Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Shark Conservation in Bonaire

I recently spent a week in Bonaire to talk to people about the importance of protecting sharks.  Bonaire is ahead of much of the Caribbean in that they already protect sharks in their near shore waters.  There is now a group of people dedicated to extending those protections out to the full Exclusive Economic Zone.

I came to the islands at the invitation of Kalli at the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance.  Her organization is working with local partners on all six islands of the Dutch Caribbean to create shark sanctuaries, as well as to conduct shark research, education, and outreach.  I'm helping them implement these laws and so far have also visited Curacao, St. Maarten, and Saba, in addition to Bonaire.  I spent an entire day with Kalli and the DCNA members at their office making plans for the year.  When the morning started I gave a presentation to DCNA and several local and national government officials.

During my field visit I also gave a public lecture at the CIEE Research Station Bonaire.  You can click on the photo to see the title of my talk.  It was something about sharks.  They filmed it, so there's a good chance there's a copy of my talk floating around in cyberspace.  I apologize in advance for my jokes comparing the BBQ in Bonaire to the oildown in Grenada.  We had a short question and answer session afterwards and the discussion was mostly about enforcement and the rarity of sharks around the island.

I had several sessions with the STINAPA Junior Rangers.  This is an amazing program run by the government that trains young adults in all sorts of useful things like fish identification and SCUBA diving.  At the end of the program they are certified dive masters and have the skills to be hired as park rangers.  The students invited me to be a judge -- actually, THE judge -- at their annual end of year debate.  This year's topic was sharks.  Julia and Sebastian -- pictured here -- were on the team that was advocating for the creation of a shark sanctuary.

The debate coincided with the end of year graduation ceremony.  The master of ceremonies for the event was the governor of the island, and I had the opportunity to have a few words with him.  He's been supportive of DCNA's shark conservation efforts and I thanked him for his support.  I also told him I liked his shirt (I really do!).

I think I met with the staff of CIEE nearly every day.  They've been helping out the Junior Rangers with their shark lessons and the debate and are interested in getting more involved in the passage of shark conservation measures across the entire Dutch Caribbean.  From left to right, that's Martin, Molly, and Serena.  They took me to the most amazing BBQ place ever about two hours after we took this photo.  You can dig through my Twitter feed for photos (sorry, not even I want to dig through my Twitter feed).

It's amazing how quickly time passes on the islands.  There's never enough time.  This was one of my longest field visits in some time and it was really fulfilling being able to spend more than an hour a day with people.

I'm excited to see what people in Bonaire do in regards to sharks in the coming months, especially the kids in the Junior Rangers.  I shared with them some of videos of kids in Guam and Saipan advocating for shark protections and I expect these kids to be just as amazing.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Saipan's Catholic Cemetery

I just got back from a monster of a work trip with a short 5 day stopover in Saipan.  I was on the road for about 3 weeks total, and as I type this I am very, very tired.

It's been about two years since I've been home.  On my first day back, Edz and I went to visit the Catholic cemetery in Chalan Kanoa.  It was our first stop after having breakfast at Shirley's.

The way different cultures choose to bury their dead fascinates me.  In Saipan, the Catholics use the grounds of an old Shinto shrine as their cemetery.  It's right next to the Catholic cathedral.  I'm sure somebody knows the history of how that happened, but I have no idea.  The Japanese controlled the islands from the end of WWI to the middle of WWII, so it must have been around that time.

The concrete torii, or gate, in the top photo stands at the front of the cemetery.  When you pass through the gate you leave the profane and enter the sacred (at least according to Wikipedia).  Along the path are several toro, or lanterns.

The gate and lanterns predate World War II.  Several of the lanterns were severely damaged, but the ones that are intact are in incredible shape considering their age.

There is a structure at the center of the shrine/cemetery, but the construction looks newer than World War II.  It's possible that the concrete base is from the original shrine, but it's been updated since.  Surrounding the shrine are graves with all sorts of Christian icons.

While the newer graves are quite elaborate, the older graves are very simple.  Over the years, funerals have become an opportunity for Chamorros to show off their wealth, something that can be controversial and a great source of island gossip.  I assume that's what caused the change in grave stones.

The oldest graves are written in Spanish.  This particular grave has survived the Spanish, German, Japanese, and American administrations.

And like many places on Saipan, right in the middle of some graves is an old WWII bomb shelter.  But unlike many of the shelters along the beach or on people's farms, this shelter has been sealed.

But you can still see bullet holes on the outside (you can see a concrete slab closing off the door on the bottom left of the photo).  The Americans invaded Saipan 71 years ago, but these scars have survived the years.  Amazing, and right in the middle of a shrine/cemetery.  What a unique place!

And the reason I visited the cemetery was to see my Dad's grave.  The layout of the cemetery is chaotic, and it took some time to find where he was buried.  It's been nearly 10 years since he passed, and about 15 since he slipped into a coma.  He'd be 65 were he alive today.