Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Picture Me At Disney

I never get to be in photos because I am always the one holding the camera.  That's not fair.  Every now and then someone offers to take a photo for me.  I present these six photos of proof that the lens will not break when pointed at me.

Want to see more?  I've posted 74 photos from Christmas week in Florida to the Saipan Blog Facebook Page.

Best Christmas Present Ever

I have complained for years, maybe even decades, that I am underrepresented in photos hanging in my parents' house.  This year I decided to tackle this problem head on and give everyone photos of me.

Everyone agreed it was the best present they ever received.  Even the dog liked it.

Kevin and Catie gave it two thumbs up.  If you would like to be as cool and popular as them, you can download the photo from Facebook and print it yourself.

Monday, December 30, 2013

That's One Happy Eden

These photos do not require commentary.  My mother got Edz a peridot ring for Christmas, and I think she liked it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

We're a Family Full of Tweeters

A couple of weeks ago I was reading the news about the shark cull in Western Australia and started tweeting out a bunch of things that are more likely to happen that be killed by a shark including this gem:
I came in just shy of 300 retweets with about 130 favorites. It was even retweeted by Kevin Bacon.

To celebrate Boxing Day, my wife, my sister, my niece, and I went to the Mall at Millenia where the girls ran into Instagram celeb Princess Lauren. This was apparently a big deal (and because I am blogging about it, I am apparently a giant husband/brother/uncle nerd). The hits are still coming in, but Catie's tweet got many more favorites than retweets, the inverse of my popular tweet (Princess Lauren is more popular than Kevin Bacon, after all). I thought the difference in the ratios of likes to favorites was strange, and if I had more free time to worry about things other than sharks I might actually do some research, but I have a hypothesis. Old people use Facebook, young people use Instagram, and they both use Twitter to syndicate their thoughts. Facebook has like, share, and comment functions, whereas Instagram only has like and comment. I hypothesize that the two groups of Twitter users are modeling their behavior after their respective use of Facebook and Instagram. The old people share and like, while the young people mostly like.

I asked my 14 year old sister what she thought about this and she said sharing and retweeting was, "Look, this is my life. I agree with this," whereas liking denotes, "This is cool." You heard it here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Saipan Blogger not running for office in 2014

I've decided not to run for mayor, delegate, senate, governor, or representative next year.

Politics is an interesting sport on Saipan.  The ultimate sign of success is to be elected governor, and everything below that is seen as a stepping stone to get there.  People even suggest that the delegate, who is paid three times what the governor makes and has the power to declare war on other countries (he can introduce the resolution, he just can't vote on it), should one day run for governor.

I think this is because there aren't many locals who participate in the private sector and the governor has always been the largest employer of voters.  The local businessmen who have done well over the years mostly employ foreign contract workers, and they don't vote.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The World Flies By

Saipan and Tinian
Whenever I fly from Saipan to Japan, I try to sit on the right side of the plane in the hopes that I'll see the Northern Islands.  The islands come up quick after takeoff.  Uracus is only about 300 miles from Saipan and the plane is hurtling through the sky at about 500 miles per hour.

Last Monday I flew from Guam to Narita, and although it was too cloudy to see any of the Northern Islands, I saw Rota, Tinian, and Saipan.  From 30,000 feet up and several miles out, Saipan doesn't even look inhabited.  It is humbling to see the center of your universe in such a way.

I had just come from a fisheries meeting in Australia where the official CNMI position was in line with that of the Hawaiian longline fleet, in opposition to the position of the Micronesia countries trying to set sustainable catches. The fisheries meeting ran as all the governors and presidents of the Micronesia region met in Saipan to discuss the immigration impacts of the US Compact of Free Association (and sharks!), which would be lessened if the Micronesian islands had more control over their fisheries and economic self-sufficiency, which the CNMI was opposing.

The whole situation was very disappointing.  I'd like to see the CNMI and Guam, which do not export tuna, supporting Palau, FSM, and the Marshall Islands, which depend on tuna to keep the lights on.  As I flew over Saipan, I wondered how many people living there were even aware this was going on, and if this particular dynamic was discussed between the island leaders?

I'd like my island to do better, but the wheels that have brought us to this particular place have been spinning for decades.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Layover in Narita

Monday was one of those days that goes on forever.  I started the day in Cairns, hopped on a plane to Guam, and then hopped on another to Japan.  During my seven hour layover I left the airport, as I have been known to do, and took the train to Naritasan Temple.  I was hoping for snow, but was not disappointed to find the last wisps of fall.

After the temple I walked to the AEON shopping mall and ate my favorite dan dan sesame seed noodles.  Then it was back to the airport for a quick shower, some more shopping, and a 9 hour flight to San Francisco.  Then I was bumped from my last flight (with no compensation, I might add!) and downgraded from economy plus to a non-reclining middle seat in the last row.  Due to the time change, this all occurred on Monday.

Thus ended another adventure in global travel.  This trip was the last of the year.  I traveled 160,000 miles in 2013, a new personal record.  I hope to never have to repeat it.  I've posted more photos of Japan on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Edz and I have a lot to be thankful for this year. I somehow landed in a career that I would do for free if money were not an issue, which of course it is. My work continues to be fulfilling and successful and I was rewarded with a promotion last month. My work has taken on a global scale that I never could have imagined; this year I traveled to Thailand, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and Fiji on behalf of the sharks. On Friday I’m going to Australia. And despite the economic downturn, Edz also found success in her work.

My family remains healthy, despite one of us getting hit by a car in April. And our clan grew by one. I grew by a few chins and chub rolls, which I’m not really thankful for.

We both miss life and friends in Saipan terribly, but had the good fortune to be able to visit this year (as I have every year since 2005). We try to keep those relationships alive and strong. Facebook and Skype helps, but the 8,000 miles separating us makes it hard.

I am thankful for the political reforms that are taking place on Saipan. It is too early to tell if the groundswell of opposition to Governor Fitial were a play for power by his opposition or a game changing move against corruption, but either way it was the right thing to do. The opposition to the militarization of the Marianas is also encouraging and appears organic. I hope some elected officials take strong stands against it and if we’re lucky it will become a campaign issue next fall.

And the Red Sox won the World Series.  Let's not forget that.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

#DrownYourIsland Micronesia

Fina Sisu could be oceanfront property in 100 years
Last September I attended the Pacific Islands Forum held in the Marshall Islands, a country whose highest point in its 1.9 million square kilometer territory is a three meter high bridge connecting two islands on the atoll of Majuro.  The theme of the meeting was Marshaling a Response to Climate Change, the result being a Majuro Declaration for Climate Leadership.

One of the major threats of climate change is sea level rise.  I am not an expert on climate change, nor do I consider myself one of its crusaders, but according to this National Geographic website, the worst case scenario for climate change is a seven meter rise in sea levels (not to mention stronger storms and the acidity of the ocean).

Majuro and the rest of the Marshall Islands would be completely submerged if sea levels rose 7 meters.
If this worst case scenario were to occur, Majuro and the tens of thousands of people living there would go under.  Using Google Earth I've created several maps for a few islands in Micronesia I've been to including Pohnpei, Chuuk, Rota, Tinian, and Ebeye.  I've posted them all to Facebook.

The evil genius behind this technology is fellow blogger Andrew Thaler over at Southern Fried Science.  I've called it #DrownYourIsland, but Andrew calls it #DrownYourTown (You can search the hashtag #DrownYourTown to see havoc wrecked all across the planet).  He's got simple instructions on his blog on how to drown your own town, and if you want to know why this matters you can read about it in Scientific American and Salon.

Tweet or Facebook me your island and I'll drown it, or make suggestions in the comments section of this blog.  I'll post the results to Facebook.

Maybe I won't buy that house in Soutwest
As a bonus I went ahead and drowned Washington, DC, my current village, up to seven meters.  Goods news is that even though my apartment building will flood, I live on the third floor and my stuff will stay dry.  Bad news is I'll have to swim to work.

Eastern Market

Fall in our nation's capital is coming to an end. It's that perfect time of year when it is not too hot or not too cold to walk around the city. And the autumn leaves aren't too shabby, either.

Edz and I have made a couple of trips to Eastern Market recently. It's a two stop metro ride, 10 minute bike ride, or 30 minute walk from our apartment.

Farmer's markets are the foundation of civilization and there are few things in life more enjoyable that picking out fresh vegetables, sipping espresso at a sidewalk table, browsing art you'd never buy, and mingling with your fellow villagers.

However, I think the vegetables are more expensive than they are at H-Mart, but they've got some things like squash blooms that Edz likes.  Oh, the sacrifices we make for squash blooms.

Inside the covered market Phil-Am universes collide as about half of the staff working there are Filipino.  The last time one of the ladies gave Edz half her lunch, some strange goopy looking substance that was apparently food.  We also get the special discount, the one that cannot be spoken of in English.

On Sundays there is a flea market that sells lots of things you don't really need.  We are now the proud owners of several of those things.

Worry not, I am not a Washington Nationals fan; the only players I can name are Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.  But I have every intention to try -- at least until they play the Red Sox in the World Series.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Your Reading Comprehension Skills Disappoint Me

Two stories indirectly about Saipan are making the rounds on the Internet today.  The first, titled "Mariana Trench Once Again Named Worst Place to Raise Child" was published in The Onion.  "5 Things I Learned Leaving My Nicely-Paid Lawyer Job to Move to a Small, Tropical Island Near Guam" was published in the Huffington Post and was penned by former Saipan resident and former Delegate Kilili staffer Arin Greenwood.  I have seen both stories heavily commented on over Facebook and Twitter.

First of all, I can't believe there are still people outside of the Chinese government who don't know that The Onion is a satire website.  Kim Jong Un is not the Sexiest Man Alive, and no one lives in the Mariana Trench.  The Onion is not commenting on the quality of life in the Marianas!
NEW YORK—Parenting magazine released its annual list of the best and worst places to raise a child this week, once again naming the Mariana Trench—an undersea chasm located 36,000 feet beneath the western Pacific Ocean—as the least desirable location for rearing children.

“In all categories, the Mariana Trench consistently got our lowest marks as a good place to start a family,” the 14-page article read in part. “The school system is nonexistent, the nearest playground is 300 nautical miles away, and at over 15,000 pounds per square inch, the hydrostatic pressure is enough to crush a child in less than a second.”

“While the area does contain a low crime rate, that benefit is quickly negated by the Mariana Trench’s lack of a police department, not to mention fire, sanitation, highway, or public works departments,” the article continued.
Really?  This fooled you?  Seriously?  I am at a loss for words.

The reaction to Arin's blog also surprised me.  I thought it was a funny story about growing up.  It would appear that many people took the list of five things as an attack on Saipan.
"Don't hate me, but about 12 years ago, I left a well-paying lawyer job in New York to move to a small tropical island near Guam. I had five weeks paid vacation, mango and banana trees in my yard and went scuba diving nearly every weekend."
That's not hate.  That love!  She goes on to poke fun at several of Saipan's shortcomings, but balances them against her own shortcomings and those of living in the mainland.  Marianas Variety editor Zaldy Dandan regularly points out that Arin wrote the best book about life in Saipan.  Arin very much understands the island and the people better than most.  And why does everything written about Saipan have to be about Chamorros?  We are, after all, less than one third of the Saipan population, and are much less likely to write about ourselves than the multitude of cultures we share the island with.  And if you don't like what other people are writing about the island, why not write something yourself?

Monday, November 04, 2013

I met this Sea Hero online

After 3 years of communicating online, I met Rick in person in 2009.
Over the next week you are going to see lots of nice things written about Rick MacPherson on blogs, in newspaper articles, and on social networks.  Rick is the 2013 Sea Hero of the Year.  Scuba Diving magazine and Oris are recognizing him for his decades of work making this world a better place to live.

I first met Rick online.  I could probably dig through the archives of this blog or Malaria, Bedbugs, Sea Lice, and Sunsets to pinpoint a date, but it was sometime around 2006-2007 (Before Facebook was really popular!  We were still using Myspace).  Back then I mostly wrote about cultural misunderstandings, drinking beer, and the occasional tree planting.  Rick, however, was a conservation blogger.

I still don't consider myself a conservation blogger, but Rick was one of the people who inspired me to try.  Do you remember Carnival of the Blue?  After Mark Powell started it on World Ocean's Day in 2007, Rick was the first non-Mark blogger to host.  With Rick's encouragement (or perhaps it was out of jealousy), I was the second.

The stuff you read about Rick this week probably won't focus on his blogging, but that is how I got to know him, one snarky comment at a time.  It was only a matter of time before Rick and I started to work together.

We first established real conservation together in 2008 when I was the project manager for the Pew Charitable Trusts campaign to designate the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.  Rick, who at that time was part-conservationist, part-funny dude in San Francisco to me, helped galvanize the global dive community in support of the project.

When we finally met in 2009, the deal was sealed.  Rick and I share a love of food, beer, science fiction, comic books, science, and conservation.  He was the James to my Barney Stinson.  It was apparent to us both we were going to be besties for life.

Since 2010 I have been able to work with Rick on issues of global shark conservation and I am excited that our career paths, as geographically challenged as they have been, allow us to continue working together.

Rick is accepting his award in Orlando on Wednesday.  I won't be there to watch, but I suspect he'll be surrounded by colleagues and friends.  Here's to you, buddy.  Cheers.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Thank you for no tuyo

The fraternity of former Saipan residents is larger than you would think.  There's a whole generation of Chamorros who left the islands for better opportunities in the mainland, plus an army of former contract workers, teachers, lawyers, and doctors who eventually left, too.  I guess I fall into the first category; Edz, Maricel, and Mike fall into the latter.

I have a hard time making it into photos because I'm always the one taking them.  Sadly, Mike didn't make it into many photos, either.  Luckily, this one was a keeper.

Having friends visit is a great opportunity for us to do the things one would expect someone living in DC to do every weekend.  We went to the Spy Museum, rode bikes around the National Mall and visited the White House, went for a few drinks at Cantina Marina on the river, and watched the World Series at an Irish Bar with a rude Russian bartender.

Edz and Maricle also cooked up a Filipino food smorgasbord with more pork than is probably healthy.  Thankfully there was no tuyo, but there was a lot of okra and bitter melon, neither of which I care for very much.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Science Online Oceans Science Geek Fashion Show

Austin and I dressed up as Red Sox fans from Massachusetts
Has it really been a week?  The memory of the Science Online Oceans Science Geek Fashion Show is still fresh.  Must be the combination of having the Red Sox in the playoffs and recovering from a sunburn that has my sense of time off.

This morning I posted the photos from the fashion show to The Saipan Blog Facebook page.  Enjoy.  Give your favorite a like.  At the end of the week, the science geek with the most likes wins...nothing.

Give your favorite photo a like on Facebook.  The winner gets...nothing
Apologies if you were a competitor and I didn't snap your photo.  It can be difficult holding a beer in one hand, a camera in the other, with one eye on the fashion show, and another on the game on the TV in the bar.

There's a larger blog of Science Online Oceans tumbling around between my ears and I've got a few more photos to post.  Stay tuned.

Friday, October 18, 2013

And so I tweet

That's my first tweet from January 24, 2009. It's taken me nearly five years to be sold on Twitter. Thanks to the Science Online Oceans conference, I am comfortable saying that Twitter does not suck. Twitter is actually pretty cool. I'll write my #ScioOceans blog sometime over the weekend. I've been too busy watching the ALCS and working to do so.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

He Died a Warrior's Death

Oreo Kenobi VillagomezSome of my reader's (both of you) may be wondering what ever happened to my dog Oreo. When I moved to the mainland in 2010, Oreo stayed behind with my then-girlfriend Edz. When my now-wife Edz moved to the mainland last year, we decided to leave Oreo with one of our friends. This friend had a young daughter who was enamored with Oreo.

Oreo and I have very similar personalities. We're both a little dumb, a little crazy, and think we can take on things much bigger than ourselves. In my life this has materialized as the longline fishing industry in Hawaii. For Oreo it was the neighbor's dogs.

A few months ago Oreo escaped from my friend's house and got into an altercation with the neighbor's two dogs. Oreo lost. Losing Oreo is sad, but not unexpected. Saipan is not a good place for dogs, especially super friendly fluffy white dogs.

I know Oreo had some fans out there, so I wanted to share this sad news with you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sharks Back Home

Sharks are in the news back home. I was asked to provide comment.
Proposed regional shark plan could defeat CNMI’s shark protection law By Haidee V. Eugenio

A committee advising the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes this week in Honolulu to discuss, among other things, proposed shark management in the Marianas that includes “directed fishery for sharks” or “indirect catch,” which some advocates say seems to negatively impact the CNMI’s two-year-old law against possession, selling, trading or distributing shark fins.

The Scientific and Statistical Committee will meet in Honolulu, Hawaii from Oct. 16 to 18.

Former representative Diego Benavente, author of the shark protection bill that became CNMI Public Law 17-27, said yesterday that the CNMI government should voice out its concerns on the proposed shark management methods, specifically to “reduce shark biomass” as Wespac stated in a release last week.

“I hope that Hawaii, Guam and our other allies such as Palau and the Marshall Islands to come out and voice out their concerns about the proposals to manage sharks in the region,” Benavente told Saipan Tribune.

The CNMI law prohibits possession, selling, offering for sale, trading, or distributing shark fins in the CNMI. It, however, allows catching of sharks for subsistence or non-commercial purposes.

Wespac said last week that fishermen in the Marianas archipelago -- which includes the CNMI and Guam -- have complained for more than a decade about “shark depredation,” including taking of bait by sharks.

It also said one consideration for the depredation problem is to reduce the shark biomass either through a directed fishery for sharks or an indirect catch by pelagic longlining.

Benavente said while Wespac seems to be concerned about fishermen’s issues concerning sharks right now, there seems to be disregard about shark protection and overall marine ecosystem now and for generations to come.

“I am also a fisherman. We also fish in areas where there are sharks but we still manage to catch fish. I just can’t understand why Wespac would suggest that sharks need to be destroyed because of fishermen’s concerns but what about their role in the ecosystem. Are they suggesting destroying ocean resources because of current concerns?” said Benavente, a former speaker and former lieutenant governor.

Wespac said recommendations from the Scientific and Statistical Committee will be considered by the Council from Oct. 16 to 18, 2013.

Angelo Villagomez, with The Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., said management decisions should be based sound science, not hearsay.

“There isn’t a scientific study in the tropical Pacific showing that shark populations are healthy and that shark fishing levels are sustainable. On the contrary, every study has shown declines,” he said when sought for comment.

He said sharks are good for tourism.

“Senator Pete Reyes recognized this back in 2007 when he passed some of the first protections for sharks in the eagle ray protection law. Diego Benavente strengthened those protections in 2011. These laws are giving depleted shark populations a chance to recover, which will be good for the marine environment, but also for the increasing number of divers who expect to see sharks and other large predators when they spend thousands of dollars to visit Saipan,” Villagomez said.

Villagomez also said a NOAA-funded study in Guam showed that the biomass of sharks was already four times lower than a similar area in Australia that was a known shark fishery.

He also said the three stock assessments done by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission show that oceanic whitetips, blue, and silky sharks are overfished and that overfishing is occurring. More information is available at http://www.wcpfc.int.

Villagomez also cited a study published by Shelley Clarke in 2012 shows that populations of blue, mako, oceanic whitetip, and silky sharks are declining. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01943.x/abstract).

“Only a few months ago, members of the CNMI Legislature joined the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures in calling for a Pacific-wide shark sanctuary. The WESPAC proposal appears in contradiction with what elected leaders from all of Micronesia, Hawaii, and American Samoa want,” Villagomez added.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I hereby nominate this tweet

This might be my favorite of the nearly 5,000 #ScioOceans tweets tweeted out by the fewer than 200 conference participants over the weekend.

Friday, October 11, 2013

This is my first podcast

There's a Switzer in Fiji who will point out the mistakes in this. I don't care, it's more about gaining the technical skills to record a podcast. So what do you think? Do I have a great radio face or what?

Saturday, October 05, 2013


Jaleo is my favorite restaurant
The deluge of well wishers on Facebook on your birthday is one of the great marvels of the modern age.  Far flung aunts, uncles, and cousins, friends you have not seen in too long, and people you see every day make you feel like the most important person in the world -- for at least a day.  Well played, Facebook.

I told Edz all I wanted for my birthday was her love and affection, so I have everything I hoped for.  But I also got a promotion yesterday, which was a nice surprise.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sierra Club Takes on Pagan

Mangrove monitor lizards are one of the species on Pagan
The Sierra Club has joined the fight to protect the island of Pagan from military use.  They have started an online petition, and even though I haven't seen it with my own eyes, I think they are sending out emails to their members asking them to sign.
Pagan Island, the "Crown Jewel" of the Marianas, is again slated for certain environmental devastation, this time by a proposal from the U.S. Military to use it for "live-fire training" which includes everything from artillery to bombing.

Pagan is a small island in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). It is one of the most biologically and geologically diverse islands in the archipelago, and is home to many threatened and endangered species, some of which are found nowhere else in the world. Aside from its stunning beauty and rich ecological resources, Pagan is also one of the most habitable of the northern most islands in the CNMI. In fact, this island has supported the ancestors of Pagan islanders for over 3,000 years, as evidenced by Chamorro stone ruins found skirting its beautiful beaches.

The U.S. Military plans to occupy ALL of Pagan Island for live-fire training and military exercises, ignoring the indigenous rights of Pagan Islanders, and the devastating environmental impacts that such activity will certainly

cause. For more information visit : savepaganisland.org
I have never worked with the Sierra Club before, but it is exciting that they have taken an interest in the Northern Marianas.  As far as I know, this is the first time they have ever gotten involved in Micronesia.  I hope they stick around for a while.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Obama Confers Submerged Lands to CNMI

News out of the White House today is that President Barack Obama signed S.256 conferring submerged lands to the Northern Mariana Islands for the first time in history.  Submerged lands and the exclusive economic zone were not yet concepts when the Covenant creating the Commonwealth was signed, so there has been some confusion as to who owns the submerged lands in recent years.  That confusion no longer exists.  State waters now start at the high tide mark and extend out to 3 miles.  Federal waters extend from 3 miles to 200 miles.

Congratulations are in order for Delegate Sablan and his staff, the White House staff who helped deliver on this Bush Administration promise, and the numerous other individuals involved.

I've written for four years how this would affect the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.  Those posts are still relevant.  Here is a letter the Friends of the Monument wrote in 2009.  Most of my posts on this issue are tagged with Submerged Lands.  There may also be a few tagged with Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

The Saipan Tribune covers the story in a breaking news article.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Military Buildup Public Hearing on October 8

Dad fishing on Pagan circa 1979
The US Military published a press release today announcing a 60 day comment period for the environmental impact draft proposing military activities in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.  Included in the announcement is a schedule of public hearings.  The public hearing on Saipan takes place from 5 PM to 8 PM on October 8.  I encourage you to attend.
Environmental Impact draft available for review, comment
The U.S. Navy has prepared a Draft Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement to evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated with military readiness training and testing activities conducted within the Mariana Islands Training and Testing Study Area.

The Navy requests and welcomes public comments on the Mariana Islands Training and Testing Draft EIS.

The Navy proposes to continue to conduct training and testing activities, which may include the use of active sonar and explosives, primarily in established operating and military warning areas of the MITT Study Area. The proposed action also includes pier-side sonar maintenance and testing alongside Navy piers located at Inner Apra Harbor, and land-based training activities at existing ranges and other training locations on Guam and in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The MITT EIS/OEIS is the reevaluation and reauthorization of training and testing activities reviewed in the Mariana Islands Range Complex EIS/OEIS, which the Navy completed with community input in 2010.

The project website may be accessed online at www.MITT-EIS.com to download the Draft EIS/OEIS and submit comments online.

The Navy is seeking public input on the proposed action and alternatives, and the accuracy and adequacy of the Draft EIS/OEIS analysis. The Draft EIS/OEIS is also available in the government documents room at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Library at the University of Guam, at the Nieves M. Flores Memorial Library in Hagåtña, at the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library in Saipan, the Tinian Public Library, and the Rota Public Library.

Comments will be accepted throughout the 60-day public comment period, from Sept. 13 to Nov. 12. Written comments may be submitted online, in person at the public meetings below or by mail to: Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, Attention: MITT EIS/OEIS Project Manager, 258 Makalapa Drive, Suite 100, Pearl Harbor, HI 96860-3134

Four open-house public meetings will be held to inform the public and to obtain comments. The public meetings will include an open-house information session and an opportunity to present oral comments. Military representatives will be available to discuss the proposed action and the Draft EIS/OEIS. The public meetings will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 7 at the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration Building, on Oct. 8 at the Pedro P. Tenorio Multi-Purpose Center in Susupe on Saipan, on Oct. 9 in the Tinian High School cafeteria, and on Oct. 10 in the Sinapalo Elementary School cafeteria.
My family has a long history on Pagan and none of us want to see it used as a military training ground. Living in Washington, DC it is difficult for me to rally the troops, but my cousin Ana Villagomez and my best friends Cinta and Gus Kaipat are doing what they can.

We borrow these islands from our children and we owe it to them to do a better job taking care of our cultural heritage.  The Chamorro people have lost so much in terms of language, art, traditions, and knowledge.  It would be a shame to permanently lose the land, too.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Managaha: Full of Mostly Dead Coral

A visitor from Japan recently wrote of Managaha, "it's full of mostly dead coral."

This is disappointing, but hardly surprising.  For years the warning sirens have been going off on the need to better manage the natural resources of Managaha.  I remember a letter to the editor from a visitor published in 2006:
Destruction of coral reefs
I visited Saipan last week and would like to tell you about my experiences. I am from Germany but am living in Japan now. All in all I had a very good time and was very impressed by Saipan’s natural beauty. I especially enjoyed visiting Managaha and the great snorkeling around the island.

But one thing made me sad and quite worried: I saw dozens of tourists stepping on the corals with their fins, so that actual pieces broke away. I could hardly believe my eyes! I think it is not only unbelievably sad to destroy the reefs’ fragile structures but, at the same time, this means a slow destruction of the financial resources of the island. Many tourists love snorkeling around the coral gardens that are close to the shore, so the intact reefs are not only a natural wonder but also an important source of revenue for Saipan. Once they’re gone, the island will become much less attractive for visitors from all over the world.

Also, I saw several tourists feeding the fish with hotdogs. I think this is problematic as well as it goes on day after day. Sausage is not an adequate diet for the fish, and the feeding affects their behavior in an unnatural way. They start to swarm around people and even attack them. The tourists should be taught to respect the reefs and animals more and watch them in their natural environment and behavior. The boat trip to Managaha would be an excellent opportunity to show a video or make the visitors listen to a tape that explains and informs them about the reefs’ uniqueness and fragility. And the DOS and DON’TS when snorkeling. Both the tourists and the submarine wildlife would take great advantage of that.

Susanne Prein
Nagano City, Japan

Friday, September 13, 2013

Advisory council urged to make visitors center a reality

The Marianas Trench Monument Advisory Council finally adopted its long-awaited bylaws in governing the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument yesterday, even as concerned citizens and even a member of the council urged it to make the promised visitors center a reality.

Department of Land Natural Resources Secretary Arnold Palacios said that since the Saipan and Northern Islands Municipal Council and the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library hosted a forum on the monument, he has received a number of comments criticizing the council for the lack of updates on the visitors center.

Palacios, along with Ben Sablan and Frank Rabauliman, make up the CNMI’s representatives on the council.

Palacios said there’s been a lot of backlash from the community on the slow pace of economic benefits the federal government promised when former President George W. Bush declared the Marianas Trench part of its Blue Legacy.

“There’s been a lot of promises made to the community but so far we’re not able to pull it off…We should do it and, if not, let’s just fold camp and go home,” he said.

NOAA deputy regional administrator Lisa Croft shared Palacios’ sentiments, saying the council should now work together to make sure that the commitments made by the federal government is followed.

She also acknowledged that a lot of promises and commitments made by the federal government have been broken.

The council held its second meeting yesterday at the Hyatt Regency Saipan and among those who attended were Sablan, Rabauliman, Palacios, Department of Defense representative Roy Tsutsui, and representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, and other local and federal agencies.

In the comments portion of the meeting, former representative Rosemond Santos described the designation of the monument in 2011 as “modern day colonialism.”

She said the local community, especially the indigenous people of the CNMI, were not consulted when President Bush placed under federal protection 95,216 square miles of submerged lands and waters in various places in the Mariana archipelago as part of his Blue Legacy.

Cultural historian Genevieve Cabrera, meanwhile, urged the federal government to talk to the community instead of making decisions and policies behind their backs.

“If you show respect then respect will be shown back to you,” she said.

Another former lawmaker, William Torres, also told the council to consider the Northern Marianas College as the location of the monument visitors center.

Attaching the visitors center to the local community college would allow it to apply for federal grants and these will be a much-needed financial boost to NMC, he said.

The CNMI Legislature came out with a joint resolution in April, urging the council to designate Marpi as the site of the visitors center because of its easy access to tourists and residents alike.

Recently, Delegate Gregorio Kilili C. Sablan (Ind-MP) made known his preference for the visitors center to be on Rota, to make the island the ecotourism hub of the Commonwealth.

Architect Herman Cabrera just finished a study that plans to use the old Japanese lighthouse on Navy Hill as the site of the visitors center.

Published in the Saipan Tribune

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Pacific Islands Forum Wraps

The future looks bright in the Marshall Islands.
I just returned home from the Marshall Islands after attending the 44th Pacific Islands Forum.  The focus of this year's meeting was climate change and a Majuro Decree on Climate Leadership was agreed and signed.  My role was to promote the important work the Pacific is doing on shark conservation, especially in the Marshall Islands.  I have posted photos from the meeting to The Saipan Blog Facebook page.

The shark twins
I was helped in this endeavor by my friend and coworker, Luke Warwick.  We met with delegates from across the Pacific and ran into some old friends.  My favorite six degrees of Saipan Blog moment came when I ran into Roland Quitugua chatting with Joe Iosua.  You guys know each other?  Small ocean, indeed!

Luke and I also managed to talk to a few reporters about the great work the government of the Marshall Islands, particularly the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Authority, is doing to implement and enforce their shark protections.  Here is some select media:
Tiny state big on shark protection, New Zealand Herald.
Syndication: Islands Business, Pacific Islands News Association.

Marshall Islands sends message with disposal of confiscated shark fins, AFP.
Syndication: South China Morning Post, Taipei Times, Australia Network News, Phys.org, Taipei Times, Raw Story, Bangkok Post, Yahoo, The Sun Daily, MSN, Asia One, Talk Vietnam, The Sunday Times (Sri Lanka), Hanoi Times, Vietnam Times, Arab Today, Navegalo, RTL.

Pacific ramps up shark protection as Asian demand for fins drop, Radio New Zealand International.
Syndication: PIDC East-West Center.

China’s Anti-Corruption Crackdown is Saving Sharks, International Business Times.

Shark fin demand drops as Chinese government cracks down on spending, Australia Network News, print and live radio interview.

Shark fin decline linked to China corruption crackdown, AFP.
Syndication: Radio Australia, Australia Network News, The Malay Mail, Yahoo, MSN, South China Morning Post, Borneo Bulletin, China Daily, Asia One, The Himalayan Times, The Standard (Hong Kong), Asia News, Khaleej Times, Pakistan Daily Times, Islands Business, phys.org, Pacific Islands News Association, Rappler, Bangkok Post, Eco-Business.com, New Straits Times (Malaysia), Jakarta Globe, Bikya News, Star Africa, The Sun Daily, Fiji Times, Business Standard, Manila Times, Sina English, several Chinese and Vietnamese language outlets.

China Corruption Crackdown Leads To 70 Percent Drop In Shark Fin Demand, Economy Watch.

Shark fin soup off the menu: China’s crackdown on extravagant banquets gives sharks a second chance, The Independent.

Friday, September 06, 2013

In response to Arnold Palacios

As one of the framers of our Constitution, my father knew the value of our natural resources to our culture and argued for permanent protections for Managaha, and the three northernmost islands of Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas. He taught me that it is the responsibility of every indigenous person to ensure that these islands are passed down to the next generation in the same condition in which they were passed down to us.

That's why I worked so hard alongside The Friends of the Monument and The Pew Charitable Trusts to help create the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

It is an indisputable fact that the people of the Northern Marianas support environmental protection and it is no wonder that there was such a tidal wave of support for the creation of the Marianas Trench Monument.

When the monument was declared on January 6, 2009, then Governor Benigno R. Fitial, then Senate President Pete P. Reyes, and then House Speaker Arnold Palacios led in celebration 6,000 local residents, 500 students, and 206 businesses. As I recall, Governor Fitial was so elated he hugged President George W. Bush right after the signing.

In a letter to the editor, former Representative Cinta M. Kaipat wrote that the goals of the monument were to “create federally funded local jobs, give a needed boost to our struggling tourism industry, bring positive worldwide attention to our shores, and most importantly, protect three of our islands and their surrounding waters for generations to come.” (Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Saipan Tribune, May 1, 2008)

Much has been accomplished toward achieving these goals. In the last five years there has been positive media attention for the islands, renewed interest in scientific exploration of the area, and a federally funded NOAA office opened in Garapan. But work still needs to be done. Everyone must come together to move ahead with creating the visitor center and bringing to fruition the economic promise of this impressive marine reserve.

In 2009, the same year the monument was declared, Delegate Gregorio Sablan earmarked $220,000 in the FY 2010 Consolidated Appropriation Act (HR 3288) for the design of our visitor center. It was a proud moment. Our first representative in the U.S. Congress passed one of his first bills.

The Friends and Pew worked with the Delegate’s office and with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the recipient of the funding, to draft a grant to the CNMI Department of Lands and Natural Resources to “develop a process for engaging input from the public to create a visitor and education center that will incorporate our existing marine protected areas and the new Marianas Trench National Monument.” (Delegate Sablan, Letter to DLNR Secretary Ignacio Dela Cruz, December 30, 2009)

The plan was to develop an architectural blueprint so that Delegate Sablan, along with the Friends and Pew, could ask the U.S. Congress to fund the construction. Although progress stalled at the local level, today we have a new governor, a new DLNR secretary, and from what I understand from media reports, soon we’ll have a new architectural plan for a monument visitor center. This is excellent news, and everyone who had a hand in its completion deserves congratulations.

Soon it will be time to take the plan to Washington, and I know the Friends, Pew and our elected officials will do all they can to help. But there is no guarantee that federal funding will be available. In the meantime, the Friends continue to work with the community on outreach and education. Pew has supported these efforts and continues to engage with CNMI leaders at the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures, Micronesian Chief Executive Summit, and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

The people of the Northern Mariana Islands should be proud of what we have accomplished. From the Micronesia Challenge, to the Marianas Trench Monument, and most recently our leadership in global shark conservation, the world is taking notice. Let’s welcome them with a visitor center worthy of these efforts.

Angelo Villagomez
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Washington, DC

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Pacific Shark Conservation Titans Collide

I ran into the voice of American Samoa shark conservation, Joe 'J-Smooth' Iosua, at the Pacific Islands Forum this morning! Joe voiced the Shark Defender public service announcements and was one of the campaign managers that led to the 2012 protection of all sharks in American Samoa.

This is the first time Joe and I have met, although we've done work together for almost two years.

Angelo Villagomez and Joe Iosua
Representing the Pacific
Bringing the Gangnam Style
It's great to see so many shark conservation leaders here this week, including Minister Tony deBrum, Stefanie Brendl, Luke Warwick, Henry Puna, and Willy Kostka.

Oh, and Joe is also the genius behind American Samoa Gangnam Style.  That's the true reason I wanted to meet him.

11 Portraits of Majuro

The Pacific Islands Forum kicked off a few hours ago.  Although I am Chamorro, I am blessed to be on the Marshall Islands delegation and have full access to everything.  I've been shooting up a storm with my camera.  Here are some portraits of just a few of the thousands of Marshallese helping to kick off this amazing annual event.  I won't put captions to allow you to try to figure out what they are doing on your own.  And if you want to see more photos from PIF, check out the Facebook page for The Saipan Blog.