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!

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