Monday, October 29, 2007

Endorphins & the Act of Giving

One thing I've started to do lately is take my little girl out to parks and places I like to go on the island. Many of these spots see tour buses role up while she says "Trolley Bus ding ding" and runs after any small child that may exit. She kind of stalks them, and can sometimes scare them by how ready she is to give them a hug. Most of the time the kids are tourists from Asia and the parents are more than happy to spend a few minutes watching the little ones interact. Sometimes though, she can be so infatuated that they get a little freaked out. It usually ends up with me trying to get Morgan to properly say hello (in the language of choice) and demonstrating a handshake or a bow with the parents. By that time she's happy to stare in amazement and clam up like, well, like a clam!

A while back my wife commented on an article she'd read in a parenting magazine about how to instill the concept of giving and feeling good about it into your children. I read the article; I thought it made sense not only for kids but for parents too. Not long after that we saw something on CNN where "they" (the scientists) have actually shown the level of endorphins (the natural brain chemicals that make you feel good) goes up when people engage in the act of giving. I haven't followed up to see what the study was but basically they said it was similar to the "runners high" you get with exercise without the pain!

That sounded good to me!

I started carrying around a DVD in the side pocket of the diaper bag a while back. Just in case the need should ever arise to show it to anyone or in fact give it away. Now after reading that article I’ve started letting Morgan do it. We've been giving one away every now and again, with no particular reason but, usually to those unsuspecting tourists who miss out on the sites they’ve come to see because they’ve taken the time to chat or they’ve had to protect their kid from the all too friendly white girl!

Last week we were at the lighthouse by smiling cove watching the boats come and go to Managaha. Sure enough a bus load of 6 emerged from their air-conditioned monster. We were sitting on the lighthouse having a snack when she saw him and quickly went into pursuit mode. Fifteen minutes later she had given (and taken away) the DVD to this young boy about 5 times. Each time she gave it to him the boy smiled and looked very excited. Every time she would take it away he looked a little nervous and it took a little effort to make her realize he was in fact going to keep it. When it was time for him to go she gave it to him one last time and said Bye Bye. Of course the send off came long after the bus had started rolling.

Now every once in a while when she finds a copy of the DVD in the house somewhere she picks it up and say's "here boy" with an outstretched arm and emphatic "open".

Perhaps it was the repetition. Perhaps the imprinting but perhaps too those endorphins are some of the same chemicals needed for memory retention!

A double bonus for giving! Feel good and improve your memory AND no pain!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Marianas Dive Obyan Clean Up

Last Sunday October 21st an even ten litter conscious and dive crazy types descended on the white sandy beach known as Obyan. I’m not sure how it gets its name but it’s pronounced Ob john. I’m not exactly sure how long it is either but it takes at least 15-20 minutes, at a decent pace, to walk it end to end. The backdrop of Tinian and the turquoise blue-green water that separates the two islands is always easy on the eyes. Palm trees provide shade and the odd falling coconut. No really, directly under the trunk of these trees is not a good place to set up your beach chair.

An 8:30 start; ok 8:45 for Morgan, Denise and I. Everyone else was there ready to go. I guess Angelo was right when he said it’s only Lau Lau Bay clean ups where everyone sets their watches back an hour- interesting! A few greetings all around and the crew went to work spanning out both ways from the parking lot. While the 20 month old didn’t cover much ground every little bit helps.

All in all, after an hour or more, we were back in the parking lot commenting on how clean the beach was- yet we still found enough garbage to take up considerable space in the back of Ron’s pick up.
The unanimous feeling from everyone was “what’s with the batteries”. I’ve noticed it whenever I’ve helped out with a clean up at Obyan and so have the others.
Mary, who’s foot is graciously modeling the loot, actually carries a separate bag just for batteries, not a bad idea for everyone to do at all the clean ups. We didn’t get a total battery count as that would have meant dumping out a few garbage bags with diapers in them. No thanks! Rest assured there were way too many of them (batteries and diapers) to call it an odd one or two or an accidental drop.

So we all agreed there is a problem here. A problem of education perhaps? To all of us it seemed pretty simple that batteries and the chemicals they hold just don’t mix well with the environment. Obviously others do not see it that way or just don’t care. We’re all hoping it’s the lack of knowledge because that is easily corrected. If it’s the latter then we’re in trouble.

So, if you happen to read this and know of anyone who discards batteries randomly into the environment let them know that it’s just not cool. The outer casings erode over time releasing the chemicals inside. It may not seem like a lot but given enough batteries over enough time and damage can be done to the shore as well as the marine life. If you need to change a battery, keep the old one and start a recycle box at home. Then, every now and again, take that to the transfer station and dispose of them properly!
Ok, enough with the environmental lesson. After working up a sweat most everyone except me headed out to cool off and look for more garbage underwater.
An hour or more latter they returned with bags half full and stories of another great dive.
Not much garbage….The water was calm and visibility good. We could easily go along the shallows….. There are lots of cool little caves in there….. Ah that was nice and relaxing….. Did you see that scorpion fish, their ugly and he wouldn’t move… I found more clothes….
And of course what dive would be complete without the tailgate chatter, which then lead to the invitation from Mark and Tammy to join them at their place for hot dogs and a swim!
How could anyone resist this face!
Thanks so much to everyone who helped out. Ken, Crystal, Ron, Mary, Tammy, Mark, Denise, Morgan, Susan and even me!
Visit Marianas Dive for more information on upcoming clean ups and events like the underwater pumpkin carving contest!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Rotary Club.

So today I became a Rotarian!

Rotary is a worldwide organization of more than 1.2 million business, professional, and community leaders. Members of Rotary clubs, known as Rotarians, provide humanitarian service, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world.

 There are over 32,000 Rotary clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas. Clubs are nonpolitical, nonreligious, and open to all cultures, races, and creeds. As signified by the motto Service Above Self, Rotary’s main objective is service — in the community, in the workplace, and throughout the world.

I even wore pants! I don't like pants but I do like what this group stands for!

I must admit that up until this past year I didn't know much about this organization. I knew they existed, I'd seen the signs in many communities and read about a Rotary thing here or there but I never really knew what they were about. I think as a kid growing up in small towns across Canada I would say I had the impression this was another veterans type group like the Canadian Legion with cheap beer halls available to those who just wanted to drop in and share a story or two with a fellow vet.

That changed a year ago when I was first introduced to the FOUR-WAY test. This really did it for me. It just seems that the world would be a better place if everyone lived up to this on a daily basis no matter what they were doing.

So after I attended a few meetings with my sponsor, Laurie Peterka from Practical Solutions I decided I could live with the few interesting things done at meetings, including singing a short song and saying a prayer before eating. Really I mean I'm a white Canadian Male with no rhythm and even less skill on the vocal front. Fortunately no one is judging my singing abilities.

Anyway, the real reason I'm writing this post is because I wanted to write out the very hastily written notes I made in preparation for the few minutes I got to speak to my fellow Rotarians without fear of being fined! The fines are a whole other story but the thing is I basically left out a whole line of thought primarily because I had scribbled these notes at the last minute before the meeting knowing I should have done it a lot sooner and, well, I missed a whole page!

So here goes.... If I could say it over again!

Thank you President Patrick and fellow Rotarians. (A bell goes off and you have to pay a fine if you don't address fellow Rotarians properly!)

I came to the island 5 years ago to work as a pharmacist not knowing what to expect and not knowing how long we would stay. I will admit that it took a full four years here before I came to really know about the Rotary club and what it stood for. Sure I knew it existed but I never really knew what it was about. Until this (holding up the Underwater World of Saipan DVD). (That's kind of a joke b/c if I was to do that at any other time in a meeting I would of course be fined!)

This (the DVD) gave me the opportunity as a business man to sit in Ben Babauta's office at DFS, month after month, every time reading the 4 way test posted on his wall. It just made sense and as I've gotten to know Ben I can see that he operates with this mentality.

As some of you know I lost my father unexpectedly a few years ago, right before I started to put together this DVD (hold up DVD again!). In fact it is dedicated to him. Every time I've sat in Ben's office and read the test I've thought of my dad and how proud he would be to know that these are the principles his son is attracted to and following in his business and in fact his everyday life.

Now, as you all know, I could very well follow these principles without becoming a member of the Rotary. And that's what I did until I began working on a project with Laurie of Practical Solutions. (Laurie's got a fine coming!). I mentioned the four way test in Ben's office and from there I'm sure I started the "secret process" of recruiting Rotarians. Regardless, it was ultimately the discussions with her that made me realize one other important aspect of Rotary I could not over look and that is "You have to eat lunch"! (Insert laugh track here)

Seriously though, I'm glad she brought me to a meeting because I saw a number of faces I've come to know and like over the past year. It made me realize that surrounding myself with like minded folks would help keep me going especially on those tough days. Like wise, I also realized that my passion for what I'm doing and my expertise in the area could impact and help the community that much more if facilitated through the Rotary Club.

(this is the start of what I forgot to say!)
Besides loosing my father a few other things have happened to me in these 5 years here. I turned 40 and judging by the room I'll suggest that almost everyone here knows first hand life does not really start until you hit 40! I also got married- some might say life ends at that point but not so in my case especially since it has lead to the birth of my first child!

Now one thing I quickly learned becoming a dad is that nothing turns your thoughts from "self" to "responsibilities for others" like having a child! It also makes you take a good look at what you really want to be remembered for through the eyes of that child. Community service and service above self seems like a motto I'd like my children to grow up with.
(this is the end of what I did not say!)

I'm an individual that tends to always look at what needs to be done rather than what has been accomplished. I hope that as a Rotarian I can help improve our community through the application of my skills and in return I'm hoping you, my fellow Rotarians, will remind me from time to time what has been accomplished and help give me the strength to keep going!

Thank you once again for inviting me into your group and accepting me as a fellow Rotarian!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Coral Triangle

No we're not trying to copy Bermuda and their famous triangle that seems to take planes, vessels and lives without warning.

No we're talking about a region of the earths ocean described by the World Wild Life Fund WWF as....

No other place on Earth is as rich and varied in marine life as the Coral Triangle. Spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Northern Australia, this extraordinary expanse of ocean covers some 5.7 million square kilometres. The Coral Triangle echoes the richness and diversity of the Amazon rainforest.
I know it doesn't look much like a triangle, try this one. Here we are clearly within the boundaries!
I realize the primary area of the triangle is Indonesia and surrounding countries but it is important to note that the Marianas does sit within this important ecological zone.
We do in fact contribute to the vast array of species this region accounts for. We have rare hard corals and other critters the scientific community recognizes as occurring here and perhaps no where else. In fact it was in my first year on Saipan that a group of researchers found 8 previously unnamed species of fish. See link here. Then on another survey this was a quote from the NOAA team after returning from the Northern Islands in 2003. See Tribune story here

“Many of these species are new records for these islands, as very few previous surveys have been conducted at most of these islands. Many species were also present in the size ranges at which they recruit from the plankton, or as very young juveniles,” the team said.

I think it's also important to note that in relative terms the scientific community has barely scratched the surface when it comes to surveying our vast waters. Who knows what else is out there just waiting to be discovered. We know there are plenty more dive sites around the Islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota that are worth discovering and going to on a regular basis. We also know that divers have witnessed the mating of two different species of nudibranchs a phenomenon that was previously just a theory but now thanks to Harry (The Nudibranch whisperer) it's been witnessed. Bottom line is when we say we are privileged to dive in some of the most diverse waters of the world it is true!

Now isn't it just a little more appealing to live in the triangle that breeds diversity rather than swallow up ships and planes like a giant black hole. Perhaps just one more advantage we have over our Caribbean counterparts!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Monday, October 8, 2007

Two Months & Counting

Sometimes you just have stop and say Hmmmmm.

Today I sat down to put together a little summary of the Marianas Dive group. A few deadlines set by the group are coming up. By the 15th we want to have most of the content included on the sidebar links of the website ready to go. That includes my assignment- filling in the blanks for "Who We Are" and "Our Goals" among a few others. Anyway, I've been writing and speaking a lot about this group in various places and know putting this together really means organizing everything into one summary. I started by looking back at exactly when this group first got together. I knew it was almost two months ago but I didn't remember the exact date. We'll it turns out- two months exactly today.

Our first meeting was on August 8th. This makes me go double hmmmm because my little girl just turned another month older yesterday, the 7th. I've always been the worst when it comes to remembering birthdays but I'll never forget the 7th. So because of this I'm probably much more likely to remember the "birth date" of this “dive organization with a mission”.

It's been an interesting two months to say the least. I'll admit at times it feels like its been a whole lot longer but at the same time I think "two months- that's it, we've done all this in two months". I even took a week vacation on Guam in there!

The second meeting I was elected President of the group and quickly found folks referring to me as the PM (Prime Minister). Can’t say I object since any reminder of Canada without the wet and cold is just fine with me. The first task given to the executive branch (Harry got the nod as VP and Katrina as secretary) was to establish our mission statement.

Basically our goals are to create awareness for what lies beneath the Marianas waves not only locally but also internationally. We also want to promote conservation as a way of thinking and to help preserve what we have for generations to come while improving everyone’s diving experience. By doing this and assisting with specific destination enhancements we also believe expectations of what the Marianas has to offer and the actual experience delivered can be elevated to that of other, well known, world class dive destinations.

In order to do any of this or to accomplish anything meaningful over the long term we also know the community must come together and rally around something specific. From the first conversations Harry and I had we knew this rallying point had to be everyone’s passion for diving and their fascination with what lies beneath. Thus, the concept of an all-inclusive group, made up of individuals from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds, each with unique talents and levels of experience, was formed. The common denominator- the love of diving. Specifically a Marianas dive.

Taking shape.
Identified as a priority during the first meeting was the need for development of a one-stop-shop or central web portal relating to everything diving in the Marianas as well as general travel and information about Saipan, Tinian and Rota. Immediately a few of the computer savvy folks started work on the main page And the concept and user experience has begun to take shape. Thanks Jon, Mark and Walt! With user added content from the discussion board and contests intended to promote it’s use the site promises to be a valuable dynamic resource for those wishing to travel and dive here as well as for those who dive here every day.

In addition the word IS getting out. The topic of Diving seems to be entering the conversation and the media has been picking up on it. Among other stories Marianas Dive has been mentioned in Island Locator, introduced in Beach Road Magazine and has been reported on in the Tribune here and here. We’ve had television coverage with the KSPN 2 including an interview I did here (9/17/07) and a story following the DFW presentation on the rules and regulations governing our waters. Thanks to Harry there have also been a couple of radio shows and a feature article in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. I feel like I’m forgetting something, perhaps its all the blog stories by the local bloging community! We also can’t forget that MP magazine also featured a dive story in their second issue, not a Marianas Dive story but a dive story nonetheless. Bottom line, the word is getting out and folks are coming up to wish us luck and thank us for making the effort to use our natural resources as a focal point for improving the islands economy.

Perhaps the biggest indication of this so far as well as the impression that each of the agencies with a vested interest in our marine resources is willing to be a part of this group was the very successful Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) presentation at Porky's 3 weeks ago. Although there were a couple of technical difficulties with the visuals and the sound nearly 70 people attended and based on the questions and the comments following the presentation most everyone got something out of the evening. With folks from NMDOA, DEQ, CRM, DFW, NOAA, the legislature, the media and concerned citizens in attendance the goal of creating an organization that includes everyone and helps facilitate improvement in our dive industry was clearly evident.

Not to be forgotten is the social aspect of the group. From those first few meetings we identified the desire to plan and organize social events and group dives including clean ups as a means to facilitate the development of relationships and the growth of the organization. After all, all work and no play is not what divers are about!

On September 8th a group dive was done at Lau Lau Bay and I will soon post a video of the highlights but a fun day was had by all those who participated and was followed up a week later at the same place with a beach and underwater scavenger hunt (clean up) in conjunction with Angelo and Beautify CNMI. FAMB’s followed both dive days either at Porky ’s or in Mark and Tammy’s pool!

In addition to these group dives, through discussion board posts, many additional impromptu dive rendezvous have been arranged including boat dives, shore dives and dives assisting the training of our boating safety dive team from DPS. Exploratory dives have begun with boat operators using the board to get their information out and fill up their boats with paying customers.

As the group embarks on it’s third month in existence we’ve begun work on developing a logo and a contest to help involve the kids directly while continuing to educate local residents about the group and our marine environment. We will also be holding underwater clean ups on the third Sunday of every month with the next one scheduled for October 21st. The location is TBA at this point but we are hoping to clean the waters around Sugar Dock if assistance from the Division of Public Safety (DPS) can be arranged. The back up plan is Obyan Beach 8:30 AM.

Continuing with the social theme we also have plans to organize a dive weekend on Tinian with exploratory dives from both shore and boat in addition to underwater clean ups and a casino night at the Dynasty. Stay tuned.

Our paid membership continues to grow, as does the number of registered users of the forum and the mailing list. There is a long way to go for integration of each of the major language groups to occur but as more and more multilingual members join our ranks we will begin to break down the language and cultural barriers and get down to what counts, that passion for all things aquatic.

Paid membership includes the choice of a $20 or $50 fee. They both give voting rights as well as member discounts at various functions but only those paying $50 receive the coupon book currently in development. Adding value as well as a being a promotional tool for both our group and the local businesses supporting us, this package will be well worth the extra $30. Any businesses interested in contributing can post a comment or email me directly. Joining the mailing list or the online forum is free and easy to do from the home page.

Upcoming events and meetings.
Check out the calendar on the web site but here’s a look at what’s on the immediate timetable.

Content & Logo Meeting
October 15th 7PM
Chambre Bar in the Fiesta hotel
Anyone interested in helping develop content for the website and the logo are welcome.

Marianas Dive Meeting (Every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month)
October 17th 6:30 PM
Porky’s Beach Bar
General update with focus on website content (holes to fill), event planning, goal setting and membership growth. As always non-members are welcome to attend to share a dive tale or two.

I would also be remiss if I forgot to send a big thank you to Bruce Bateman the owner of Porky’s for not only warm hospitality and a comfortable smoke free location to have our meetings but also for the simple fact that every time we have a function at his establishment he donates 10% of sales to our cause! Thanks Bruce you’re going to have a tough time living up to the legend as the evil one!

Finally, a big thank you also has to go out to all those who have participated, from those paid members who have been at nearly every meeting and event to those un-paid members that have been to nearly every meeting and event (but keep forgetting your cash) and to all those down the line who have posted comments on the board or helped out by spreading the word- thanks for your participation and support!