Thursday, May 31, 2007

Turtle Conservation Public Forum

A new conservation effort is being spearheaded by a number of different agencies and concerned citizens, all with the same goal in mind. Save the Sea Turtles! In an effort to get everyone’s thoughts a public forum will be held at Aqua Resort on Friday June 1 at 5:30 PM.
Why do we need to protect the turtles? This was the exact question asked by Sylvan (Top dog at Fish & Wild Life) during one of the first meetings for this group. On the surface it may seem a ridiculous question since sea turtles are an endangered species (that means they could soon be gone forever)! If we don't do something to ensure their numbers recover we will only be able to look at video or photographs of these amazing animals. As I said on the surface it's a ridiculous question but the fact remains that saving Turtles means something different to everyone. For myself a dive with a turtle automatically becomes a good dive (usually a great dive). I love to watch these guys. Approached slowly they will let you get close b/c they know in a split second they can accelerate to speeds no diver can match! On the other hand many folks like to eat them. We live on an island in the Pacific; this should come as no surprise to anyone. I've never tried it but I know that at one time turtles provided an abundant and practical food source to islanders and that turtles have always played an important role in the culture of the island nations. In an ideal world our waters would be filled with these guys to the point that to some degree they could be harvested for sustenance and divers could be guaranteed to see not one but multiple turtles on any given dive. On an economic level the importance of the Turtle cannot be underestimated. If, as a tourist destination, we had a reputation for being turtle friendly while still promoting the related indigenous culture we would be a "one of a kind" destination and many more people would make plans to come here. Don't believe me check out the island of Sipidan - not Saipan. (I'll post a Sipidan vs Saipan story soon). Seven years ago you could plan a dive trip to Sipidan for less than $50 per day all meals, accommodation and diving included. Since the word got out that among other things you WILL see 10 to 20 turtles on any given dive packages have gone the way of every highly sought after location. $130/day just for the diving and the accommodation has followed with a similar rise in rates! It CAN be done and no matter why you think turtles should be saved as long as you think they should be saved come out to the Forum on Friday at Aqua Resort and lets join together to meet the Challenge. Until then enjoy a little thing I'm going to call "Cutting Room Floor" Today's clips are of course of a turtle!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Creature ID WIn a Free DVD

Last year at about this time a section of Lau Lau Bay dive site was littered with small white cocoon looking structures. At a depth of about 45 feet and covering an area no more than 50 sq yards, hundreds of these tiny silk like sacs seemed to give birth to the creature seen here. Can you identify it? The first person to leave a comment correctly identifying this creature (common and scientific name) will win one FREE copy of The Underwater World of Saipan DVD

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cruel Death

I dive Lau Lau Bay a lot. It’s a short drive from my house, almost always calm and has extremely easy access which is a plus when carrying a housing and a full set of lights. It also constantly amazes me with things like turtles and octopi, two turtles and one octopus just today. It almost always delivers something new either in “holy crap I’ve never seen that before” or more commonly “I’ve never seen that HERE before”! Today was one of those days. I saw the first Mantis Shrimp I’ve seen on Saipan. Mantis Shrimp (Odontodactylus scyllaris) I’ve seen them in Indonesia but not here. These guys are cool with funky eyes and a serious attitude. They have been known to charge out from a spot of protection and ram a divers camera hard enough to crack the glass of the housing! The one I saw today was pretty small and out scurrying on the sand until he realized I had spotted him. It was the end of the dive – that always happens at Lau Lau too. Something really cool at the end of a dive with little air or battery power! Battery power was the issue today so the footage is not the greatest. I’m going to dig up the stuff from Indonesia!
Before we get to what amazed me on the dive I’m going to lash out at the idiot who decided to play God and in doing so sealed an absolutely miserable fate for a creature not well understood. No matter which side of the fence you stand on the Crown of Thorns (Acanthaster planci) controversy, I think everyone will agree this would be a horrible way to die for anyone or anything. More info.

To who ever did this - how about we go for a dive – ever had the chance of playing war games with another diver underwater? I’d love an opportunity to pay you back on behalf of marine life everywhere. If you’re an instructor and students witnessed this act your license should be pulled. Where, in any of the teachings of diving, does it suggest we kill the things we see rather than observe them without disruption?

Ok rant is over. Here’s the good stuff! Just a quick sample, it’s why every dive at Lau Lau is a good dive!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Christmas Tree Worms

Spirobranchus giganteus - These guys are not, as their scientific name suggests, large. In fact big ones are only about the size of your thumb. Filter feeders of plankton Christmas Tree Worms are easily found anchored to corals and exist in tropical waters everywhere. Want to impress a friend while diving, approach them slowly and snap your fingers a few inches away from their plumes and see what happens. No need to touch - they sense the vibration and retract quickly! These ones are from Lau Lau Bay, Saipan Marine

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ships & Trash

Took M out to watch the navy ship come in! Too bad all she wanted to do was play with the garbage! Could have been a pretty spot to hang out minus the tires and trash! When are people on Saipan going to wake up and stop littering and dumping! Beautify CNMI is a great cause but think what could be accomplished if we harnessed all that energy and initiative into a mass promotion of the islands instead of cleaning up after those who are killing their own future one piece of trash at a time! Of course we can't do that if the island looks like a garbage dump. Just a thought.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Here's a link to the tribune story about DEQ and Joeten teaming up to reduce plastic bags on the island. Lets help support this important program. DEQ & Joeten Cloth Bags

Thursday, May 10, 2007

It's not just the bag!

This morning I spoke to a group of grade 4 and 5 students at Saipan Community School. The topic was our local marine environment with a focus on relationships between the characters that make up the reef system and on some of the things that threaten this fragile ecosystem. At one point the discussion turned to the hazards of plastic bags. I would say the majority of the class grasped the fact that turtles are especially prone to this hazard because bags look remarkably similar to jelly fish - a favorite menu item for many a turtle!

I wish I had read the following letter before I went to the class today, seems the problem goes far deeper then the plastic bag. I must admit that before reading this article I knew plastic was bad but I had not thought of it as being so instantly deadly. I mean, imagine choking to death on a piece of plastic that you thought was just another dorito!

Hi Nicole,
There are several plastic bags available in Australia, which purport to be ‘degradable.’ One manufacturer states that their bags break down to ‘bio-mass.’ When I questioned the company on this statement, they declined to reply.
Even if these bags degraded in their predicted ‘20 days’ I consider it too long a period. We recently released 4 sea turtles after months of rehabilitation. Three beach-washed again, less than three weeks later, with two eventually dying. The post mortem (PM) examinations suggested that these turtles swallowed plastic pieces, likely within hours of release.
I agree with you, entirely, that responsible attitudes need to prevail, rather than the philosophy of “Here’s a bag which is okay to throw away.”
However, I believe that to link plastic bags with turtle mortality, is too narrow a focus, and tends to detract from other forms of plastic which are equally, and in some cases, far more damaging than plastic bags.
Of many PM examinations we have conducted, we, on the East Coast of Australia, are finding that small pieces of hard plastics are far more common in the stomachs and intestines of seaturtles, than pieces of plastic which may be parts of plastic bags.
In one turtle, for instance, we found 76 pieces of plastic, all were hard pieces likely from plastic containers, buckets, plastic bottles and the like. Another has, so far passed 107 pieces of plastic with only a few pieces being attributable to a plastic bag; one piece is part of a clothes peg.
Check the shelves in your local department store. The volume of plastic packaging and containers far outweighs plastic bags. How, then, can we address this issue? Biodegradibility is really not a feasible option.
Education and responsible attitudes need to emerge.
We are happy to provide the Post Mortem reports (with associated images) to anyone who would like them.
Lance Ferris
Australian Seabird Rescue Inc.
(Seaturtle Rescue/Rehab Division) Wildlife Sanctuary
264 North Creek Road, Ballina. NSW Australia

Here's a direct link to the story at and another related one about a "Bring Your Own Bag" program. I believe it's this week that DEQ and Joeten launch a similar type idea here on Saipan. We could use a serious reduction in plastic!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Turtle Cam

This is a moment I captured on a recent dive trip to Tinian. This little guy was at a site called Fleming Point and was quite content to let me get close. These guys can stay submerged for as long as two hours if at ease and not harassed.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Tinian Fiesta

This past weekend I hitched a ride on the safety boat as members of the Saipan Outrigger Canoe Club (SOCC) and a team from Guam paddled their way across the channel to Tinian in time for the great Fiesta feast.

An early morning start.

Calm waters and beautiful scenery.

About 4 hours start to finish for the team from Guam.

The Fiesta is a 4 day celebration of the islands patron saint. Saturday included a parade, crowning of the king and queen, and a huge feast (free to all) as well as a full line up of entertainment.

I met all the cooks and got to taste their works before anyone else!

Above is the line up for the feast! Below is the award winning Tinian Cultural Dancers!

Thankfully I was able to pitch my hammock in the dark and awoke to this view. Not a bad place to start the next day!