Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Waterfalls and Chicken Wings

There's a Saipan reunion taking place right now in Buffalo, New York. I'm sorry you didn't get your invitation.  Long term readers of this blog will remember when Diana Gabroni (Saipan's Pinay American Midget) was my roommate.  And Brad, Saipan's only celebrity, needs no introduction.

The party also includes Brad's better third, Kathy, and their two munchkins.  I arrived on Sunday night and it has been a non-stop party ever since.  On Monday we drove to Niagara Falls, Canada so that we could have lunch at Burger King.

There is little in life as entertaining as watching island people slowly freeze to death.  Strangely enough, everyone we talk to keeps mentioning what a mild winter we are having.  Only in Buffalo is 22 degrees Fahrenheit considered mild.

Want to see more of Niagara?  I've posted 37 more photos to Facebook.

The day after our Niagara Falls adventure, Brad tried to kill us all by taking us hiking to Eternal Flame Falls.  Tuesday was even colder than Monday.

The walk to Eternal Flame Falls was pleasantly scenic.  The first part of the hike goes up and down several hills and over trickling streams.  The sparse snow that melted on the concrete in town stayed put on the fallen leaves.  It was Kathy, Keoni, and Leilani's first time seeing snow.

The second part of the hike was a bit more treacherous.  After descending an earthen staircase the trail winds along a small river.  The frozen water made the going slow.  The girls opted to stay up top.  The boys went in search of the waterfall at the head of the waterway.

This section of the hike meanders over fallen tree trunks and criss crosses back and forth across the water.  Like a champ, the three year old walked most of the way.  But he got ferried in a couple of spots.  We all got our feet wet.

In exchange for cold toes and fingers we were greeted with a short waterfall.  That yellow glow is the eternal flame, a seep of natural gas that when lit burns despite all the water.  While not nearly as majestic as Niagara, the flame behind the waterfall is pretty damn unique.

The experience made me want to pose like Walt Goodridge.  And if you want to see more photos, there are 25 on Facebook.

So after 48 hours in Buffalo, I've managed 2 waterfalls and 7 chicken wings.  My goal for finishing out 2014 is to eat more.

Friday, December 26, 2014

10 Years of Blogging

This is the 2,538th blog post on the Saipan Blog.  I've been blogging for 10 years.

Tiana and me in early 2005
In 10 years this blog has taken my readers (both of you) from Florida to Japan to Saipan back to Florida and then up to Washington, DC.  I've worked in conservation nearly the whole time, with a few adventures sprinkled between jobs.

It's been a great ride, but it hasn't always been easy.  Now I look this this (I'm on the right):

A photo posted by Angelo Taotaotasi (@sharkdefenders) on

The years have not been kind.

Earlier this year I set out to write about my experience blogging over the last 10 years.  I didn't do a very good job.  So what have I learned in 10 years?  Not much.  If I knew more or was a better writer, I'd be getting paid to write this rather than typing it out from my living room while watching Netflix.

One thing for sure is that being a successful blogger takes time and perseverance.  The recipe is simple: You get visitors and readers by building search engine optimization and posting material that makes readers want to return.  When something is getting lots of searches, you want to be at the top of the Google results.

Fat guys running half marathons and going to Jollibee don't get lots of searches, and hardly any return visitors.  Japanese bikini girls are way more popular.  It's also popular to write mean things about politicians, you know, like calling on the governor to resign (even if some people still like him).

So what have I done well?

Every year I get a boost in traffic for people looking to plagiarize my (terrible) JET application essay.  And my trip to The Northern Islands  and my tongue in cheek blog on Famous Chamorro People are still popular.

My photos of coconut crabs were snarfed by Boing Boing and now appear all over the internet.  They are probably the most popular photos other than the one of a crab on a garbage can.  Check out Twitter search and count how often they pop up.

And then there's all those conservation posts.  Oh my.  Let's say that I write in a different style now that I'm over 30 (well beyond, I admit).

See, I told you I didn't learn much.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

I don't need this PS Vita, but I'm thankful Edz bought it for me.
Every year I think about writing a Thanksgiving blog.  I actually do so about half the time.

I'm thankful that my job continues to be exciting and challenging.  I get to work with amazing people who inspire me every day.  This year I traveled to Guam, Palau, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Fiji, The Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Trinidad, Grenada, and the Netherlands to talk about sharks.  Tomorrow I'm going to New Zealand and Samoa.

Edz continues her march towards achieving the American dream.  The job she started this year offers a 401(k) and an employee stock purchase plan, so I like to tell her that she's technically self-employed now.  This year we managed to save some money, while still purchasing some toys we honestly don't need.

Speaking of Edz, I'm thankful for her poor eyesight.  Even after 3 years of marriage and 7 years being together, I still don't understand why someone so beautiful and kind would settle for me.

I'm thankful for my health.  This year I started to get back in shape and dropped 30 lbs. on my way to running my first half marathon.  I'm running, and hopefully finishing, a marathon in January.  I'm especially thankful that I did all this without dieting.

Next year we're going to spend Thanksgiving in Florida.  Edz has never spent Thanksgiving with the O'Connors and my last time was 2008.  Prior to that it was 2003.  I've been a bad son, brother, and uncle.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Still Hurting

As I ran today, I thought back to a brief moment of insanity I had back in September.

The Disney Marathon weekend isn't just a marathon.  There's also a 5K, 10K, and a half marathon on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, respectively.  Disney offers up something called the Dopey Challenge: runners try to finish all four races over the weekend.

Back in September that sounded like a great idea.  I'd run a couple of hundred miles and dropped two dozen pounds after two months of training and I figured that with three more months of training the Dopey Challenge would be no big deal.  I suggested that I take the challenge to some of my coworkers; they suggested that it would probably kill me.

I took their advice and just signed up for the marathon.

Am I ever glad I did that!

The half marathon was 10 days ago and I still feel like I'm still recovering.  I thought I felt ready to start training again, but my first two runs since the race have been miserable.  I'm crampy, stiff, and slow.  Can it really take this long to recover?

Anyway, today's run was 5.6 miles in 53 minutes.  I've now run 204 miles since October 1.  The Disney Marathon starts in 46 days!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Training Break

Today was my first run since the Anthem Richmond Half Marathon. I started out thinking I was going to run about 9 miles, but about 3 miles in I realized that wasn't happening. I felt some tightness in my legs and tasted the bacon cheeseburger and fries I ate for lunch. I cruised home with 5.3 miles under my belt.

I've been training consistently since August 15 and spent the better part of the last three months either starving, exhausted, or both. Rain or shine (rain just meant a treadmill), I'd knock out about 5 miles each day or 60 minutes, whichever was shorter. The half marathon (and some travel) put a hiccup in my training, but I think I needed it.

I took about a week off before the race (due to travel) and a week off after the race (due to laziness) and now I feel great. My plantar fasciitis is gone. My achilles don't hurt. It doesn't hurt to walk and my muscles thank me for that. And I drank a lot of beer, which always makes me feel good.

I've got 48 days left to train for the Disney Marathon. If I'm to reach my goal of 500 miles in 100 days in training (plus the 200 prior to signing up for the race), I'm going to have to up my mileage, which is something I should be doing anyway. Hell, I can average 8:30 miles over a half marathon now, so no reason I can't pick up the pace and distance during my daily runs.

The half was a wake up call to how difficult the marathon is going to be, but I'm still optimistic that I can run 9:00 miles to finish in just under 4 hours.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Concert for Valor

Last week, one of Edz' managers gave her two tickets to go see the Veterans Day Concert for Valor on the National Mall. She texted me frantically around lunch time to let me know that we had to arrive before 5:30 PM for the 7:00 PM concert.

I left work early and met her at 4:00 PM at the Starbucks in front of the Federal Center SW Metro station. With our two blue tickets in hand, we walked towards the entrance on 4th street. I've been to three presidential inaugurations and two July 4th fireworks on the National Mall. There's always the public section that is usually about half a mile away from the stage. With tickets you can get closer, but often not that close. When I was at Obama's first Inauguration I was in the standing only section. When he was sworn in the second time I was closer and actually had a chair (and thanks to Kilili for both tickets!).

I thought of those experiences as we walked towards the entrance. Where would we end up?

After going through security we followed the signs to the blue ticket section. We were led to the area right behind the bleachers, then around the bleachers, and then right down to the front of the stage. At 4 PM there were lots of people spread out on blankets. We walked around them to go right up to the front, about six bodies from the stage. Then we stood in place for three hours as we waited for the concert to start.

Metallica was the best act of the night. You haven't lived until you've seen them live. Rihanna and Eminem were also amazing. Dave Grohl rocked. About half the crowd didn't understand Bruce Springsteen was protesting. I'd never heard Zac Brown, Black Keys, or Carrie Underwood sing before, and probably won't make an attempt to again. And I still can't name a song Jennifer Hudson sings, although I've heard the name.

I posted a few of the photos I took to Facebook. Here are a few of my favorites:

Monday, November 17, 2014

Anthem Richmond Half Marathon

Edz and I drove south to Richmond, Virginia on Friday afternoon so that I could participate in my first road race since ever since.  Billed as "America's Friendliest Marathon," the Anthem Richmond Marathon festivities include an 8K, half marathon, and marathon.  I've been training for three months for the Disney Marathon in January, so I opted for the half.  No need to get ahead of myself.

Our first stop in Richmond was the health and fitness expo to pick up my race bib and commemorative t-shirt.  While Edz went overboard collecting towels, pens, noisemakers, and posters, I did a body composition test.  They expectedly told me I was fat, but high-fived me when I told them I've lost 30 lbs. in the last three months.  The machine also told me I had higher muscle mass than the average person.  Now what guy doesn't like hearing that?

We checked into the Crowne Plaza and we were pleasantly surprised to find we'd been upgraded to a suite.  That sort of thing always seems to happen when I travel with Edz.  You're supposed to eat pasta before these races, so after I laid out my racing gear,  I called the local Italian restaurant and they had room for us at 8:45.  After dining on gnocchi and chicken we went straight to bed.

I dreamt of running all night -- and snow.

A photo posted by Angelo Taotaotasi (@sharkdefenders) on

It was 27 degrees Fahrenheit on the morning of the race.  I wore a long-sleeve shirt under my CNMI Men's National Team jersey (represent!), long pants, warm socks, gloves, and a hat.  During my warm-up I also wore a long-sleeve fleece jacket and my grizzly bear hoodie (no real bears were harmed).  I've had a bum achilles for the last, um, decade and it was bothering me, and my right bum also felt a little tight (too much sitting on airplanes last week), so I spent a good 30 minutes stretching out.

About 20 minutes from the start, Edz and I left the hotel (which was two blocks from the start).  Edz gave me a good luck kiss and I headed off to join my wave of runners.  She walked in the other direction so she could cheer me along the race course.

The wave of 2:00 runners was so large that the organizers split us up into two waves: I was in the second.  The elite runners were several thousand racers in front of me.  Their starting gun went off at 7:30.  Every two minutes another wave of runners started.  At 7:38 I started my run.

I started the race standing next to the 2:00 pace team.  These experienced runners try to maintain a pace that finishes at a specific time.  I spent the first half mile or so jogging next to them.  I was so pumped full of adrenaline the pace felt like a brisk walk.

Edz was right down the road.  I unzipped both jackets and tossed them at her.  Mentally it was like shifting into fifth gear.  I left the pace team behind and ran.

Now my goal at the onset was to run 2:00.  My training pace is usually around 10 minutes per mile.  Sometimes I push a little harder and will run 9 minute miles.  My longest run prior to this race was 9 miles.  On November 3, I ran 9.1 miles in 82 minutes.  The way I saw my race in my head was that I could push through nine miles at that pace and then coast the final four miles.

As I passed the first mile marker I looked down at my watch to record my split: 8:35.

Uh oh.  I wasn't pushing it, but adrenaline was getting the best of me.  I was already concerned that I was going to burn out.  In high school my coaches told us to run our long training runs at conversation pace -- a speed where we could comfortably talk to our team members.  I felt like I was running at conversation pace, so I decided to just go with it.

As I passed the second mile marker I checked my split again: 8:33.  Still too fast.  At this point my toes were still freezing.  I weighed my options between freezing now or exhaustion later and decided to keep my pace.

After the second mile I really hit my stride.  My next four splits were 8:16, 8:07, 8:10, and 8:11.  Then I crossed a mental barrier as I passed the 10K mark.  This was now my longest race ever.  After seven miles, I knew I was more than half way done. And I was tired.

The next four miles were hard.  My splits were 8:23, 8:20, 8:28, and 8:26.  Even so, this was my favorite part of the race.  Locals lined the streets holding signs and cheering us on.  Some were giving out cans of beer and shots of whiskey.

Mile 10 was another mental and physical barrier.  I hit the wall hard.  My next two miles were slow, but I kept them under 9:00.  Remember, my goal going in was to run all of my miles at 9:00, not under.  Mile 11 and 12 both came in at 8:57.

Mile 13 was nearly all downhill, which was both a blessing and a curse.  I could have loosened up and let the gravity take me to the bottom of the hill, but if I let go too much I would hurt myself.

My final split was 8:18, and then I cruised into the finish line.

I finished 149 out of 424 for my age group and 910 out of 2901 male finishers.  Overall I was 1479 out of 8452.

The Disney Marathon is now less than two months away. I'm glad I did the half because it gave me a reality check on my training. I'm not ready for a marathon, but with two months to go, I don't think a four hour 26.2 miler is out of the question.

After the run I stumbled around looking for Edz. I took a lap of the post-race festivities and found her smiling next to a tree. Photos, pizza, powerade, beer, coffee, and a corn dog followed. Afterwards we hobbled back up to the hotel to clean up and check out.

Eating at the bar I worked at in college. Really enjoying this beer. #richmondmarathon #richmond

A photo posted by Angelo Taotaotasi (@sharkdefenders) on

Our car was trapped in a garage until 4 PM, so after checking out we went back to the finish line to watch the other finishers. I've been training for just over three months now, I've run 400 miles, and burned off 30 lbs. I can really appreciate the accomplishment of finishing a marathon now. So could every person crossing the finish line -- and every person cheering them on from the sidelines. It was very inspiring.

Also, there was a guy who juggled all 26.2 miles of the marathon, and seeing him finish was worth the drive to Richmond.

This guy juggled the whole #richmondmarathon

A video posted by Angelo Taotaotasi (@sharkdefenders) on

And because I'm me, I've laid out my splits into this handy chart, you know, so that one unnamed friend can tell me I did great, and another anonymous friend can tell me I can do better.

Mile Split Overall
1 8:35 8:35
2 8:33 17:08
3 8:16 25:25
4 8:07 33:32
5 8:10 41:42
6 8:11 49:54
7 8:23 58:17
8 8:20 1:06:38
9 8:28 1:15:06
10 8:26 1:23:33
11 8:57 1:32:30
12 8:57 1:41:28
13 8:18 1:49:51
Stretch 0:43 1:50:34

Friday, November 14, 2014

Remembering The Great Indochina Loop

Ian, Chloe, David, and me
As I was walking home last night I recieved a text from Ian telling me to come to a restaurant a few blocks from my office. Sure, why not?  And who should great me?  Chloe and David!

Seven years ago the four of us went on a nearly six week tour of Southeast Asia.  I haven't seen the two of them since we said our goodbyes in a hotel in Bangkok.  This photo was taken on that day:

Sunday, November 09, 2014

European Elasmobranch Association Keynote

Twitter has created an interesting new dynamic at conferences that I first experienced at Science Online last year. Using hashtags to make searching easy, audience members and any twitter user in the world can create an online dicussion around a conference discussion. Sometimes the online dicussion can be as interesting (or boring!) as the live discussion.

I was invited to be one of the key note speakers at this year's European Elasmobranch Association meeting in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. The conference organizers developed the hashtag #EEA_2014 and encouraged all social media users to use it. And they did. I also put my twitter name on the first slide of my presentation and let my 600 followers know right before my presentation was set to begin.

The title of my presentation was Sharks, Science, CITES, and Sanctuaries, but usually it is simply Sharks 101. This is a presentation that I have been developing (with lots of input from my team) that is meant for an audience that knows very little about sharks. For this presentation, which was for an audience that was much more well-versed than me in shark science and issues, I chose to talk about why my organization uses the images, messages, and tactics that we do.

I'm not really going to get into those reasons in this blog (but I'm happy to come speak with you in person!). The thing I like about twitter is that it is the perfect guage of which messages were receptive to the audience. Was there something I said that was particularly memorable? The evidence is in the tweets.
If I like those things, and people react to them, I should probably try saying them again in my next presentation. So how did I do?

I think the most receptive was the message on how shark overfishing occurs. It recieved more than one tweet, but also became part of the wider conference dialogue all weekend. I wish I could take credit for that phrase and idea, but all glory goes to my coworker, Luke.

And I'll go ahead and post my opening joke at the end. I really hate public speaking. I get major stage fright. My legs shake and I sweat up a storm. As I was thinking about how terrified I was to get up on stage, I thought about how many people are afraid of sharks. And thus this classic was born. I'm going to use it again, and no, you can't borrow it.

Friday, October 31, 2014

October Running

Man, October ran by fast! I managed 138+ miles this month, which is just a few minutes shy of my 155 mile goal. I'll have to catch up during November.

It's been a tough month, but I feel like I'm making progress. In August and September the pounds just dripped off me, but the weight loss has not been as rapid this month. Even so, my slow runs are now at a 10 minute mile pace, with many runs at a 9 minute pace, with one short run at about 8:30.

Also, a lot of my clothes no longer fit. The first thing to stop fitting was my underwear. Fatty Angelo stretched out all the rubber bands, which just fell off not-so-fat Angelo. So I had to buy new underwear. And I can't wear about half of my work clothes. I folded up all of my 38 waist pants and went out to buy some 34 inch waist ones. And they fit! Amazing.

I'm almost at the point where I'll have to buy new shirts. I've got a work trip next week, so I'm going to go buy one suit and a couple of shirts that actually fit, but my plan is to buy a whole new wardrobe after the marathon on January 11.

I've been running 2 1/2 months with 2 1/2 months to go, so if I keep this up -- and I plan to -- literally none of my clothes should fit by then.

I really had planned on blogging more this month. I had one week where I was constanstly starving no matter what I ate, and then this week I was exhausted so didn't really run -- which is why I fell behind on my monthly goals.

In the next couple of weeks I'm looking forward to falling below 200 lbs. It will be the first time since 2007 -- 8 years -- since I've been that "small."

I've also signed up for a half marathon in Richmond on November 15 -- 15 days from now. This will be my longest run ever, excluding the Tagaman Triathalon a few years ago. I'm shooting to run it under 2 hours, but this being my first half marathon, we'll see how that goes.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Award Winning Fatty

My legs were feeling fresh on Thursday so I decided to go for a long run. I've mapped out a 9.1 trail that runs around the National Mall.

Do you ever have one of those days where your legs move faster than you thought they could? When you look down at your watch and think it must be broken? That was Thursday. I hit my first mile at 9 minutes and hardly slowed. I finished the run at a 9:15 pace. I haven't done that in a while.
After the long run on Thursday, I knew Friday's run was going to be a slog. I'd like to get to the point where my slow runs are about 60 minutes at conversation pace, but lately I've been finishing my 5 mile runs in about 50 minutes, so I expanded my usual trail by going around the Lincoln Memorial rather than in front of it. That added 0.3 miles. I think next time I may run around the Capital Building rather than in front of it as well.

I also won the weight loss contest at work. 22 lbs. earned me first place in the overall weight loss contest. I'm now $415 richer -- which means I've basically broken even considering all of the weight loss contests I've participated in over the years.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Mr. Obama’s Pacific Monument

The New York Times today published an editorial praising President Obama's expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (which by the way, is begging for a better name).

My hope is that President Obama takes a look at the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument next. I am no longer working on the creation of large marine protected areas (my focus is shark conservation), but this is a place I care a great deal about. My father first introduced protections for this area into the CNMI constitution nearly 40 years ago and I worked very hard in 2008 to expand those protections. It is time for those protections to be expanded again. Five years ago the Friends of the Mariana Trench Monument wrote to CNMI Delegate Gregorio Camacho "Kilili" Sablan with three recommendations to improve management and conservation of the area. Kudos to John Gourley for hosting our letter on his website for the world to see.

Here is the editorial from the New York Times:
It’s safe to assume that most presidents have big ambitions and visions of lasting Rooseveltian achievement. Though, in recent history, the millstones of Washington’s pettiness and partisanship usually grind such dreams to dust. There are exceptions, which happen when presidents discover the Antiquities Act.

This is the law, used by Theodore Roosevelt and many successors, by which the executive can permanently set aside public lands from exploitation, building an environmental legacy with a simple signature and without Congress’s consent. This is how President Obama last week, in addition to everything else on his plate, created the largest marine preserve in the world.

He used his Antiquities Act authority to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument from 87,000 square miles to nearly 500,000 square miles, a vast change. The monument is not one area but the ocean surrounding several coral-and-sand specks of United States territory that most Americans have never heard of and few will ever visit, like Wake and Johnston Atolls and Jarvis Island. The ocean there is relatively pristine and now will stay that way. Commercial fishing, seabed mining and other intrusions will not be allowed.

The monument is not as large as it could have been; Mr. Obama chose not to extend its boundaries out to the full 200-mile territorial limit for all the islands within it. Still, environmental groups are uniformly praising him for going as big as he did and for defying opposition from Hawaiian fishing interests whose loyalties lie with the producers of canned tuna. That industry has other places to fish; it will not suffer. But, at a time when the world’s oceans are threatened by rampant pollution, overfishing and climate change, the benefits of Mr. Obama’s decision will be profound, particularly if other countries now follow the United States’ excellent example.

Few of us will see these benefits directly. But out there beyond Honolulu, living in splendid isolation, are sharks, rays and jacks; coconut crabs; moosehorn, staghorn and brain corals; humpback and melon-headed whales; green and hawksbill turtles; bottlenose and spinner dolphins; and untold millions of boobies, curlews and plovers. All these, and countless other living things, will be better off.

Republicans will complain, but they should remember that it was President George W. Bush who created the monument. Mr. Obama only expanded it. Building an environmental legacy is an idea with bipartisan appeal.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

500 Miles 2 Disney

Long time readers of this blog (yes, both of you), know that I struggle with my weight. I'll put on some weight, run for a couple of weeks and burn it off, then get lazy again and put on more weight. Part of it is my work. I travel a lot and spend lots of time in hotels and restaurants. The other part is that I really like food. A whole lot. Recently, I've been heavier than I've ever been.

Earlier this summer I signed up for a weight loss contest at work. It was $60 to compete and the contest would stretch for 12 weeks. The two people who lost the highest percentage of their original weight or most pounds overall would win. The contest ends this Friday.

I forget where I went, but I was not in town for the first weigh-in. I let the organizers know and they allowed me to weigh-in a few days early. To compensate, I'd have my final weigh-in a few days early, too.

For the first six weeks of the contest I did nothing. I traveled to the British Virgin Islands, the Marshall Islands, and Palau while eating and drinking to my heart's content. While I was in Palau I went for a four mile run with one of my co-workers. I couldn't go more than two miles without having to walk. The next week when I arrived back home, I decided I'd take the contest seriously and start exercising.

That was six weeks ago. I started my workouts on the treadmill in my apartment building. With a brand new pair of shoes, I set the timer for 60 minutes and set a pace for 4.5 miles per hour. That's kind of slow. Each day I tried to go a little faster. I'd increase to 5 mph, and if it got to be too much, I'd slow down. A few weeks in and I was running 6 mph and really bored of the treadmill. I've been doing all of my runs around downtown Washington, DC ever since.

My final weigh-in was Monday. From an original weight of 230, I dropped to 208, a loss of 22 lbs, or 9.6% of my original weight. That's the most weight I've ever lost at one time. The final weigh-in for everbody else at work is on Friday. Fingers crossed that I win, but even if I don't, I feel and look a lot better.

I feel so good, in fact, that I did something a little crazy this evening. After running 5.3 miles along the National Mall, I signed up for the Disney Marathon in Orlando on January 11.

So what's my goal? Honestly, to finish. I've never run a marathon before and I haven't competed in a race since 2012's Tagaman. I've done a little math, and with 14 weeks of training to go, I think I can run 500 miles between now and the start of the race.

It's the first of the month, a great time to start counting down my 500. And since I ran 5.3 miles earlier, I've only got 494.7 miles to Disney.

Stay tuned for updates, and I appreciate any and all encouragement! I've already received some from the mouse:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mariana Trench Should Be Next

Looks like President Barack Obama is expanding protections for the waters surrounding Johnston, Wake, and Jarvis. I hope that the waters around Asuncion, Maug, and Uracas are next.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


As the world prepares for the implementation of the shark listings on Appendix II of the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, I continued my work on implementing domestic measures in island countries to protect sharks.
My second day in Trinidad was more packed than the first. Marc took a coworker and me all around the island to see sharks in the market, eat local food, and celebrate a birthday with some new special friends.

Our first stop was the public market where we found a big pile of "puppy sharks." The locals use this phrase to describe any small shark. Usually they end up in bake and shark.

Somebody on Twitter identified these as dusky smoothhound, smalleye smoothhound, and some kind of sharpnose species.

Down the street from the market was a small stand selling more puppy sharks and several scalloped hammerheads. It was really sad to see these sharks on the eve of their CITES protections going into effect, even if these would have not been covered by CITES because they are for domestic consumption (the fishmonger told us the fins were too small to sell).

Later in the day we drove across the island to Grande Riviere to celebrate the birthdays of some very friendly leatherback turtles. Good luck, little guys!

Maracas Beach

I'm in Trinidad for the weekend meeting with Papa Bois Conservation, a local organization working on shark conservation. Yesterday they took us to Maracas Beach, world famous for "bake and shark," a super delicious filet of deep fried shark served in some deep fried fry bread and topped off with a variety of tasty toppings like garlic, cilantro, hot pepper, and pineapple.

Trinidad is unique in the Caribbean in that they have huge amounts of domestic consumption, as well as being the world's #6 export of shark fins to Hong Kong. Yesterday we saw the shark and bake shops and some of the boats. Hoping to see some more of it today and tomorrow.

One thing I'm not doing is exercising and dieting. This island has a lot of good food.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Using Twitter Better

My employer has recently been encouraging staff to use Twitter. I've updated my Twitter profile to reflect this.
Godfather of the Mariana Trench Monument and Saipan's most popular blogger since ever since. @pewenvironment shark sanctuary manager since 2013. Tweets my own.
They also gave us a few tips on how to be more effective on Twitter.

They say that the most popular tweets, in descending order, have a photo, a fact, or a quote.

Photos work best when they are 2x1. The exact dimensions of the photo display in-stream are 440x220. This differs from Facebook, where the photos display as squares. I didn't know that until recently.

They also say that asking for a retweet is more effective when you ask for a "retweet" rather than an "RT."

And those are all the amazing Twitter facts I know.

Of course, the easier way to get more Twitter followers is to be really famous -- or even somewhat famous.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Growing Old Together

Edz turned 30 last week.  That's not something that happens every day.

It has not been a short celebration.  It has been a celebration spread out over several weeks.  I feel that for at least a month now, whenever she wants me to do something, whether it be wash the dishes or purchase something pink, the ask has been strengthened with, "but it's my birthday!"

We struggled with where we wanted to spend the actual day of celebration.  We thought about going to New York, then checked if I could get anywhere cheaply using frequent flier miles, but in the end we decided to spend the weekend in Virginia Beach, which happens to be home to the closest Jollibee.

We left on Saturday morning and seven long hours later we pulled into the Marriott parking lot.  Our plan was to go meet up with former Saipan friends at a local Filipino restaurant, but when we saw the room, we decided it would be better to have a party at the hotel.  I'm not really sure why, but the hotel upgraded us to an oceanview suite.  It was amazing!

The Filipino Wives Club showed up about an hour later, with lumpia, cake, pizza, and babies in tow.  And then the photo shoot commenced.  I posted a few more of my favorites to The Saipan Blog Facebook page.

The party raged until 10 PM.  What can I say?  One of the husbands had to work in the morning and most of us get tired after two beers now.  And the babies were tired.

The next morning we got up really late and then met up with everybody at Jollibee, where we spent $100 on spaghetti, fried chicken, and halo halo.  I had my first SPAM Little Big Bites.  Amazeballs.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Pacific Leaders Protecting the Ocean

One of the most exciting developments in conservation recently has been the drive to create national park-scale marine protected areas.  The designation of super-mpas was an issue I worked on 6 years ago when I led the grassroots campaign to build public support for the creation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.  It is exciting to see the movement spreading across the Pacific today.

If you want to know about these protections, there are many hard working, dedicated people helping to put these protections in place.  Those people can offer insight to the global movement to protect the ocean.

Palau is currently working on a plan to close down 80% of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to commercial fishing.  President Tommy Remengesau has promoted his plan all across the globe, including on one of the world's biggest stages, the United Nation's General Assembly.  The plan was a major focus at last month's Pacific Islands Forum.  Nearly everyone who reads this blog knows someone from Palau.  If you want to know more about Palau's plans to protect fish stocks for local people, you should ask them about it.

The Cook Islands also made a big deal at the Pacific Islands Forum of their plan to create a marine park over more than half their EEZ, which is four times as large as California.  The plan was first announced in 2012 and should be in place by next year.  My friend Jess Cramp, international shark hero, is one of the many people working on the plan.

Kiribati has been working for 10 years to create the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. According to the Star Advertiser, Kiribati President Anote Tong, "hopes the shuttering of those 157,000 square miles to industrial fishing practices can be seen as a key early step to creating more widespread conservation zones across the Pacific -- a way to help the ocean's dwindling fishing stocks recover for sustainable, future use."  If you have questions about what is taking place in Kiribati, you can ask my good friend Laurie Peterka about it.  She's there as I write this working with the government to protect sharks.

And why does this matter?  The creation of super-mpas is being discussed in the pages and comments section of the Marianas Variety today.  This particular marine protected area is thousands of miles away from Saipan and does not affect anyone living there; therefore I will reserve comment lest my words on this blog be confused as representing my employer.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Famous on Shark Week

No, I've never actually been on Shark Week. And yes, there are other shark conservationists who get more print than me. But I'm having my own 15 minutes of fame during Shark Week this year.

I talked to NPR earlier in the week about about a restaurant serving mako tacos. Nearly every shark that interacts with fishing gear is threatened or near threatened with extinction, including makos which are assessed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. I thought I'd be clever and compare the conservation status of makos to other species. I could have used lions, cheetahs, or elephants, but went with polar bears. "But you wouldn't want to eat polar bear tacos," he says.

I have a second quote later in the story:
Catches of most other shark species are at all-time lows, according to Villagomez. He says this is not because of decreasing demand but decreasing shark numbers. "We've hit 'peak shark,' " he jokes.
The first quote was later picked up in stories in Jezebel and DailyDot. 13 quoted words total. Fame rules.

I'm also quoted in a story from Smithsonian Magazine today:
"Sharks are worth more alive," says Angelo Villagomez, manager of the Pew Charitable Trusts' global shark conservation campaign. "Sharks are fished because they have value in fisheries, but a lot of tropical island locations, especially holiday destinations, have found that they can get a lot more out of their resources with dive tourism."

"Not only should [tourists] be conscious that the divers are operating under best practices, but they should think about spending their money in countries that are taking the time to protect their sharks and other animals," Villagomez says. Choose to visit a place with a dedicated shark sanctuary, which means that the country has taken policy measures to ensure shark conservation. Villagomez suggests taking a trip to Palau, which became the first place in the world to create a shark sanctuary in 2009. Tourists who swim with sharks within the sanctuary pay a number of taxes, which are funneled back into conservation and the local economy. The high fees also help control the number of tourists. "It’s not perfect, but they’re taking steps in the right direction," Villagomez says.

I bet you didn't know that I moonlighted as a Palau tour promoter, did you?  And although it has nothing to do with Shark Week, Ambrose Bennett mentioned me in one of his rants this week.  Now that's real fame!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Shark Week Gold

Holy moly, Shark Week puts a lot of social media attention on sharks.  Last night I couldn't sleep due to my jetlag, so I scheduled a Shark Week tweet on Shark Defenders every hour using Hootsuite.  I tagged each post with #SharkWeek.  Then I tweeted during the 4 PM showing of Shark Fight and the 8 PM showing of Air Jaws: Fins of Fury.  Shark of Darkness: Submarine Returns was so terrible I stopped watching after about 10 minutes.  I tweeted some snarky things about the show, and that's when things started to take off.

Maybe it was because David Shiffman was on an airplane and there was a giant gaping hole in the Shark tweeterverse, but my Twitter feed exploded.
If this keeps up, Shark Defenders will surpass 10,000 followers by the end of the week, thus making me 0.02% as popular as Justin Bieber.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Famous in Hong Kong and Majuro

In December 2012, I (representing my employer) went to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) meeting in Manila, Philippines to advocate for the banning of the practice wherein purse seine vessels intentionally set their nets around whale sharks, a species assessed as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.  In December 2013, I (again representing my employer) went to the WCPFC meeting in Cairns, Australia to advocate for the protection of silky sharks, a species assessed as overfished with overfishing still occurring.  At both meetings, all of the members of the fisheries commission agreed to implement the protections for both species.  Hurray!

Why do I bring this up now?  Because a few weeks ago an American vessel called the Sea Bounty was caught in the Marshall Islands setting its nets around a whale shark and fishing for silky sharks.  These actions violate the rules of the WCPFC, but also the rules of the Marshall Islands Shark Sanctuary, which bans all commercial fishing of sharks in their Exclusive Economic Zone.  The Marshall Islands Journal quoted me in a story this week saying some very nice things about the enforcement taking place there.
"When the shark laws are enforced, it serves as a deterrent for future violations," said Angelo Villagomez, a shark expert with the Washington, DC-based Pew Foundation. "The Marshall Islands fines are particularly significant; these fines can be used to fund further enforcement efforts. It also shows the world that port enforcement works, and that shark sanctuaries work."

The vessel was reported both catching silky sharks and doing a tuna set on a whale shark, which is prohibited by RMI law. The huge size of whale sharks attracts tuna, making them a target for tuna boats.

"Whale sharks swimming on the surface act as a living fish aggregation device, or FAD," said Villagomez. "There will often be schools of tuna swimming below the big shark. Whale sharks are assessed as 'vulnerable' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Endangered Species."

Silky sharks have been singled out for protection because of heavy fishing. "Silky sharks are a major secondary catch in the western and central Pacific, but they have been fished so heavily the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) says they are overfished and that overfishing is still occurring," said Vilagomez.

Because of concern of overfishing, silky sharks were recently placed on a protected list by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, and fishing vessels are supposed to return them to the ocean alive if they are caught. "It is worrisome if this measure is not being followed by industry, but it is encouraging that enforcement is catching the violations," said Villagomez. "If industry doesn't implement the already agreed to protections, they can expect more stringent, global protections down the road."

Villagomez praised RMI for its vigilance in enforcing its shark sanctuary. "The Marshall Islands continues to be the model shark sanctuary in terms of its legal framework and enforcement," he said. "They are a global leader on the issue of shark conservation, and I hope that other countries continue to follow their lead."
I was also quoted in story in the South China Morning Post (which was then picked up by a food blog) about the decline in the demand for shark fin in China.  The story focused on a new WildAid report showing drastic declines due to their outreach campaign over the last several years.
However, Angelo Villagomez, a shark specialist with US-based conservation group Pew Charitable Trusts, put the decline in consumption down to Xi Jinping's anti corruption campaign, which has forced a decline in lavish banquets.

"It's not to do with conservation. It's related to a Chinese government anti-graft crackdown, which has cut back on dinners where shark fin soup was featured on the menu," Villagomez told Agence France-Presse in September last year, commenting on the impact of China's graft crackdown on shark fin consumption.
Man, I sound like a real dick contradicting their conservation claims.  I mean, I don't even work on shark conservation in China!  What do I know?  Thing is, my quote was taken from a story about the Marshall Islands written last year.  The WildAid report only came out this week.  The context of my quote was more like this:
However, he said the decline in shark fin demand (in China) over the past year was not directly linked to increasing shark protection by Pacific islands governments (emphasis mine). Instead, it was related to the Chinese leadership’s crackdown on graft and opposition to extravagance.

“It’s not to do with conservation. It’s related to a Chinese government anti-graft crackdown, which has cut back on dinners where shark fin soup was featured on the menu,” Villagomez said.
It is totally not cool to use a quote from last year about a completely different issue and apply it to a study that just came out.  That's sloppy reporting at best.

The truth is, there is no singular approach in shark conservation.  We can never say that this one thing or this one person resulted in a change.  Societal change takes the work of many.  Global change even more so.  We should not argue over whether the main driver of the ban was conservation or corruption, because it was probably both.  In the end, if the government ban on shark fin soup leads to fewer sharks being killed, that is a good thing.  There is plenty of thanks and credit to go around, and probably several reasons why it happened.

I, however, can claim that I had nothing to do with the reduction of the demand for shark fin soup in China.  My job is to restrict the supply of shark fins getting there in the first place.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Blue Corner Napoleon

My favorite thing to see underwater are turtles.  My second favorite thing are these guys, Napoleon wrasse.  Sharks are cool, too, I guess.

The Napoleon wrasse at Blue Corner are the friendliest in the world.  The opportunity to swim with this fish is worth the 24 hours on an airplane it takes to get to Palau.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Pacific Remote Islands Expansion

governor fitial george w bush
Five and one half years ago I watched George W. Bush put pen to paper to achieve the conservation victory of the decade.  On that day, the former president created three marine monuments in the Pacific: Rose Atoll, Marianas Trench, and Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monuments.  My involvement with the Marianas Trench Monument is well documented in the archives of this blog.  No need to rehash all that; read it yourself.

On June 17, 2014 at the Our Oceans conference in Washington, DC, President Barack Obama announced his attention to expand the current boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, which consists of the federal waters surrounding 7 uninhabited islands: Wake, Jarvis, Howland, Baker, Johnston, Kingman, and Palmyra.  The closest of these islands is Palmyra, which is about 1,000 miles from Hawaii.  They are thousands of miles away from the Northern Mariana Islands.

If you want to support the expansion of this federal protected area, you can sign petitions sponsored by NRDC, MCI, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Practitioners, and Pew.  You can also send a letter.

WESPAC opposes the expansion, of course, and details their arguments in a press release.  According to the Saipan Tribune and the Marianas Variety, WESPAC council member and CNMI lawmaker Richard Seman introduced a resolution in the CNMI Legislature in opposition to the conservation initiative.  It was exciting to see my name in the comments.

There is going to be a public hearing in Honolulu on Monday.  If you are there, I encourage you to attend.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Rock Islands

I promised I'd post more photos once I got back to the Mainland.  I'm currently sitting in the United Airlines lounge in Houston, Texas and have some decent Internet bandwidth, so I posted some photos of the Rock Islands to The Saipan Blog Facebook page.

None of the photos on Facebook include topless images of me.  I reserve that for the blog.  The rest of the photos look more like this:

And if pretty photos aren't your thing this morning and want to read about something more serious, I'm quoted in a story about declining demand for shark fin soup in China today.  The thing is, I made those comments last year!