Sunday, March 24, 2013

David Doubilet on Saipan

I met David Doubilet in New Haven, CT last month at Yale's Shark Stanley Symposium where he gave a talk on how photography is the language of conservation.  When he found out I was from Saipan he said, "Saipan?  I've been to Saipan.  Eagle Rays."

There's been talk on Saipan lately on the ridiculousness of Saipanda, the half panda, half rhino mascot of DFS, and by extension, Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands.  Most people want an animal that is representative of the local fauna.  Eagle rays.  When arguably the world's most famous underwater photographer, someone who has crisscrossed the globe photographing the wonders of the ocean, says your island is all about eagle rays, then your island is all about eagle rays.

Every few years there is an effort to rebrand the Northern Mariana Islands.  My suggestion: Saipan, Gateway to the Mariana Trench.  And it's not just because I'm the Godfather of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument.

Photo: David Doubilet
Saipan, Northern Marianas Islands
Eagle rays are the Aston Martins of rays – smooth, powerful and elegantly upholstered, but they are a rare sight. We had heard persistent rumours of squadrons of eagle rays riding the current in a pass just offshore of Saipan in the Northern Marianas Islands, which lie between the Philippine Sea and the North Pacific. I was seduced by the idea of photographing this species in black and white, and the rays of Saipan became an underwater Holy Grail of sorts. We arrived in Saipan to find groups of 30 to 40 rays in 4m of water over brilliant-white sand. They appeared with a change of tide and rode in formation like a flock of exotic birds with white-spotted wings. Large cleaning stations surrounded the narrow pass like a row of beauty salons. We were able to crouch for hours in the shadow of their wings as they hovered gently above us.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Take a Trip to Paradise with Olomwaay

I posted this to Shark Defenders yesterday. Cinta and Gus have been working 10 years to release this album. It's available on CD or as a digital download for your phone.

Shark Defenders: (from left to right) Filmmaker Rob Stewart, Laurie Peterka, Shawn Heinrichs, Cinta M. Kaipat, Meaghan Hassel-Shearer, and former Northern Mariana Islands governor Benigno R. Fitial.
Remember those great kids in Saipan who helped pass a shark fin trade ban back in 2011? They had a lot of help from some very caring adults including this lady, Cinta M. Kaipat. Need your memory jogged?  She appears in our short film Saipan Sharkwater starting at about 2:08.

Cinta has been an environmental advocate for years.  She was one of the main proponents for the 2009 creation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, one of the largest marine protected areas on the planet, and more recently helped us launch the Shark Stanley campaign.

Cinta with a whole gaggle of Shark Stanley supporters.
Cinta's latest challenge may be her most important one as it is literally a matter of life or death.  She's dealing with cancer.  The medical facilities on Saipan are not adequate for the care she requires, so she has to spend some time in the Philippines.  Her family is helping her raise money for the treatment and have released an album of Refaluwasch island music.  Cinta's brother Gus is the lead singer on the album, which is titled Trip to Paradise.  He is a professional singer and has been performing for twenty years around the island.

The album contains 14 original songs that are available for digital download and on CDThis link has samples of each song if you want to hear them.  Information on the album and the songs is available here.

We never ask our supporters for donations to run our campaigns, but we would appreciate it if you would purchase an album and help out our friend, Cinta.  All proceeds from the album will go towards her treatment.  Thank you for your continued support.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Sharks Are Saved and I'm Going Home

The last two weeks have been exhausting.  We passed all the shark and manta ray proposals at CITES. I'm about to board a plane.  See you in about 24 hours, America.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Stand By Your Vote

Two weeks in Thailand are quickly drawing towards a close.  It's been an amazing week talking to delegates from around the world.  I should have kept a running tally of the different nationalities I met this week, but I didn't, so oh well.  Leah Meth and Onon Bayasgalan and all their campaign supporters have done an amazing job with the Shark Stanley campaign and it was such a privilege to be a part of it.

The shark proposals will be approved or overturned in plenary tomorrow morning.  Japan and China will make motions to reopen the vote and if they are successful, we'll revote.  The next 12 hours will be tense.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What Ever Happened To...

...the kid from the Disney-Pixar movie Up?  I think he's selling food at a Japanese restaurant in Bangkok.

We had the off today, so I went to visit some of Bangkok's shopping malls.  We vote on the CITES shark proposals in the morning.  Fingers crossed for a positive outcome.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Silent Sentries of Wat Pho

I'm on a boat!
Seven hours after landing and with two solid hours of sleep in my back pocket, I hopped in a cab at 7 AM and asked to be taken to the Grand Palace.  The cab driver wanted 500 Baht, so I hopped out and grabbed another one.  This guy agreed to use the meter.  45 minutes later the meter read 106 Baht.  I handed the cabby 200 Baht and asked for change.  He handed back 40 Baht and shrugged as if to say that's all he had.  Lesson learned.  Don't get in a taxi without change.

The Grand Palace wasn't open at 8 AM, so I went for a stroll towards a market down the street.  The merchants were just beginning to put their wares on sale.  A few old men slurped the first noodles of the day and talked about the things old Thai men discuss on Saturday mornings.

I was in a boat similar to this.  Other tourists took the tour in the opposite direction, apparently.
There was a dock on the other side of the market and they were selling 1 hour boat tours for 1000 Baht. I had to be back at the hotel at noon to go to the convention center and an early morning boat ride seemed like a good idea.  Ian and I did this seven years ago with his Mom and David.  The boat starts out on the river and then goes down several canals and you get a first hand look at Bangkok life by peering into people's living rooms from the water.

Check out Facebook for more photos.
After the boat right I thought I'd try to fit Wat Pho and the Grand Palace in during the rest of the morning.  Yeah, right.  After 90 minutes of wandering Wat Pho it was time to head back to the hotel.  The taxi driver this time refused to put on the meter and wanted 200 Baht.  And that will probably be my last excursion of the week.  The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora begins in a few hours.  I'll be posting updates to Shark Defenders, so please follow along with that adventure.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Two weeks in Bangkok

I'm in Bangkok for the next two weeks attending the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES.

Bangkok is a really, really long way from Washington, DC. It took 14 hours to get to Tokyo and an additional 7 to get to here. Thankfully both United Airlines flights had on demand movies. I watched Wreck it Ralph, Silver Linings Playbook, Argo, Looper, Resident Evil (whatever the newest one is), and part of Skyfall. I also managed a few hours of sleep and few hours on my Nintendo 3DS. I picked up a used copy of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks at the mall last weekend.

My hotel room reeks of cigarettes, but I'm too tired to care.