Ambrose Bennett would be governor and lt. governor right now.

I don't want to be dismissive of Mr. Gourley because he has the potential to bring many good ideas to the table, but he loads his letters with so many half-truths and contradictions (i.e We successfully negotiated for everything we wanted and we are to be congratulated, but we didn't get anything we wanted and it's the environmentalists' fault).  The same is true for many of the other people listed in the WESPAC directory living on Saipan.  The Northern Marianas has legitimate concerns in the management of the monument, but those concerns are not being addressed because we're arguing over the public comment collection method.

The goal, however, of Mr. Gourley is not to make comments on improving the management of the Trench.  The goal is to completely block management of the Trench.

Any the irony that I just wrote a long letter should not be lost.

You Tell 'Em, Evan

The President of the National Wildlife Refuge Association had a letter to the editor in the New York Times today:
To the Editor:

“Rocket Plunge to Deep End of the Planet” (March 20), about James Cameron’s ambitious plan to explore the deepest part of the ocean, omits one important aspect of this epic journey. Much of the Mariana Trench is protected as the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

Managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, this conservation area is part of the 150-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System. Along with iconic places like the Arctic refuge area in Alaska, it is a legacy of President Theodore Roosevelt, who established the first wildlife refuges.

Evan Hirsche

Monday, March 26, 2012

Up Next: Richard Branson

Richard Branson just tweeted:
Hope to complete deepest dive ever in Atlantic later this year with @VirginOceanic. Virgin and @JimCameron can explore the oceans together.
See you in a few months, Sir Richard!  By the way, I once saw you in Washington, DC, but I don't think you saw me...

San Vicente Canaries Congratulate James Cameron

You have to love those kids at San Vicente Elementary School on Saipan.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

First Photos of James Cameron's Dive to Challenger Deep

James Cameron reached Challenger Deep at 7:52 AM this morning while I was having breakfast overlooking Hagatna Bay (meaning he was 190 miles southwest of and 7 miles below me).  National Geographic has made available photos to journalists covering the dive.  Since the Saipan Blog is Saipan's Most Popular Blog Since Ever Since, I emailed them to see if I could post the photos, and lo and behold, they agreed!  Check out these photos of Mr. Cameron moments before he descended 7 miles to the bottom.  I imagine it is only a matter of time before we see photos of the bottom.
Filmmaker James Cameron Reaches Bottom of Mariana Trench

In a historic solo dive to the bottom of the world, famed filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron reached the “Challenger Deep,” the lowest part of the ocean, located in the Mariana Trench, on Monday, March 26, at 7:52 a.m. local time (Sunday, March 25, 5:52 p.m. Eastern Time). The depth was recorded at 35,756 feet. In his specially designed submersible DEEPSEA CHALLENGER, he plans to spend up to six hours on the Pacific Ocean seafloor, collecting samples for scientific research. He also will be documenting the Mariana Trench via still photographs and moving images.

Cameron’s first words on reaching the bottom: “All systems OK.”

The dive is part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, National Geographic and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research and exploration. Cameron is the only individual ever to complete the dive to the “Challenger Deep” in a solo vehicle and the first since 1960 to reach the deepest point in the world in a manned submersible, when the feat was completed by U.S. Navy Lt. Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard in the bathyscaphe Trieste.

Follow Cameron’s “Challenger Deep” expedition at; on Twitter by following @DeepChallenge or using #deepseachallenge; or on Facebook at 

Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

The DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible carrying filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron is hoisted into the Pacific Ocean on its way to the “Challenger Deep,” the deepest part of the Mariana Trench. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.

Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron slides into the hatch of the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible as he prepares for his record dive to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.

Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence  James Cameron has a final conversation with ocean explorer and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, right, just before the hatch on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible is closed and the voyage to the deepest part of the ocean begins. Walsh took the same journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 52 years ago in the bathyscaphe Trieste, with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. Cameron is the first person to complete the dive solo. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.

Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron gets a handshake from ocean explorer and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, right, just before the hatch on the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER submersible is closed and the voyage to the deepest part of the ocean begins. Walsh took the same journey to the bottom of the Mariana Trench 52 years ago in the bathyscaphe Trieste with Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard. Cameron is the first person to complete the dive solo. The dive was part of DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, a joint scientific expedition by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research.

Congrats, James Cameron!

James Cameron's successful stunt to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench has been successful, according to National Geographic.  What an amazing feat!  He's calling it the first solo dive to Challenger Deep, seeing as Walsh and Picard dove together in 1960.

And that photo?  Well, based on the angle of this photo, Challenger Deep is only about 190 miles to the right of these kids.  And these kids were totally stoked that James Cameron was diving the trench.

Now that James Cameron has been to the deepest part of the Mariana Trench, I hope that he'll come back to the Marianas and share his adventure with the people living here.  I can think of about 400 students that I've met over the last few weeks that would go crazy to meet him, to be the first to see his videos, to be among the first to hear his stories.

So if someone attached to the Deepsea Challenge is reading this, the Godfather of the Mariana Trench Monument (that's me) is personally inviting you to come to Guam this week.  And if you come to Saipan next week, I'll throw a parade for you and have you declared the International (Intergalactic, why not?)  Ambassador to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

Why do you ask?  Because we want your voice to be added to the voices calling for conservation of our ocean.  This morning at the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Council meeting on Guam, Governor Eddie Calvo called attention to the 7 miles of ocean lying between the surface and the bottom of the Mariana Trench.  That ecosystem needs conservation management.  And with the world's attention on James Cameron, there is no better ambassador right now (at least until Richard Branson gets to the bottom of the trench).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Diving Today

Two hours ago James Cameron tweeted:
I only tweet when I have something worth saying. Today is the culmination of a 7 yr project. It's finally dive day.
Today is the day!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Challenger Deep Dive on Hold

The BBC reports that James Cameron has not made it to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, not for a lack of trying.  The weather is refusing to cooperate and they can't get the sub in the water until things calm down.  I mentioned in a previous post that this is not the calmest time of year.  Hopefully Mr. Cameron doesn't have to wait until May to attempt his dive.

I heard a different something from someone else who knows someone else, and the Avatar team hopes the weather clears for a dive attempt this weekend.  I'm excited about this because several people who were instrumental in the creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument are going to be on Guam this week, and it is exciting for all of us to have this historical dive occurring while we are here.

If Mr. Cameron holds a press conference or public event on Guam after he gets back, I will be sure to go and report how it went on this blog.

Shark Hero

I recently met President Johnson Toribiong, international shark hero and creator of the Palau Shark Sanctuary.  In the center is the president's brother, Francis Toribiong, world famous diver and also a conservationist.  I also recently spent a few too many hours in the sun.  

Mariana Trench Dive Watch

The news from the trench is that there is no news.  I know someone who knows someone and National Geographic has put a gag order on everyone participating in the dive.  It is only a matter of time until we hear what is going on.  People on Guam and Saipan are holding their breath, waiting...

And I know this because I've been visiting the high schools this week to talk about issues related to something else that I no longer write about on this blog because I no longer write about my professional life here.


Kids on Guam know about the dive to Challenger Deep and are really excited about Mr. Cameron's attempted dive.  Like really, really excited.  Stoked, even.

I hope that he spends some time after the dive on Saipan and Guam talking to the people here about his adventure.  The people here worked hard to advocate for the protections given to the trench by President George W. Bush.  This part of the ocean is literally their backyard and I think they should be some of the first to share in the discovery.  But that's just my opinion.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jimmy C is Diving Deep

Photo Credit:PDN
James Cameron has left Guam and is steaming towards Challenger Deep.  No word if he's attempted his dive yet, but there is a good chance he's already reached the deepest part of the ocean.  They say it's the first mile that's the hardest!  On behalf of the readers of the Saipan Blog (mainly my mom and wife), I wish you the best, Mr. Cameron!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mr. Cameron Getting Seasick

I dedicate this post to Tom (last name withheld).  I ran into Tom this week and he asked me why I haven't been blogging.  It feels great to know that I still have readers out there.  So this one's for Tom.  And by the way, I write on behalf of myself and not as a representative of any organization.

I'm in the Guam airport waiting for my flight to my next destination. It is windy, windy, windy. The island is abuzz because James Cameron is on island in preparations to dive to Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the world's ocean. I don't think Mr. Cameron will be attempting his dive this week, however. It is really windy and the ocean is choppy. He's a few months early if he wanted the best weather, but I'm sure the ocean will calm down eventually.

So what should Mr. Cameron do while he waits for nice weather?

I have an idea! He should go to Saipan, gateway to the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument!

But seriously, I've been contemplating an Open Letter to James Cameron (I'm sure he'd read it!). National Geographic has been putting together excellent videos on the upcoming dive, but Youtube videos on Guam take about 15 minutes to load, even longer on Saipan, and are near impossible to watch on the outer islands. In an ironic twist that seems to happen a lot in this part of the world, people in developed countries have a better idea of what's going on here than the people actually living down the street from the harbor.

That bums me out.  Mr. Cameron is not just diving to the bottom of the trench, he's diving into the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.  His expedition has the opportunity to bring attention not only to the area, to these islands and our surrounding ocean, but also to the plight of our marine protected areas, and our efforts to take care of our ocean.

Mr. Cameron and his Rolex sponsors have rubbed shoulders with Delegate Sablan in Washington, DC, so he has done something to reach out to us, but I wish we could get him to come to Saipan to meet the people that made the monument a reality.  So many people put their livelihoods and their good reputation on the line for the monument, and many of the supporters were pounded -- and continue to be pounded --with undeserved criticism.  Why, in just the last week, one of my "fans" sent a nasty email about me to leaders throughout Micronesia.  One day I'll probably use his letter as proof that I did something good, but in the now it is giving more grey hair.

One of the hopes and expectations was for research and exploration to come to our shores.  And while it is super exciting to see the renewed interest in the monument, it is disappointing that the people on Saipan are not a part of the adventure.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Marshall Islands Shark Defender

I've been in Guam this week attending the 17th Micronesian Chief Executive Summit.  I no longer intertwine my professional and personal life on this blog (hence all the posts about running), but here I am with two great shark champions.  On the left is Minister Tony DeBrum of the Marshall Islands and in the center is Senator Carlotta Leon Guerrero of Guam.

Friday, March 09, 2012

First Swim

I had to work, so I didn't run the 5K this morning.  How much does that suck?  Oh well, I've still got Tagaman in three weeks.  Speaking of Tagaman, I got my first practice swim in today.  I swam an unknown distance in Tumon Bay in 31 minutes.  I'm planning on my 2000m swim taking 60 minutes, even though I'll probably finish a bit faster.  I swam that distance in 2009 in 56 minutes without training, so I figure that with minimal training I'll be just that much faster.  55 minutes?

Swimming is hard.  I don't like swimming.  Running is much better.  I'm not really sure how you're supposed to do it, which I know sounds stupid.  And how do you keep from drinking mouthfuls of salt water?

I've got three weeks until Tagaman.  The goal is to swim every day between now and then.  And no booze.  But I'm going to eat whatever I want.  In fact, I want a cheeseburger right now.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Honorary Paramount Chief Branson or Governor for a Day Cameron?

The people charged with marketing Saipan to the outside world are incredibly bad at marketing Saipan to the outside world. In a world dominated by social media, the destination still doesn't have a major presence on Facebook (70 likes!), Twitter (47 followers!), Youtube, Flickr, Pinterest, and the list goes on. They don't even have a Myspace. And the MVA website looks like it was designed in 1999, right before the tech bubble popped.

With that said, it is no surprise that MVA and the rest of Saipan is letting a great marketing opportunity slip through their fingers. There are four, not one, not two, not three, but four, count them four, unique, individual, different teams competing to be the first person at the bottom of the Mariana Trench in 50 years.

A blog about ocean issues called Deep Sea News calls this the biggest deep sea exploration news in 50 years.

James Cameron, director of Titanic and Avatar, and Sir Richard Branson, super rich English dude, have been in the news these last few weeks about their individual teams' attempts.

At the same time, there are people on Saipan tripping over themselves to play the Monument Blame Game. There is new found interest in the Mariana Trench for one reason and one reason alone: The Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

And nobody on Saipan understands this, and the people in charge of marketing the island can't figure out how to leverage this golden opportunity to their advantage. So here's an idea, Governor Fitial and Delegate Sablan should put aside their differences for about 15 minutes and issue a joint challenge: the first deep sea exploration team leader to present a rock from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to the people of Saipan, gateway to the Mariana Trench, will be made an honorary paramount chief of the Chamorro people. That person will also get to be governor for a day, and will enjoy a home cooked meal from both first ladies. The meal will consist of island delicacies Saipan is known for, such as chicken kelaguin, and something made with breadfruit, all served with local tuba.

I'd create a website and a Facebook page and send certified letters to each of the four teams, followed by a press release highlighting the natural wonders of the Marianas. You better believe it would get media attention.

And although I am Saipan's most popular blogger since ever since, I can't do this for you. It has to be the governor's office. I'll even let them take credit when it happens.