Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Selfies With Sylvia

I'm in Palau this week attending the 45th Pacific Islands Forum.  Presidents and prime ministers from across the Pacific are here to discuss issues of regional importance.  This year's highlight is ocean conservation.

And who better to serve as an advocate for the ocean than Dr. Sylvia Earle?  Dr. Earle has been here all week.  She gave a speech at an all day ocean's forum on Monday, and popped up at every event or meeting where the word ocean or conservation was spoken.  Last night my employer hosted an event on our brand of ocean conservation, and she spoke there as well.

At the opening event on Tuesday, the President of Palau gave the conservationists their own section with some of the best seats in the house.  As luck would have it, Edz was seated right next to Dr. Earle.

Edz tried to set a world record for being the person to take the most selfies with Dr. Earle.  She damn well may have succeeded.

Dr. Earle is just a few short weeks away from being a movie star.  Her film Mission Blue debuts on Netflix on August 15.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Two Years Wasted

I spent nearly two years on Saipan from 2006-2007 advocating for the protection of coral reefs.  The slogan I came up with was, "What we do on land affects our marine environment."  My focuses were land use practices, particularly reducing pollution and runoff.  I took students on field trips, planted thousands of trees to reduce erosion, and tried to start a stream sampling project that never really took off after the DEQ staffer quit and moved back to the mainland.

I look back on that work and realize I had it all wrong.

In my new work with sharks, I try to find ways to make sharks relatable to island leaders.  Shark Stanley helps reach out to the masses, but political leaders are a different sort.  I've found that most island leaders understand the threats of climate change and the importance of coral reefs to ecotourism, especially dive tourism.

About a year ago, a colleague at the University of Hawaii recommended I read Forest Rohwer's book Coral Reefs in the Microbial SeasForest is molecular biologist who pioneered the use metagenomics and investigates the role of viruses and microbes in coral reef health and disease.  His book is my new bible.

This book, through Forest's pioneering work on viruses, postulates that the biggest threat to coral reefs is not nonpoint sources of pollution from agriculture and sewage, but overfishing, particularly the removal of large predators such as sharks.

Corals are not fragile creatures. They are tough, extremely well-adapted, and adaptable organisms, yet we are killing them. Worldwide, 30% of coral is severely damaged. The Great Barrier Reef has lost 20% of its coral in the last 60 years; Eighty percent of the Caribbean reef coral has died in the last 30 years.

Forest goes through all of the threats to corals, including temperature and acidity changes due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and finds that overfishing is the main culprit in killing corals.  Simply put, no sharks, no corals.

The process is somewhat complex, but once it gets started it feeds itself in a positive feedback loop.  Overfishing down the food web from sharks to herbivores increases the amount of algae on a reef, which in turn releases large amounts of sugars and carbohydrates (something he calls dissolved organic carbon or DOC), which feed microbes, which smother and kill coral.  When the coral dies, it creates more space for the algae to grow, resulting in even more sugars and carbohydrates in the water, more microbes, and more coral death, until the ecosystem flips from a coral-dominated ecosystem with lots of fish, to an algae-dominated ecosystem with very few fish.  Adding nutrients from agriculture runoff and sewage only fuels the process, as nitrogen and phosphates increase algal growth.

The book is a must read for anyone working on coral reefs today.  Forest's recommendations at the end of the book are to protect large predators and herbivores, such as sharks and parrot fish, create marine protected areas, and reduce pollution.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Friday on a Plane

The frequent flier miles rack up when you travel often to the Pacific.  A round trip ticket between Washington to Saipan earns more than 15,000 miles and for every 25,000 miles you travel you reach a new status.  It does not take long to jump from Silver to Gold to Platinum and then 1K.  When you hit Platinum status, United gives you a handful of Regional upgrades.  At Platinum you get Global upgrades.  Then every 25,000 miles, you get even more.  As a result, if you keep up a heavy travel schedule and your 1K status, you can fly business on almost every flight.

For this last trip to the Marshall Islands I used a Regional upgrade for the flight out, and a global upgrade for the flight home.  I wasn't upgraded between Majuro and Hawaii, but I sat in business the rest of the way home.

UA 72 Majuro to San Francisco
The Honolulu Airport is closed when the flight from Majuro lands.  After going through immigration and customs, you get dumped out on the street with all of your luggage.  The outdoor lobby is full of sleeping travelers or homeless people, I'm not really sure.

When leaving Hawaii for the mainland, the first step in the check-in process is to x-ray your bags.  I don't know what they are looking for, but they don't look very hard.  I saw someone put a suitcase of shark fins through the machine once and all they got was a friendly "mahalo." 

USDA doesn't open the machine until 4 AM, so scores of travelers queue their luggage.  Some stand, others sleep.

I was second in line for the x-ray.  United wasn't open yet, so I took my scanned bags over to the premier line to stand in line again.  The United check-in counters must be set to come on automatically, because they all popped on at the same time.  I didn't need to check in again, just drop off my luggage.  The whole process took all of 30 seconds once they opened.

Then I was the first person through security.  My boarding pass said I had TSA pre-check, but it wasn't open yet, so I had to take my shoes out and remove my laptops.

Starbucks wasn't open yet, so I went to the United lounge.  It wasn't open either, so I found a comfortable spot on the carpet outside near a electrical outlet to charge my phone and check my email.  I was able to pick up the free wifi through the walls.

The flight boarded at 5:30 AM.  I boarded with group 1, got myself settled with my bags in the overhead, sat down, and fell asleep.

I woke up with about 2 hours left in the flight.  I scoured the movie selection and decided on Noah.  It was really terrible.

UA 1574 San Francisco to Washington Dulles
When given the option of transiting through San Francisco or Los Angeles, I much prefer the former.  San Fran has lots of delicious food options and I've never had to leave secure area to go to another terminal.  LAX has a Wolfgang Puck's, but I've never NOT had to switch terminals there.

In San Francisco I bought an Italian sausage pizza and walked over to my gate to eat it.  While I waited for my flight to board I used the airport's free wifi.

I must have been exhausted because as soon as I boarded I fell asleep.  I woke up when they brought the food out and then watched the new Captain America movie.  There were two hours of flying time left when that ended, so I watched the CNN coverage of the airplane crash in Ukraine, then an episode of The Big Bang Theory, and then South Park, and then I read.

The flight landed about 10 minutes late and then it took 40 minutes for the luggage to come out.  I got home at about 1:30 AM, ate some ramen, watched an episode of Bill Maher, and then passed out.

My next flight is on Thursday.  I'm going to Palau to attend the Pacific Islands Forum

Friday, July 18, 2014

Godzilla Tour of Destruction

United Airlines 155 Majuro - Honolulu
Today is one of those days that never seems to end.  My Friday the 18th will last 40 hours because I'm crossing the International Dateline.  I'm on the Godzilla tour of destruction, visiting three locations that were attacked in the most recent movie.  Starting in the Marshall Islands, I'll have layovers in Honolulu and San Francisco on my way back to Washington, DC.

There was a time that I thought the Continental Island Hopper was the greatest thing ever.  Now I am old and jaded.  The flight from Majuro to Hawaii is the second worst flight in the world, surpassed in misery only by the flight from Pohnpei to Hawaii.  It's not so bad when you are just going to Hawaii, but if you are connecting it sucks because you lose a night of sleep.

I checked out of the Robert Reimers Hotel in Majuro just before 5 PM and the hotel staff drove a group of us travelers to the airport about 30 minutes later.  In the van was a fellow University of Richmond alum; Tom is the legal council for the Pohnpei Senate and lived in Saipan in the 1970s.  I've known Tom for a few years, but didn't find out these two facts until this trip.  It turns out we know a lot of the same people.

The Majuro airport was bustling at 6 PM.  People who fly in and out of Majuro usually fly often, so the premier line was just as long as the regular line.  When checking in the United staff open your luggage and manually give it a search.  I've never thought to ask what they are looking for.  It could be fish.  About half of the suitcases leaving Majuro are coolers, and the United staff has to help ensure everyone is following the procedures for traveling with raw fish.

There is an amazing bar called Harry's hiding in a small room behind the check-in counter.  In all of my previous visits to Majuro I had not noticed it existed.  The place has more character than most bars in Micronesia.  It's a great way to cap off a great trip.

After two beers, the fearless travelers piled through security and into the departure lounge, where we proceeded to drink two more beers and snack on tuna jerky, which is some of the most pungent, yet delicious grub ever made.

The flight itself was uneventful.  The flight was full, but I had an exit row seat with an empty chair between me and the person in the aisle.  I had a nice chat with her; she was an environmental lawyer and we talked about the work we each did in the islands.  After some time, we each pulled out our respective books and politely ignored each other for the rest of the flight.

The flight left Majuro at 8:05 PM and landed in Hawaii at 2:50 AM, the morning before we left.  Thanks to the International Dateline, with a long layover, you live the same day twice.  With a short layover, you arrive just hours after you left.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

33rd APIL General Assembly

The Association of Pacific Island Legislatures meeting finished up last night.  This is my fourth meeting.  I've previously attended the meetings in Palau, Saipan, and Hawaii.

On one of the days we hosted an event on tuna and shark conservation at a bar by the water.  Sitting in the Majuro lagoon were about a dozen purse seiner and transhipment boats.  It was a great location for the topic we were discussing.  One of the presenters pointed out that at any one time, as much as $10 million worth of tuna is sitting in the lagoon.

This is the Pacific, man, so things were informal.  We had some chairs and tables set up, but we ended up having the talks right along the water.

I am alumni of an organization called Micronesians in Island Conservation.  Once a year the members get together to discuss regional issues, and to learn from our each other about how they deal with the similar issues we were dealing with back home.  I learned more from those retreats than I did in college.

APIL has a very similar feel, and although I am not a lawmaker, I can see how important this annual meeting and organization is to all of Micronesia.  The things the members learn from each other are invaluable to their citizens back home.

And APIL has been very gracious to allow me and other representatives of my employer to work with them on important environmental issues.  And everyone is just so amazing, on top of that!  This is Marshall Islands Nitijela Speaker Donald Capelle.

APIL always hosts a friendship softball game after one of the day's meetings.  Do you recognize the catcher in this photo?  The CNMI contingent was split this year, so I won't say which team won.

It's not about winning, though; it's about how you played the game.  But no hard feelings, right Joe?  See, we're still friends.

Senator Kenneth Kedi from the Marshall Islands is the APIL president-elect.  He's a big champion of the world's largest shark sanctuary.

I never noticed on my previous trips, but it would appear that Rita Elementary School is home of the shark.  I took my picture with the sign, and some of the locals thought that was hilarious.  This guy came over and took his photo with me.

Although most of these photos are of me, I did take many others.  They are posted to Facebook.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Back of Adam's Head

During my stranding in Honolulu, Adam made the suggestion to hike up Diamond Head, the towering volcano overlooking Waikiki Beach.  That is something I have never done, so I enthusiastically agreed that was a great idea.

We decided we'd walk from Waikiki.  Now, this blog could have been a collection of selfies of my face.  I decided the back of Adam's head would be more fun.

This is the tunnel that is drilled through the rim of the volcano to get into the crater.  The area to the left is the pedestrian walkway.  I thought this looked like something out of a Bond movie.

Inside the crater is a little gift shop and visitor's center.  That's also where the government collects your $1 entrance fee.  The altitude inside the crater is at about 200 feet above sea level.  The top of the rim is 760 feet or so.

The trail is well marked and well traveled.

It curves around rocks and trees and shrubs, up, up, and up.

You might have to enlarge this photo to see, but the trail zigs and zags back and forth up the side of the crater.  There was very little humidity in the crater and it must have been ninety degrees, so it was really hot.

This is the opposite view of that last photo, looking down on where I took the photo of Adam.

The cliff is steep, but the trail is well worn.  According to one of the volunteers down in the crater, more than 2,000 people make the hike every single day.  That's a lot of traffic.

Apparently there are still people who need signs like this to know that they shouldn't jump off the cliff.

And this is the view from Diamond Head looking down on Waikiki.  As I type this I realize that I should have taken a photo of Waikiki looking up at Diamond Head.  

Marshall Islands Again

This week I'm in the Marshall Islands attending the 33rd General Assembly of the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures.  For four years my shark team has worked with this organization to create protected shark habitat stretching across the Pacific.  American Samoa, Chuuk, Guam, Hawaii, Kosrae Marshall Islands, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pohnpei, and Yap have enacted laws, and once Kiribati creates a shark sanctuary, all of the members will have fully protected sharks.  Once the legal framework to protect them is fully in place, then we get to spend the rest of our lives implementing the laws.

Monday, July 14, 2014

UA 2064 Honolulu - Majuro

Our flight out of Honolulu was delayed a full day for “mechanical reasons.” Another flight from Honolulu to Guam had to make an emergency landing in Midway, and from what I can gather, the plane we were supposed to take yesterday had to go pick up the stranded passengers and take them back to Honolulu. This is the second United flight in a week for me that was canceled. The airline offered 17,500 frequent flier miles in recompense.

After spending an extra day in Honolulu, our taxi picked us up in front of our hotel at 5:30 AM. When we got to the airport there was no one in line ahead of us in the premier line or in TSA Pre-Check, so we were inside the terminal by 6:00 AM. The board said our flight was delayed. Here we go again.

To fill my empty stomach, I ordered an iced venti chai tea latte and a very berry crumb cake from Starbucks. Boarding started about an hour before our departure time. I was upgraded to business class at the last moment.

I hate early morning flights, so I skipped the airplane breakfast and fell asleep. Two hours later I woke up and watched a documentary on Marvel Comics.

About midway through the flight, the attendants gave us a chocolate chip cookie and some milk, which is just about the best thing I’ve ever been served on an airplane.

There was some turbulence as we started our decent into Majuro. The plane landed at 10:38, about 17 minutes early. So much for the late departure!

We breezed through immigration and customs and then a representative from Robert Reimers met us outside and took us to the hotel.

Friday, July 11, 2014

United Airlines 145

I fly a lot.  And have a lot of interesting experiences during my travel.  I've been thinking about writing about my different flights for some time now.  Here's my first try.

I'm off to the Marshall Islands to attend the Association of Pacific Island Legislatures.  This will be my fourth APIL meeting.  I have previously been to their gatherings in Palau, Saipan, and Hawaii.

There is only one airline that services the route between the Marshall Islands and Hawaii.  In fact, United is the only airline that flies to all of Micronesia.  Much of my work is in the Micronesia region, so I fly United a lot.  I've had 1K status for three years straight.

The direct flight between Washington, DC and Honolulu is the best thing ever, especially if you can get an upgrade.  I used one of my regional premier upgrade coupons when I bought the flight, but when I checked in online the night before, the upgrade had not gone through although there were open seats in Business First.

I had the Washington Flyer taxi pick me up my apartment at 6:15 AM for my 8:50 departure.  I prefer getting to the airport early.  I checked my luggage in at the 1K premier ticketing booth; there was only one person in front of me in line and the whole process took less than 10 minutes.

The Department of Homeland Security smiled down upon me and gave me TSA Pre-Check, which is the super special line for security.  You get to leave your computer in your bag and you don't have to take off your hat, jacket, shoes, or belt.  It makes the whole airport experience way less unenjoyable.

I was hungry, so I grabbed an iced chai tea latte and blueberry scone from Starbucks and waited by the gate for the call to board.  While I waited I typed out that last blog about Facebook memes.

Two minutes before they started boarding for the flight, my name was called from the customer service counter.  Upgraded!

Business First is world's better than coach or even their expensive coach, "economy plus."  The chairs lay completely flat, you get a real pillow, there's an electrical outlet, on-demand movies and television programs, and they give you a drink the minute you sit down.  I usually get a beer, but this time I asked for some water.

Every single time I have flown United this year there has been at least one leg of my journey where my flight was either delayed, canceled, or they lost my luggage.  This flight was no different.  We left about 20 minutes late.

The flight itself was smooth.  They served us a breakfast with a cheese omelet, sausage patty, and broccoli-potato thing and then about halfway through gave us a crusty cheeseburger.  The free food on the international flights is always better, I think.  Between reading chapters of the third Game of Thrones book, I watched Divergent, the Wolf of Wall Street, and about half of the new Captain America movie.  I managed a little sleep, too.

10 hours later we landed in Honolulu, and man was I exhausted.  There are no tight connections when traveling to the Marshall Islands, so my travel companion and I got rooms at a hotel.  We didn't know when we checked in that we'd be spending a second night.  At about 10 PM last night we both received messages that our flight the next morning had been canceled due to "aircraft maintenance."  Isn't that the sort of thing they are supposed to plan for regularly?

About two hours later we received notice that we'd fly out Saturday morning.  So we've got a whole day in Honolulu.  I suppose I should be grateful they didn't lose my luggage.  Now, what to do?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Being Popular on Facebook

A few weeks ago I sat in on a presentation on my employer's new website.  It included discussion of our organization's social media strategy.  The experts who work on this stuff say that the most popular social media posts online include a photo, a quote, and a digit/fact, in that order.  I thought I'd try out the strategy, so I created a shark meme with this great photo from Shawn Heinrichs, a fact about shark mortality from Worm et al, 2013, and a quote from my boss's boss's boss.

I posted the meme to Shark Defenders, my personal blog and social network.  A few days later this meme was the most popular thing I have ever posted to the Internet.  Almost 150,000 people saw the post because it was shared by more than 1,500 people and liked more than 5,000 times.  It would appear that the people who do these sorts of things for a living know what they are talking about.  This post was 150x more popular than my regular posts.

I posted another meme online that is similarly growing in popularity.  I have been tracking a story in Saipan about a diver operator who killed a single eagle ray with plans to serve it to his customers.  Either he, or one of his customers, posted a photo of the dead animal on Facebook, and long story short, he's now rotting in a jail cell for the next six months.

I posted a blog about the story to Shark Defenders and posted the photo with a quote and a bitly link in the status update.  That was about 36 hours ago.  I'll post a status update in a few days with the final stats.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

British Virgin Islands

I spent the first part of this week in Tortola, British Virgin Islands.  Back in May the British Overseas Territory became the world's 10th shark sanctuary. The Associated Press quoted me as saying the Caribbean territory is "showing that small islands can have a big impact on global biodiversity."

I went to the BVI on this trip to represent my employer and to meet the government to see if there were ways in which we could continue to collaborate.

I'm not at liberty to discuss those conversations on this blog, but the answer was yes.  And our first bit of collaboration was for me to don this shark costume on the beach during the annual Fisherman's Day celebration.  Ah, the things I do for mother nature.

Alright, so I will discuss one thing.  In the upcoming days my employer is going to begin reworking our Shark Stanley campaign to advocate for the creation of shark sanctuaries and other management measures.  We've identified 10 additional species that already have international protections, are deserving of international protections, or are representative of the places where we work.  We decided on this trip, and there was near unanimous agreement with all of the people we spoke with, that the nurse shark was an excellent mascot to represent the coral reefs of the British Virgin Islands.  So keep an eye out for Shark Stanley's new friends in the upcoming months and be prepared to help them protect sharks around the world.

And completely unrelated to sharks, while I was sitting at an internet cafe near the airport, I noticed this Pacific canoe sitting in the harbor.  What the heck was it doing in BVI?!  The captain, Hans, came ashore and I asked what he was doing and how he got his canoe, and he said he was sailing from Western Africa, through the Panama Canal, stopping at Easter Island, on his way to New Zealand.  I googled the canoe's name and found some more information about its creation.  I think Hans plans to give rides to tourists once he arrives in New Zealand.

And one of my favorite things about BVI?  Cape Air, the same airline that services the flight from Guam to Saipan, flies tourists from Puerto Rico to BVI.  The people of Saipan have constant frustrations with Cape Air, and I got a real kick out of seeing them on the other side of the planet (and chuckled to myself as both flights in both directions were delayed).