Friday, January 27, 2017

Moana: We Are Explorers Reading Every Sign

Moana and Maui
The Disney film 'Moana' tells the story about the daughter of the village chief, who is chosen by the ocean itself to cross the sea in search of the demi-god Maui to force him to help her save her village by returning the stolen heart of the goddess Te Fiti.  If that's confusing, just think of it as Lord of the Rings (shoeless young person returns stolen jewelry) meets Call it Courage (island kid goes on an adventure and comes home awesome) with songs. 

Early in the film, Moana learns that her people are descended from voyagers -- something that everyone in the village had collectively forgotten.  Then she goes off on her adventure, learns how to wayfind and sail from the demi-god Maui, defeats a giant coconut crab and a lava monster, and saves the world!

"I am everything I've learned and more."

While she uses the stars, the winds, and the clouds, to navigate her canoe, it is her education that she uses to navigate her epic adventure.  It is this knowledge that Moana uses to save the world, and unfortunately for her, in the beginning of the film she doesn't know very much.  She wrecks her first canoe on the reef.  Then she's not a particularly good sailor once she gets the second canoe past the reef.  She gets captured by the giant crab.  And it's her fault that Maui's giant magic hook almost gets destroyed in the first battle with the lava monster. 

Repeatedly, Moana comes up with a plan based on her best available evidence, then tests it, fails, and realizes it was a really bad plan.  So she refines the plan, tests it again, and succeeds -- most of the time.  That's not just good story telling, that's the scientific method!  

Moana is not a Disney princess.  She's a Polynesian scientist!  And she's helping me make arguments for why we need large scale marine protected areas in the ocean.  Let me explain:

The scientific method is also how traditional wayfinding, so central to the story of Moana, developed in the real world.  Traditional wayfinding, voyaging across the ocean without the use of modern navigation tools, as it is practiced today, developed over time using observations of the natural environment such as the sun, moon, stars, cloud movements, wind, ocean swells, and birds and fish to sail across the sea.  This knowledge was obtained over centuries and was passed down from teacher to student using chants in the oral tradition.

"We are explorers reading every sign."
--Moana's wayfinding ancestor

The fact that Moana's people had forgotten they were voyagers mirrors real life.  By the middle of the 20th Century, voyaging had completely disappeared from Polynesia and most western experts questioned whether people could have purposely crossed the Pacific without the use of modern navigation tools.  The last vestiges of traditional wayfinding were only found on a few small atolls in Micronesia, known by a dwindling number of master navigators.

That all changed in 1976 when Mau Pialug, a 44 year old navigator from the island of Satawal in the Federated States of Micronesia, shared his knowledge of wayfinding with the Polynesian Voyaging Society and successfully guided a canoe from Hawaii to Tahiti (paralleling the story of Moana).  That first in centuries feat led to a renaissance of traditional voyaging and culture in Hawaii and across the entire Pacific.  Today there are navigators in many countries, including Hawaii, New Zealand, and Tahiti.

This renaissance in culture and Pacific identify has grown in parallel with the modern environmental movement, particularly the growth of large scale marine protected areas around the world.  The need to protect large swaths of ocean should be obvious to anyone who has ever visited the national parks in the United States.  Yellowstone National Park is the greatest example of America's natural heritage, and if it had not been protected in 1872, the trees would have been cut down long ago to make way for highways and cities.

Similarly, the only way our grandchildren will have areas of the ocean that are left as the Creator made them is if we identify and protect them today.  And while it's important to have areas that are close to shore for all the reasons that marine protected areas are created, it also makes sense to protect huge swaths of ocean just like we've been protecting huge swaths of land for nearly 150 years.

Protecting ocean ecosystems is going to have to be a priority if the renaissance in Pacific culture is going to continue.  As Jane Lubchenco and Kirsten Grorud Colvert pointed out in a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine, for most of history, the ocean was a de facto fully protected area, simply because humans could not access it.  In order for wayfinders to have the full suite of navigational tools available to them, they will require healthy, intact ocean ecosystems, particular those provided by large scale marine protected areas.

"For most of its history, the ocean was a de facto fully protected area, simply because humans could not access it. It is only in the last half-century that most of the ocean has become accessible to extractive activities."
-- Jane Lubcheno & Kirsten Grorud-Colvert

There are numerous ways traditional knowledge, modern Western science, and the need for conservation can be tied together.  For example, one tool that navigators use to find their target islands are birds.  Depending on the species, the direction it is flying, and the time of day, wayfinders can use birds to help them expand the target area of the islands they are trying to find.  This is because certain birds are spotted at predictable distances from islands.  This knowledge has been known to wayfinders for centuries.

This phenomena is captured in the song 'We Know the Way' from the film.  In the clip, Moana realizes that she's descended from voyagers, and as she does she receives a vision from her ancestors.  The navigators ply the open seas day and night, in the rain and sun, and then just as the song is ending, a bird flying overhead guides the navigator and the canoes to their target island.

The bird guides the voyagers to the island.
Modern science has confirmed this phenomena, too.  Studies have found that different species of seabirds can be found at predicatable distances from their nesting islands, which is likely due to interspecies competition for feeding on small fish.  Some species, like the black noddy (Anous minutus) and the blue grey noddy (Procelsterna cerulean) stay relatively close to shore, looking for food in a radius around their home islands not much greater than 9 kilometers.  Red tailed tropic birds (Phaethon rubricauda), on the other hand, venture as far as 1034 kilometers from their nests in search for food.  Other species where these distances are known include boobies, shearwaters, and frigate birds.
Concentric circles show range of different foraging bird species while nesting.
Graphic from Maxwell & Morgan 2013
The reason the birds fly out over the ocean is to search for small forage fish that school in tight groups after being forced close to the surface by larger predators such as sharks and tuna.  As the sharks and tuna attack the forage fish from below, seabirds hone in from above.  Smallboat fishermen around the world know about this phenomena and search out flocks of birds in search of fish.

Ocean predators facilitate seabird foraging by forcing small fish to the surface.
Graphic from Maxwell & Morgan, 2013.
While the voyagers depend on the birds to find their target islands, the birds depend on the big predators to find the forage fish; the forage fish would not school at the surface if not for the predators.  It stands to reason that if there are no predators, or reduced numbers of predators, the schools of small fish will not be forced to the surface, and as a result the birds are going to end up in the wrong place, which in turn has the chance to lead voyagers astray.

This is a real worry.  The numbers of ocean predators have declined precipitously in the last 100 years.  Pacific Bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) are so overfished that they are now assessed as threatened with extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.  As for sharks, more than 100 million are killed each year in fisheries.  As a result, the populations of more than half of all species assessed by the IUCN Red List are threatened or near threatened with extinction.  Some populations, like oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) in the Gulf of Mexico, have declined by as much as 99%.

But all is not lost.  There are still places in our ocean that are healthy, and places where it can return to its prior abundance.  For example, the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, now the highly protected Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, stretch across more than one and a half million square kilometers in the central Pacific ocean.  These waters are sanctuary for sharks, whales, fish, turtles, and birds, but are also a sanctuary for Hawaiian culture to grow and flourish.  In these protected waters, Native Hawaiians aboard traditional vessels can reconnect with their identify and learn about who they are and where they are going as a people.

As the renaissance in Pacific cultures continues to stretch across the Pacific, it will only achieve its full potential with an equal renaissance in ocean conservation.  We need more huge places in the ocean where the ecosystem is like the Creator intended, a place where fish, birds, and other animals and their connections to Pacific cultures can thrive free from the damaging effects of human development and extraction.

I recently started a project looking at tying together traditional knowledge, particularly that associated with voyaging and wayfinding, and western science and modern needs for ocean conservation. I'll post updates as things develop.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

'Avatar' Director James Cameron Lends Support

Mark Thiessen/National Geographic
11 says left in the Obama Administration...

The Marianas Variety and Saipan Tribune report on the support from James Cameron:
James Cameron, director of Hollywood blockbusters 'Avatar,' 'The Abyss,' and 'Titanic,' has penned a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to “finish the work of protecting the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument through a national marine sanctuary designation.” Cameron is also the only human to ever dive solo to Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in the world’s ocean.

The letter states that the Obama Administration has built a legacy of ocean protection unrivaled by any president in American history. The letter also points to the role of the ocean as the planet’s largest ecosystem and crucial role as a climate regulator.

“Large, strongly protected marine reserved have emerged as important policy solutions which carry the dual benefit of both marine climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies,” wrote Cameron. “By increasing ocean health, strongly protected marine reserves are one of the most efficient means to protect Earth and its climate.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature recommends protecting 30% of the ocean.

“We are thankful to Mr. Cameron for helping us bring more protection to the Mariana Trench,” said Ignacio Cabrera, Chairman of the Friends of the Marianas Trench. “His dive in 2012 shone a bright light on our unique and globally significant natural resources, now he is helping us bring attention to the need to protect it for our kids and their kids.”

In September, Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres and US Delegate Gregorio Camacho “Kilili” Sablan wrote to President Obama, kicking off a local effort to bring the NOAA Sanctuary program to the Northern Mariana Islands.

The plan has raised the ire of the Vice Chair of the controversial Western Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Council (WESPAC), who argues that industrial fishing and deep sea mining are a better use of these rare ecosystems and natural resources (Marianas Variety Comments, January 6, 2017). However, the plan enjoys the support of nearly every elected official in the Northern Mariana Islands, including the legislature, mayors, and municipal council members.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Ike: Things Are Coming Together

Paul, Joni, Carey, Harry, Ike, and Kilili in Washington, DC last month.
Ike penned a letter to the editor last week updating the community about the effort to begin the process to designate a Marianas Trench Marine National Sanctuary.  A lot has happened in the last year and it was the result of people in the federal government, local government, and community working together.

I predict that we'll find out this week if the White House is going to do anything.  Only 12 more days until the new Administration is sworn in.
Since the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument was declared 8 years ago, the pace of developing the monument has been slow and frustrating to many people, especially to me. But over the last several months there have been several positive developments regarding the monument.

The Friends of the Marianas Trench have engaged in a public outreach effort the last three months by talking to government offices and talking to our leaders about these things. Here is a list of the things we discussed, along with updates of how our monument is progressing.

There has been increased global interest in the Marianas Trench. In the last 12 months, scientific expeditions led by the Chinese government, US government, and private foundations have used remotely operated vehicles to explore the depths of our surrounding water.

Many new discoveries have been made in our waters, including species new to science.

The submerged lands deal that was promised by the Bush Administration to Governor Fitial with the declaration of the monument is complete. Department of Interior Secretary Jewell and Governor Torres signed an agreement last month.

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has hired staff to manage the monument.

NOAA Fisheries is close to hiring staff to help manage the monument.

A draft management plan will be released in the coming months for public review. This will be one of the final steps before active management begins.

Governor Torres and US Delegate Kilili have written to President Obama about bringing additional educational and research funds to the Northern Marianas using the NOAA sanctuary program.

The Pew Charitable Trusts helped us with the paperwork to start a sanctuary process here.

Nearly every elected official has written to the Obama Administration to ask for the sanctuary program to come to the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Marianas Trench has been nominated as a new UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of only nine places in the United States being currently considered for such an honor.

I know that there is a perception that nothing is happening with the monument, but the opposite is actually true, and we’re just getting started. You started hearing a lot more about the Marianas Trench in 2016, and now I predict you will hear about it a lot more.

Ignacio Cabrera
I Agag

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Paul Ryan is soo dreamy

Kilili starts his 5th term in office
US Delegate Gregorio Camacho "Kilili" Sablan was sworn into his fifth term in office yesterday and he held an open house at his new office in the Rayburn Building to welcome residents of the Northern Mariana Islands and constituents living in Washington, DC.  Edz and I went around lunchtime, which just happened to be when they were taking the roll call, so Kilili was on the House Floor, and not in his office.  Undeterred, I dove into the fried chicken and apigigi his office provided and then took a turn hammering the plate of cookies.

I had to get back to work, so after talking to some of the staff and some of the other visitors -- folks from Insular Affairs and the State Department were there -- I had to go back to my office.  Edz, however, stayed in the office the entire day with Kilili's wife, Andrea, and some of her other friends.  She also managed to get herself invited to Kilili's commemorative swearing in with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.  Again.  That's right, we were also part of the ceremony four years ago, meaning that Edz has participated in 40% of all Delegate swearing in ceremonies in CNMI history.

Kilili ran unopposed in this last election, something that is unheard of in the CNMI.  I believe it's a testament to his leadership and the way he has conducted himself in office.  He's been great on some of the issues that I care about most, and well, my last 5 blog posts were about that issue, so we'll see how things turn out.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Andrew and Rick Show

When Governor Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres and US Delegate Gregorio Camacho "Kilili" Sablan wrote to President Barack Obama asking him to begin a sanctuary process to establish a Marianas Trench Marine National Sanctuary in the Northern Mariana Islands, I hastily helped put together a document outlining the cultural, historical, and scientific justification to support sanctuary designation for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument.

I drew from three basic sources: my friends, my colleauges, and the experts.  My starting point was to "borrow" from the poster session on the Marianas Trench at the IUCN World Congress back in September; I helped pen the cultural section with Laurie Peterka and Ike Cabrera, and presented it back in September.  Then I turned to Rick MacPherson and Joni Kerr, who also helped me co-author the paper that led to the expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.  And finally, I found the person who led recent expeditions to the Marianas Trench, Diva Amon, and a popular deep sea ecology science communicator and blogger, Andrew Thaler.

The science paper, which has the utilitarian name of National Marine Sanctuary Designation for the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, formed the basis for the official nomination (which had to be in a specific format.)

While we were putting the paper together we realized that a lot of these discoveries were new, and while there has been outreach to the community on this (NOAA in particular gave several presentations over the summer), there needed to be a lot more.  Since we've been talking to so many people about the sanctuary designation, it was important to get locals to hear more about the justifications for sanctuary designation, so we brought Rick and Andrew out to talk to as many people as they could during a short 10 day trip right before the holidays, on extremely short notice.

As with all outreach activities, we didn't get to talk to everyone, but we did talk to a lot of people.  In addition to talking to the Friends of the Marianas Trench supporters, they also presented to over 1,000 students on Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, gave interviews on TV, radio, and in print, recorded a special 30 minute segment for local TV that has been viewed nearly 60,000 times on Facebook, and tested out a mini remotely operated vehicle (miniROV) and scoped out plans to hold a miniROV workshop in 2017.

They arrived late on Saturday, December 10 (literally 5 days after we submitted the official nomination for sanctuary designation) and it was a whirlwind trip.  Here are some of the highlights.  Oh, and I also posted a bunch of photos on Facebook.

Andrew setting up to test Trusty in the Grotto.
When you fly to Saipan from the East Coast, jetlag wakes you up at about 4 AM for the first few mornings.  I explained this to Rick and Andrew and they agreed that if we're all going to be awake, we might as well get to work.

On the first morning we met up with Harry Blalock at the Grotto to test out the miniROV "Trusty."  We met up at 8 AM to avoid the hordes of tourists that flock to Saipan's scenic sites, so we had the place to ourselves.

The dive mostly likely to flood an ROV is the one taken after travel, so for our "shakedown" dive Andrew wanted to simply test out all the systems, make sure everything was working, and not go too deep.

Soleil takes the controls.
A couple of the Friends of the Marianas Trench showed up and everyone who wanted the chance to fly the miniROV was given the chance.  When the tourists started showing up, we packed up the gear and went for a quick swim before leaving.  Rick was so excited to get in the water he didn't take his phone out of his pocket before jumping in.

While Rick steamed inwardly and outwardly, I took the boys on a quick tour of the northern end of Saipan.  At Bird Island we saw five turtles in the water.  Four of them were mating while a fifth just watched.  I'd never in my life seen so many turtles in the water around Saipan.  I bet they'll be laying their eggs soon!  We also went up to Suicide Cliff and Bonzai Cliff.

Our first publicized community event took place later that afternoon.  We took Trusty down to Sugar Dock in Chalan Kanoa to test him (her?) out and to let people try it out.  The current turned out to be a little too strong, but a couple of people were able to drive.

Sugar Dock
We finished out the day with some beers and local food at the Surf Club, just down the beach from Sugar Dock.  It had been a long day, and we were all suffering from jetlag, so we didn't stay out too late.  That actually ended up being a theme over the whole 10 day trip.  I think the latest we stayed out on any given night was about 9 PM.  That is not normal when I hang out with Rick.

Friends of the Marianas Trench and a few friends
We started out the next morning with a radio interview on Power 99's Humanities Half Hour.  Rick and Andrew talked for about 20 minutes, and I filled out the final 10.  Or it may have been the other way around.  Or it may have been edited to sound like we were in the studio together.  I'm not really sure, it played while we were on Guam and I still haven't heard it.

Catherine Perry and the boys in the studio.  She could only interview two at a time, so I went first, and they went after.
I put out a general call to schools and classrooms that wanted to see the science presentation.  All of the scheduling was extremely last minute (as I stated, we had only submitted the nomination the week before), but we heard from the My Wave club at Saipan Southern High School, and they ended up being our first presentation.  It was a little bumpy as the boys tested out the jokes in their presentations, but all went smoothly in the end.  The picture of yoda and the Budweiser can were the most popular slides, I think.

Saipan Southern High School
A few hours later we did the whole thing again for the entire high school at Saipan International School, as well as some of the younger kids.

Saipan International School
We also went to the Rotary Club of Saipan.  I brought my ukulele and helped with the opening song.  To be honest, I wasn't much help.

Long time readers of this blog (both of you), might recall that I was a member of the Rotary Club of Saipan, as my father was before me.  A lot of my favorite people on the island are in Rotary, and seeing them was great.  And I'm sure they love hearing the latest on the Marianas Trench as most of the membership were involved with our effort in 2008.  We spent a solid three hours at Rotary talking to members and the media before and after the meeting.  Later that night Andrew's talk was the lead story on the local TV news.  What can I say, it was a slow news day.

Ivan and Greg from Rotary Club
There are limited media outlets on Saipan and we wanted to reach all of them.  There's a handful of radio stations, two newspapers, and a local television channel (and a few weekly newsletters from the church and various foreign language communities).  A lot of people watch the 6 O'Clock news, which also syndicates live on the radio.  So in addition to being in a news story, we recorded a 30 minute special wherein Rick and Andrew talked science, and I talked politics and history.  I promoted it on Facebook so that as many people living in the Marianas could see it as possible.  We've been moderately successful in doing so, as of this writing it has been shared 528 times and liked 859.  It's a long video, but worth watching as I think there is a lot of good stuff in there (and my hair looks excellent -- and those shorts!)

The boys with Chris Nelson
We made it a point to reach out to every island in the Marianas with a permanent school.  The Mayor's office on Tinian helped us set up a meeting at Tinian High School, so we flew over there one morning, and after visiting some of the archaeological and historical sites talked to everyone on the island in the seventh to twelfth grades.

The House of Taga
After the presentation we went down to Taga Beach, my favorite beach in the world, and tested out Trusty.  A handful of kids from the high school showed up to try flying her (him?).  I think they may have been skipping their CCD classes, actually.

Trusty at Taga Beach
We also went over to Rota and gave the presentation to all of the seventh to twelfth graders living there, too.  If we are successful in convincing President Obama to begin the sanctuary process for the Marianas Trench we plan on having Rota be a major focus of education and research programs, so it was exciting to meet some of the teachers and students that we'll be working with in the future (fingers crossed).

Rick and Andrew at Rota High School
And just like everywhere else, right after our presentation we took Trusty down to the water to test it out.  We drove our van rental right up to the dock and used it as a command center.  Again, a handful of kids showed up and took turns flying the miniROV.

Andrew eventually let the girls try it out.
At this point in the week we were pretty exhausted.  We drove all over Saipan for a few days, flew on a five seater over to Tinian, flew back. then flew an eight seater over to Rota, and repeated the same presentation about a dozen times.  Well, Rick and Andrew repeated the presentation while I planned all the logistics, which was equally tiring.

After our Trusty test run on Rota the three of us shared two pizzas and a six pack and went to bed early.  We had to get up at 6 AM the following day to fly back to Saipan.

I have no idea why they are holding it like this.  It's not that heavy.
Next up was Guam!  Our first day in Guam started at Ritidian Point National Wildlife Refuge.  US Fish & Wildlife Service recently hired a monument complex manager to manage all of the monuments and national wildlife refuges in the Mariana Islands.  I had yet to meet Larissa, so we went to see her along with Ike Cabrera to talk about the Marianas Trench, her plans for managing the monument over the coming years, our efforts to begin a sanctuary designation, and the outreach trip we were currently undertaking.

We ended up spending a good amount of time with Larissa, and afterwards at the nature center with one of the volunteers, Mr. Camacho.  They invited us back the following day for a tour of the restricted sections of the national wildlife refuge, which turned out to be incredible.  That's a blog post in of itself -- one that I'll likely never get around to writing!

Rick at Ritidian Point National Wildlife Refuge
After lunch we had our big public presentation on Guam at the War in the Pacific National Park.  The auditorium had a maximum capacity of 55 and it was standing room only.  This was probably the best presentation of the trip.  The audio visual was the best we'd had all week and everyone who came was already super interested and knowledgeable about the issues the boys talked about.  We took more questions from this group than any other, including one kid who wanted to let us know that the swimming sea cucumber looked like it was "humping the ocean."  I guess you had to be there.

The boys were a little punch drunk at this point, too.  By now they'd given the talk at least a dozen times, jetlag hadn't really worn off yet, and we were all ready for a day off and a full night of sleep.

Rick shows off Trusty to a future scientist
But we kept right on chugging, straight to the Underwater World of Guam to test out Trusty in their aquarium and to hold a cocktail hour with members of the conservation community.  The boys met then-Vice Speaker and now-Speaker BJ Cruz, who has been a champion for all things environment for a very long time.

We also had great talks with the staff at the aquarium about future collaboration with the Marianas Trench Monument and the hopeful future sanctuary.  If it wasn't apparent 8 years ago, it's crystal clear today that the aquarium could be a center of outreach and education on Guam.  They are already partnering up with NOAA, the Schmidt Ocean Institute, and the private sector on Guam to livestream all research expeditions taking place in the Marianas Trench.  They are a few exhibits and a couple of lessons plans short of being the first ever Marianas Trench visitors center.  And the things they are putting together using private money can easily be replicated on Rota, and eventually Saipan and Tinian.

Speaker BJ Cruz and the boys
On our last day on Guam we spoke to the robotics class at John F. Kennedy High School and some of the graduate students at the University of Guam Marine Lab.  The robotics class was a very different type of presentation.  We didn't talk biology at all, but instead let Andrew take out the robot and unscrew some of the parts to show the students how it worked.

John F. Kennedy High School
And our very last presentation was at the University of Guam.  Both Andrew and Rick retooled their talks from general audience to science audience, and we had a fascinating chat with the students and others who came -- including one super awesome high school kid and a park ranger.  Rick got to talk about microbes and sharks, which made him very happy.  And Andrew got to explain how deep sea vents are actually still dependent on the sun and how.  Yes, nerding out.

University of Guam Marine Lab
We also had a great discussion about making science accessible to general audiences, with general agreement that Rick and Andrew were pretty darn entertaining in addition to being informative.  The conversation probably could have continued into how to translate science to policy makers to support conservation, but hey, there are only so many hours in the day, plus everyone wanted their chance to drive Trusty.

And those are just some of the highlights.  Andrew blogged every day of the trip on Ocean Explorer, and may write on Southern Fried Science.  Rick may also blog on Deep Sea News.

I suspect this will not be Rick or Andrew's last trip to the Marianas.  We're looking into some funding opportunities for bringing them back out to conduct a workshop on building miniROVs, and have a couple of strong leads.  If you want to donate to their trip, send the money to me via Paypal!