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.

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