Sunday, July 29, 2007

Turtle Scratch

So while Harry was out combing the Grotto for nudibranchs I decided to see what Lau Lau Bay had in store. As he discovered this weekend the Halgerda guahan and Halgerda malesso were at it again in the Grotto. I had seen one a week or so ago at Lau Lau Bay and it looked pretty calm despite the overcast skies. It was a tough decision but….

Long story short if you want to see photos of nudibranchs you'll need to visit Harry's site. Despite keeping an eye out for the mating nudies I spent most of my dive filming the cleaner shrimp and Lizardfish at the anemone on the pipe.

At about 50 feet deep this anemone is often a very busy cleaning station for Goatfish and Lizardfish among others. This particular day it was a Lizardfish and he didn’t care I existed for the entire time I was there. The only flinch he made was when one of the cleaner shrimp dug in a little too far. I had come to get some shots of this action so when my light batteries gave out I was feeling pretty good about the results and began heading back to the cut along the pipe.

Looking hard for any sign of those little white nudibranchs inching their way to sexual bliss I passed low over the sand and coral heads thinking - "well that was good but so far nothing that makes this dive stand out as a once in a lifetime birthday dive". With my head down and eyes on the lookout for little things I wasn't using much in the way of wide-angle peripheral vision when I damn near ran into him……

Trust me when I say he didn't have a care in the world about me either. At first he was determined to take care of a very difficult to reach itch and then it was on to having some chow. Despite being down to little battery power I was able to film him up close and personal, complete with a full ascent to the surface for air and a return decent for more food.

This video is only but a taste!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Grotto Memorial

To continue with a train of thought from an earlier post......

I’d been discussing the "2007" rock formation I witnessed on the sand flats about 40 feet below the surface while swimming at Obyan the other day. It got me thinking about the “diver code of ethics”, where we draw the line, mother nature’s destruction versus regeneration and the opportunities for free publicity all at the same time.

I imagined a group of divers (all making the peace sign) hovering over the formation while another with a camera snapped away. It got me thinking about the many dive sites around the world marked with a man made touch. Wreck dives often have small metal plates affixed to their hulls complete with descriptions of the vessel, the date of sinking and other notable facts. Other sites pay tribute to those who’ve lost their lives while diving with monuments or head stone like structures. In some small way these memorials and inscriptions help provide families the closure needed for often unexplainable, horribly tragic events. They also help serve as reminders, to those who pass, of the vulnerability we all face when entering this often-unforgiving world.

A diver examines one in a series of plaques marking wreck dives in Florida

A newly erected monument in Puckett pays tribute to those who perished during the Tsunami.

One thing I've noticed over my years of diving is anytime a diver with a camera comes across such a landmark their shutter button is put into action almost immediately. Unlike marine life, a man made structure of this type is unique only to the spot on which it rests. Snap, snap, snap – the photographer captures a unique, perhaps once in a live time moment at a very specific place underwater.

This got me thinking about the Grotto. First, just how many times a simple underwater plaque situated at the base of the mooring line might be photographed during a safety stop. Of course I had just come off a dive with Harry where I witnessed him take over 400 shots of a nudibranch at 20 feet on the rock anchoring the line. But seriously on a slow day it’s estimated a minimum of 150 divers do a giant stride off the big rock. On a busy day it can be upwards of four to five hundred (this according to the stats kept by the security guards). Now days it is almost becoming unusual to see a group of divers enter the water without at least one having a digital camera attached. Now imagine if nearly all of those divers exited the water with a photograph of themselves beside a plaque that read - The Grotto, Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, (complete with GPS coordinates). Now that’s effective free publicity and word of mouth advertising at it’s best.

It also got me thinking about the Grotto in terms of those who’ve lost their lives. I do not know exactly how many have met their fate here but at present no monument of any kind, above or below the water, exists to pay respect to these individuals and their families. It seems to me it would be money well spent, especially if those passing by the inscriptions paused to consider and respect the power of Mother Nature and the need to follow safe diving practices especially in a place like the Grotto.

Check out this story

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Service resumes - Do the right thing PTI

Does this look familiar!

June 15th 2007
Dear Customer,

"Pacific Telecom Inc (PTI) would like to inform our customers of upcoming maintenance and upgrade to our undersea fiber optic cable from June 15 – June 24, 2007. During the upgrade, PTI customers may experience longer download times with Internet and DSL.

PTI does not anticipate loss of service at any time during the upgrade, only a reduction in Internet and DSL service speeds. Upon upgrade completion, customers will notice improved Internet and DSL speeds as our fiber optic cable will be operating with increased capacity".

Yada Yada Yada more of the letter from PTI in a second but I thought this might be a good time to jump forward to the present – the eve before our increased speeds (as reported by the Saipan Tribune). I'm so excited!

Now I’m not here to complain about the insanely slow speeds

or about this service upgrade taking 30 days longer to complete than first expected (that’s if all goes well tonight). From time to time, during the course of normal repairs, things beyond our control happen and whenever you’re dealing with the open ocean you need to expect mother nature will throw a wrench or two into the best of plans. I’ll even forgive the complete loss of service on June 27th – Again stuff happens - although it would have been much easier to stomach if they hadn’t told me about their super duper DUPER back up system.

“As part of the preparation for this upgrade, a state of the art microwave system was installed. It will handle all telecommunications traffic during the upgrade and offer complete redundancy for all telecommunications systems upon completion”.

Again I’m not here to complain (yet) but rather I would like to suggest a form of compensation for the valued customer. How exactly will those of us who are not currently receiving the top level plan (Turbocharged) expect to see increased DSL speeds. I mean, with the tiered systems of plans currently available, all that stood in the way of faster service before the upgrade was the amount of cash changing hands and the turn of a dial. Now with the increased capacity will everyone see an increase? Supercharged becomes Turbocharged, Lite’s become Nitro’s - at no additional cost? If so wouldn’t it be a really good PR move to turn up everyone’s dial to the maximum level for a period of say 90 days or so. Presumably all that prevents such a thank you would be the turn of said dial at no additional expense to the company.

Some may argue that this disruption of service is the price we “have to pay” for living in such a remote part of the world and that we should just be thankful we have service at all. To those I would say I couldn’t agree more and that I am thankful to PTI for providing a service that only 15 years ago was unthinkable but at the same time I would also suggest it is customers like us paying 2 to 3 times more for comparable service (mainland North America or Asian rates) that keeps PTI in business in the first place. All I’m suggesting is that they give the very people who allow them to operate a little token of appreciation for our understanding by opening up the pipe and letting the bytes zip on by!

Who knows, when the thank you ends some may be so hooked on the fastest speed they’ll open up their pocket book and pay the ridiculously high rate to stay at the top.

So PTI, if you really mean what you say….

"PTI would like to thank its customers, businesses, and other telecommunication carriers for their patience and understanding during this project. PTI would again like to apologize for any inconvenience this has caused".

You’ll do the right thing and kick it up a notch!

Monday, July 23, 2007

What a difference a day makes!

After reviewing my footage of the nudibranchs from Saturday and reading that Harry, Bev and Greg had gotten another day of diving in with these little fellas I decided to head back to the Grotto today. Not that my footage was bad it was just not what I would call National Geographic caliber. Soooooo I crossed my fingers and hoped I'd find one or two late bloomers still trying to get a little action. Could this matting thing be more like a week long get together at the Playboy mansion - after all they probably only get it once a year or less!

During the whole time I was there no one else was diving. A few tourists checked out the top view but none made the decent. Being the only one on the rock it's days like this when the true beauty of the Grotto comes through. Even the water was quiet and still. No monorail running up and down, nothing just plain and simple tranquility. I could have sat there on the rock, taking it all in, but just the walk down had left me sweating and in need of the cool rush that follows the initial leap. (Insert big splash here)

Ahhhhh that's better and weightless too!

Ok you reproducing creepy crawlies here I come.....

Nada, nothing more, not a single one and believe me I covered nearly every inch of the cavern, slowly and surely. I started where they had been the few days before. Nothing! Sure – Larry, Curly and Mo (the white tips) were there but I told myself, no matter how tempting they made it, I was not going to spend precious time and air on them today. I wanted the little white fellas.

I kept searching back and forth but to no avail. What was it about the last few days? Did I just pick the wrong hour to be there today? Was 12 noon the equivalent of a Mexican siesta for these exhausted nudies? I don't know but what a difference a day makes. How do these guys know when to get together, how to find one another and why of all whys did they choose the mooring line of the busiest dive spot on Saipan to do their dirty work!

Answers that may come in time, (or not) but it's safe to say that, in our own small way, those of us diving and recording the events at the Grotto this weekend can say we've played a small role in helping unravel the mystery. Who knows maybe in a few years this event will become a given and attract world-renowned photographers from all over the world! Now that would be marketing based on our single most impressive resource - Nature.

Alas I gave in to the three stooges. It just seemed that the closer I got the more comfortable they became. Maybe they were just lonely. In between little rests it looked like they were practicing take off's and landings. I certainly enjoyed capturing some National Geographic quality footage of them and I hope they appreciated the company cause it sure seemed like a pretty lonely day down there all round.

Nudibranch sex, Sharks, Octopi.......

A Stranded Russian damsel, frisky nudibranchs, munching turtles, sleeping sharks, curious octopi. Saturdays dive had it all including a sexy blogger named Harry. If you have not already done so you need to check out Harry’s thoughts on our day of diving.

Perfect conditions and an early morning start. The water in the Grotto does not get much calmer than it was on this day. What’s the plan? First hole, go right, look for turtles and eels! Ok sounds good…… Hey wait a second I didn’t see any eels Harry!

First check off the turtle, then the hovering barracuda (with two 4 inch cleaner wrasse doing their job), then the leaf scorpionfish, followed by a curious but cautious octopus…. and that was just the first half of the dive! By the time we had moved back into the cave it had already been one of the more interesting ones I’ve had at the Grotto – ever.

Once back in the darkness it got that much better. Moving in through hole two and up towards the mooring line we turned on our lights and began looking for anything that might help kill some time on the safety stop. Almost immediately I saw one, I knew what kind it was and I knew it was special because Harry and I had talked about it. This was the one that helped him get published. I had seen one a few days before at Lau Lau bay and had tried to describe it before our dive. When I saw it I got his attention as soon as possible – and so it began!

Two Halgerda guahan getting close!
Halgerda malesso
Halgerda guahan

If these guys were looking for a little privacy during their courtship then they had come to the wrong place. I’m not sure how many photos were taken of these little guys but Jenna Jamison probably would get a run for her money as titleholder for most photographed sex scene.

Lack of battery power and air left me little time with the stars of the show on the first dive. Fortunately I didn’t find any resistance for a second from Harry, who, only moments after arriving at the top of the stairs, declared this was probably his best dive of the year!

New batteries, new tank, new mission another dive buddy. If it’s true there are very few photos of these nudibranchs then I have to guess there is also very little video as well. I entered the water and after a brief encounter with another octopi I had no problem finding the small, slow moving, well camouflaged critters of choice. I just had to move towards the flash, and the flash and the flash. Greg and Harry were already snapping away. They had found an area with 5 or 6 Halgerda guahan so once they had moved on in search of additional subjects I settled in with the video camera. For the most part nudibranchs don’t make for the most exciting video so it didn’t take long before I was looking around thinking - Ok, what other angle can I get, are there others around here that might make a better subject. Then I spotted them for the first time. They had probably been hovering around for a while but I didn’t notice till I took my eyes off the little nudies. What else could we add to the list for today……..

How about SHARKS!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Obyan Swim

When I don't have time for a dive but need to get in the water I'll often head down to Obyan beach for a swim.

I like to go out the second cut then right (west) along the reef line to the dive buoy. If you go out a little ways the bottom sand flats are about 40 feet deep and form the outline for the coral fingers extending into deeper water. Looking down you can see the bottom clearly and lots of different characters doing their thing around the coral heads and on the white fluffy sand.

I hate to free dive. I'm not very good at it. I've just always liked the feeling of being able to freely breath off of my regulator at anytime. But I always do at least a few descents just to check out how the visibility looks from below. It can be deceiving looking down at times. Getting to about 30 feet or so and looking horizontally it can look very different in terms of clarity.

I digress from the point I was going to make, it's just nice to put myself back in the head space I was in when I noticed an interesting pile of rocks on the bottom. More likely big chunks of long dead coral, which has, over the years become rounded to look more like small boulders. As I got closer I realized that someone had taken the time to move 20 or 30 of these "rocks" to form the numbers - 2007. The area surrounding the message was clear of any large stones making the scene resemble a message atop a big round birthday cake. Other rocks lay scattered outside the perimeter of the cleared area and were spared any man made movement. As I approached I couldn't help but think of another Diver Code of Ethics post.

I imagine someone, or more likely a group of divers, had taken the time to add a small date stamp to their underwater photos. Likely these divers were tourists and wanted something to show friends and family back home and should their memories ever begin to fail them they will always know what year they dove Saipan. This is not unusual practice for tourists. I've worked in many dive resorts around the world and consistently you will have one group or another show up for a week of diving with a banner or set of T-shirts that everyone affiliated with the group wants their picture taken with underwater. It makes for a great souvenir and even some publicity for the group when they return home. A picture in the local paper, a story about where they were and how Billy Bob got so drunk one night he had to miss the best dive ever......

But as I said that code of ethics thing came into my mind. The whole "where do you draw the line" argument. I'm sure the movement of these rocks disrupted a few lively hoods on the sandy bottom. The Red-banded Shrimpgobys and their blind Alpheid shrimp workers like to use these types of rocks to build their homes and Bluesteak gobies often burrow their own condos with these rocks providing at least one side for protection. So how many homes were disturbed by the making of the sign? How many from the divers fins when they all settled on the bottom for the picture? The answer - probably some but probably far less than those who had to do repairs or find new homes altogether after the recent storm (Man-yi) passed. Fact is Mother Nature often deals the reef much more of a blow than divers do. As with wild fires some destruction from time to time is necessary for new colonies to take route etc. But in this case the message (and possible destruction) was man made!

But then I thought so is this.....

Where do you draw the line? More to this train of thought but that's all the time I have for now. I must set up the camera for tomorrows dive! Stay tuned.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Triton Update

An Update on the Triton Trumpet story. Bree has now removed her original post (as did Harry) comments and all so the links in the story below make no sense. Fortunately the information about the ecology of the Triton and hermit crab relationship has been posted on the BCNMI website. This time I’ve bookmarked the references just in case someone decides to pull that post too! And just for clarification (for anyone jumping into this part way through - Bruce) the post on BCNMI is quite different than the original so if you're reading it wondering why Harry was upset - well, it won't make sense. It does bring up a blogger ethical question as Angelo suggested in a comment to Harry when this all started.

(Note, in no way shape or form has Angelo given me permission to use his comment here)

"Harry, your blog is one of the best on the island. It would be a shame if you stopped posting your pictures and stories of diving.
Your so called controversial post got a lot of people talking about blogging ethics, diving, and so on.
I think those are good conversations to have.
I wouldn't delete that post; Leave it up. Write about your reactions to that post.
That makes for a good read.
On a side note, although you claim that you no longer want to blog, a few of us noticed that you've still managed to write four posts today.
Keep up the good work."

Ultimately having the conversation about this (diver & blogger ethics) will help educate a lot of people and if the only thing that comes of it is a proper road and drainage system for Lau Lau bay then.... - What?

That's right, somewhere in all the comments someone (I can't remember were I saw it) said a couple of crabs loosing their homes has far less impact than the raging river of water I walked through coming up the beach from a dive a few days ago. Educating more folks about the underwater world and the ramifications of our actions on land is always a good thing even if it's little steps at a time!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

A little controversy in the underwater world here on Saipan.

Well I can’t very well call this the Saipan Scuba diving blog without weighing in on the Tritan Trumpets shell controversy. Problem is I’m one of those people that take forever to write even a simple email. A full post covering all the issues this topic generates would take me days to write. A logical question would be why am I entering the blogging world in the first place if writing takes so long. Good question! My intention has been to tell the story with images. To this point I have fallen short of offering regular Underwater video segments but that will soon change as I’ve finally determined the work flow I intend to use for importing and cataloging over 25 hours of underwater footage. No easy task and this does not include destinations outside the CNMI. So soon my entry into the blogging world may become a little more regular and a little more fun.

I’m off track already! For those not following the Tritan Trumpets shell controversy a short recap and links to the blogs involved is in order. Basically Harry, an avid longtime diver, shell collector and recent newcomer to the world of Underwater photography posted an entry and photos describing how he found and evicted two hermit crabs from their residences (the Tritan Trumpet) during a night dive at Lau Lau Bay. In response Bree, whom I do not know personally, but from all accounts is a shining light when it comes to educating the students here, used Harry’s pictures to post an objection to his actions and to provide well-researched rationale as to why such action may be looked upon as unfavorable or even as detrimental to the critters involved.

From there, well you’ll need to read the comments and the follow-up posts but for me this becomes an issue of respect. Respect not only for the marine environment but also respect for each other and respect for the limitations and power of the blogging world.

First, when I read Harry’s original post (now removed) I was fuming! I even asked my wife - what am I going to do - I love Harry’s blog, his posts are fascinating and he brings the diving world to people in a way I can only dream of. But, on the other hand, I have been a dive instructor for over 12 years and have always stood up for the creatures that can’t do it for themselves. At times, nearly losing my job. As an instructor, you learn very quickly that actions speak so much more loudly than words and that your actions can influence a life of diving, not just a single experience. In her wisdom my wife suggested I talk to Harry the next day so I could go to bed rather than stay up till 3AM agonizing over writing a post! A good idea - I agreed.

The next day I was both happy and concerned. Happy because someone had thoroughly researched the ecology and relationships between these critters and this information would help illustrate many of the things I hoped to discuss with Harry. Concerned because, for reasons Harry has expressed, he was unsure if he would continue to blog. The thought of not being able to read his stories, well, I didn’t want that to happen. I love his blog!

At this point I patted myself on the back for marrying such a smart gal and decided to call Harry and hopefully go for a beer. It was just after I released the Underwater World of Saipan DVD in October that I realized Harry was such a big diver. Since then we have had brief conversations at various meetings, they always turn to diving usually with each of us suggesting we go for a dive but to this point it hasn’t happened. This beer was long over due!

Nearly two and a half hours later, we had touched upon almost every aspect of life here on Saipan and even some diving too! I will preface any summarization of our conversation with suggesting that it is well worth the price of a glass of wine (Harry's choice, mine's a FAMB)to hear this self-confessed diving dinosaur recount a dive tale or two first hand! Talking about diving for me (and as I have learned for Harry) is the exact opposite to my difficulty and dislike for writing so I could go on and on…..

But as I said this for me this is about respect.

First, as an educator, one of the most important things to assess is where the student lies in their understanding of the concepts or principles about to be taught and that no one ever likes to be wrong or publicly humiliated. Doing so prevents any concept from ever being accepted.
Second, as a result of their life experiences and beliefs, what may seem obvious to one person may not be so obvious to another and that beliefs can only be changed through education and the resulting paradigm shift.

Very early into our conversation it became clear to me that Harry had missed out on the “environmental code of ethics” making its way into diver education courses over the past decade. (This is not limited to PADI) Dive programs continue to evolve today, the debate as to how much training and what type of training is required to safely dive has been ongoing for years. The fact is when Harry learned to dive, requirements needed to pass the course and the attitude towards the environment in general was very different than it is today. Many years ago you had to, among other things, jump into the deep end of a pool with no gear on, dive down to the bottom and don a set of equipment (in no way shape or form resembling today’s stuff) then ascend safely to the surface before passing the course. Project AWARE, PADI’s arm of the reef protection movement, didn’t exist and nearly all divers were male! A lot has changed.

Couple that with Harry’s obsession for shells (which he admits is now taking a back seat to the photographs) and you can begin to see why his actions on the night dive did not seem like a big deal to him. I’m not making excuses, I’m just determining the facts. It also became clear to me that he had reviewed the references in Bree’s post and that this information alone had already given him cause to think about how people interact with marine life and given the opportunity to take another Tritan in the same manner, he would likely pass.

So what is the diving code of ethics! Different things for different folks but….
Generally, passive participation in the marine world is the diving method of choice. Being unobtrusive, sitting back and watching the action not only prevents any harm to the animal but to the human as well and offers the best opportunity for an extended observation of the organism in its natural state. This is not to say that some animals cannot be touched or handled in a responsible, non-harmful way but such encounters are grounded in the diver’s knowledge of which species can tolerate such contact. Without knowledge the negative affects of such encounters are often not manifested until well after the encounter has occurred.(1) In other words, if you don’t know what it is or how your interaction will ultimately affect the species, don’t touch it! If you’re not sure of a reproductive cycle, a habitat requirement or anything else about it, observe and move on.
Again, respect, we are in their world. Imagine this big creature coming into your living room and rubbing you up and down with large rough cloth or taking you out of your home all together. Most people (other than Angelo) probably would not take to kindly to it but in fact this is exactly what every diver who wears gloves for protection is doing when they touch something underwater. Gloves remove protective mucus from coral and other organisms leaving them prone to disease and death. It seems to me nearly every dive shop on this island issues their divers wet suits and gloves. The water is 86 degrees. One of the reasons I live here is that I can dive and my hands never get cold. In fact, I’ve worn a wet suit twice in nearly 5 years. So why do people need gloves and a wet suit – for protection. Not to protect the coral or marine life but to compensate for bad instruction and inappropriate interactions with the reef. If every instructor said No to gloves, students would learn very quickly that touching things is not a good idea. Put gloves on them and do the same yourself and they will never know, propagating the negative effects of gloves multiple times over for years to come. Set a good example and see the opposite result, the formation of an environmental champion in a diver with good buoyancy.

For me this was the issue I had with Harry’s post. Not so much that he evicted the crabs but because with his blog and his status in the community as a radio personality and a diving nut (I mean that in a good way) he has the ability to influence divers especially new ones. Although I have seen people do things underwater far worse than what these crabs experienced, I didn’t want anyone thinking that this type of interaction was ok because it’s just too easy to propagate the attitude and often very difficult to change it. Divers offer a unique perspective to the cause of environmentalism and often are at the forefront of conservation because they are taught (hopefully) that the ecosystem is not well understood and that our actions, whether diving or not, do have a profound effect on its health. It’s my hope that Harry will help with that cause because if divers don’t do it, no one will and I know a lot of divers are reading Harry’s world. By the way, did anyone notice that after an entire weekend of fishing the recently completed Saipan derby netted only 3 Marlin! Why? The reasons are likely much more complex than anyone really knows but what if a few hundred divers touching the reef with gloves and a few years of shell collecting did alter the food chain in some way. I realize it’s far-fetched but my point is we just don’t know so we should limit the things we can control and be passive, gloveless divers!

Respect the blog, its power and limitations.
How far reaching will this story go, how many people will relate to it or alter their behaviors one way or another? The Saipan blogger and walt his partner in crime I’m sure would argue that the potential, if it is not already happening, is huge. The problem is they (posts) will never (one should never say never) replace a good ol’ one on one chat. Come to think of it the telephone never really replaced that either. They (2) say communication consists of 7% words, 38% tone and 55% body language. I think we should build Harry’s new bar and put more body into our Saipan Blogging network!

1 PADI Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving
2 My sister-in-law Sue.

PS. I just read Brads post! Well done that’s a good chuckle!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

More Flame Trees

No luck winning the KSPN Flame Tree Photo contest. These are the pics I submitted. The third one made the top 10 finalists! Does any one know what the nice prize turned out to be?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Another Saipan Diver blog!

Anyone who drops by this site from time to time should definitely check out Greg Moretti's new blog. Only a few post into it and he's got me hooked. A recent post includes a video he took of the corals spawning last Friday. I'm glad he got to see it but really pissed I thought the July full moon meant the JULY full moon! His entry explains why I should have thought differently - next year? Or can it happen again in August?
Another Diver blog you need to check out is Harry’s blog. He's already shown how the great big ocean has a lot to be discovered and how the internet can put you in touch with some pretty good company! Oh and Harry writes every day too!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flame Trees

I have a bit of catching up to do!
The last couple of weeks have been busy with capturing flame trees in bloom and diving, diving, diving! The last few days of rain and wind have been a nice break from being out in the hot sun and it's also given me a chance to review some footage. The bad news is flame tree season will be that much closer to being over after this storm passes. Before it hit I spent a few days on Tinian where, among other things, I found more opportunities for flame tree shots without power lines!

A few people like Harry and Ruth have already written about the amazing spectacle that is flame tree season here in the CNMI and I second their thoughts. That way I can just get to posting some pictures! These ones from Saipan.

NWA not making it any easier!

On July 4, 2007 the following letter was sent from Northwest Airlines to all Saipan tour companies

Effective today, all passengers with diving bags will be charged $28.00 per dive bag and will be able to carry up to 70lbs per diving bag.

Diving bags are now not apart of the free baggage allowance. Baggage allowance is two bags under 50 lbs for economy class passengers and 70 lbs for business class passenger. Any passenger who is traveling in economy class or business class will have to pay $28.00 per diving bag.

Diving bags are now considered the same as bicycles.

Thank you for your understanding and I hope we can work together to better help the customer of our airlines.

Karl T. Reyes, II
Saipan Station Supervisor.

My internet search is not complete since PTI's service has been on and off like a yo yo all day. That's a whole other post - wasn't their upgrade to take only a week - like a month ago!

Back to the issue at hand. At one point today I was able to access the NWA website luggage page which clearly states that SCUBA equipment is considered part of the free allowance as long as it does not contain an empty TANK. Now in the case of showing up at the ticket counter with a tank on your shoulder I think you should expect to pay a fee! Call it a stupidity tax if you like. On the other hand, paying a fee because your bag looks different than another doesn't make sense. Remember weight restrictions are the same if it's a dive bag or not. Throw in golf bags, which look different than most luggage bags, including dive bags, but are not subjected to additional fees and the situation gets inconsistent to say the least.
Confusing the issue further is NWA's international web page. Here at least they say SCUBA equipment MAY be exempt from the free baggage allowance on intra-Asia flights (which includes Japan to Saipan). Unfortunately they do not tell us how much we MAY pay if it is deemed we must pay. Perhaps the letter from Mr. Reyes was meant to clarify it is no longer a MAY pay, but rather a Must pay situation. Twenty-eight big ones, no if ands or buts. On the bright side at least now we know we either "have to pay" or figure out a way to get that BCD into a golf bag.

Of course the issue is less confusing if you look at the economics. Recently emerging from chapter 11 protection NWA must be looking for every possible way to squeeze a little more out of it's customers. If it can be done quietly then even better for them. If it can be done to a group that consistently shows high demand for the product then maybe everyone will just pay and no one will notice!

Let's take note of just how much revenue we're talking about. Let's take a look at the numbers which, I will be the first to admit, are approximate. Based on arrival statistics collected by MVA, divers have historically accounted for about 20% of the total travelers from Japan. Fiscal year 2005 / 2006 saw 280,000 visitors from Japan. That's approximately 56,000 divers. Now not all will bring their own gear but even if we say 50% do, that's 28,000 folks paying an extra $28.00 for a total of 784,000 big ones. Knock it down to a quarter of the divers bring gear and it's still nearly 400,000 bucks a year. I may be off on the number of divers who travel from Japan with their gear, after all the average stay is only a few nights so many more may rent but I've only included the fee ONE way! Any way you slice it, it's a pretty big chunk of cash. Cash that ultimately does not make it to local businesses and the government tax base - ie. jobs.

Not to mention that in a time when margins are already cut very thin for everyone including dive operators this is just another obstacle to attracting one of the most lucrative market groups to our islands. Should we really stand by and let this just happen? Sit back and say; well it's not THAT much! I don't think so. And just in case you were thinking it's just the tourists from Japan then think about the next time you need to use Japan as a gateway for a dive trip or perhaps the trickle down effect.

According to their web site Continental does not currently have a fee for dive equipment but often competitors copy ideas especially when they go unnoticed! Now is it hitting home? $56 extra for a trip to Palau or Yap or even Guam IF Continental followed suit.

I said my internet search was not yet complete. That's because as soon as I read the letter from Mr. Reyes I was sure I remembered a situation a few years back when another airline in the states began to charge for SCUBA gear and I believe PADI and other dive organizations like DEMA rallied together and it resulted in elimination of the fee. Unfortunately my google will have to wait till tomorrow. Anyone else remember such a situation?
I also remember seeing a list of air carriers with their charges and incentives (such as extra weight allowance) in a dive magazine recently. Again anyone else?

For now I plan to bring it up to our Chamber of Commerce President tomorrow at the monthly general meeting!