Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Fatal Shark Attack on a SCUBA Diver in the Bahamas

For those of you who know me you'll know I'll have plenty of thoughts on this but for now I'd like to let the story unfold and the facts come out. From what I've read thus far including the coverage on Wetpixel and Dive Photo Guide there has been a fatal attack on a 59 year old man during a shark feeding dive in the Bahamas. It appears the man was bitten on the leg, possibly by a Bull shark and although the initial event was not fatal the man later died with speculation as to cause of death being either blood loss from his injuries or an air embolism caused by a rapid ascent.

Obviously, a horrible event and one that will bring forth a lot of discussion hopefully after proper respect is given to the man who lost his life and to those who tried to save him. The devastation felt by family members goes without saying but I will attest to the fact that it will also be felt by the crew of the dive operation. Fortunately for me (and the crew at the time) my only first person account of a death to date involved a dive instructor diving solo over a deep wall. Not that the method of loss makes it any easier especially when it's a friend but, I can't imagine what it would be like if I perceived myself as being potentially responsible in some way.

As I say much more to be said on this subject as with the "MVA visits the House" story. I'll have a follow up on that subject very soon but, man, there's a lot to say!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

MVA speaks to the house today.

A big round of applause must go out to Tina Sablan for her efforts to keep the public informed. If you have not already checked out her blog you should. I came across this today after getting an email alert from another concerned citizen.

House Committee on Commerce and Tourism

Tuesday, February 26, @ 2:00pm, in the House Chamber, with the Marianas Visitors Authority to discuss MVA operations and other issues.

I think I'll have to see about attending this forum for an update since getting anything out of MVA besides the EMO warnings of volcanic haze 2 days late is next to impossible. Perhaps the legislators will have a little more luck than I.

I was asked on Harry Blalock's radio show last week if I felt MVA was doing everything it could to help promote diving here. As usual it was a long and loaded question from Harry but the short answer is NO - absolutely not! They are failing miserably.

That's not to say that a section of the diving market is not performing well but rather, that the limited success has nothing to do with MVA. The potential of the dive market with a well laid out plan that encompasses a world wide market is so much more than what we have now. But, this concept seems to be falling on deaf ears at MVA.

Up until now MVA has deferred their marketing "plan" to the Northern Mariana Dive Operators Association. NMDOA consists almost entirely of small, Japanese dive shops, most of which are not members of MVA. For the most part, over the years, these shops have done a good job spreading the word to the Japanese market. According to PADI stats from 2006, Saipan certifies nearly 15% of all new divers out of Japan. According to MVA's own stats divers make up nearly 20% of all Japanese tourist and about 25% of the 35% who come back for a repeat visit are also divers.

Even with these numbers NMDOA gets very little support from MVA, financially or otherwise.
Imagine if they did. Better yet, imagine if there was a plan set forth that did not narrowly promote to only one customer base through a group with no vested interest in the growth of the market as a whole! Imagine what could happen if the past success in Japan could be repeated for Korea, China, and Russia.

It will be interesting up on the hill today to hear if any of these thoughts have gotten though to anyone at MVA. No doubt they will ask the elected officials for more money. I'm sure more cash would be a good thing but, I'm also sure it wont solve MVA's most pressing problem(s)!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cultural Practices

Angelo says it pretty well this morning so check out his story on what it means to him to be able to practice his culture..... I also like this type of cultural practice!
As a white Canadian male that can't dance these performances are always amazing to me! How do they remember all the moves and what comes next. I have trouble with the electric slide!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Tinian Hot Pepper Festival 2008

The Tinian Hot Pepper festival kicked off this past weekend. This was the 4 or 5th year of the event and at least in the eyes of this years participants it is believed to be the most successful.
The best seat in the house for the main event, the hot pepper eating contest was high above the grounds squarely positioned up a tree!Many vendors selling the true Tinain hot pepper paste and other hot pepper products. They really are quite delicious and great in almost everything if you like things a little spicy!As part of the entertainment 13-year-old ukuleleWiz Kid Ryan Imamura from Guam amazed the crowds with his abilities.
As part of the weekend Marianas Dive members were busy with various events including exploratory dives and an underwater clean up as well as providing free discover SCUBA diving lessons.Here, our booth helps to get the word out about our group, our mission and our goals including the addition of many more dive sites around the island. Stay tuned for much more information on this program.
Mmmmmm, that looks good - where did you get that, I want one!
And one of these too!
The folks from the Fleming Hotel and restaurant take a quick time out for a photo op!
Of course what event on Tinian would be complete without a performance from the Taga cultural dancers
Including a little hot fire, appropriate considering just how hot those little peppers are!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Saipan Sunsets and Volcanic Haze

I like sunsets, especially taking pictures of them. When there's something unusual about them they are that much more spectacular!
You can't get much more unusual than a tropical island sunset with a cloud of volcanic haze thrown in to make it special. Quite often on Saipan the sunset will disappoint a little bit because just as the sun begins to hit the horizon it disapears behind a huge cloud without much fan fair.
In this case as it didn't have a chance to get to the horizon before fading from view but that didn't make it any less spectacular.
Anatahan Volcano is located 120 km (75 miles) north of Saipan and when the wind blows in the right direction we will get hit with ash and haze. You can smell the sulfur odor and the ash can be a problem for people with respiratory issues but otherwise it just provides an opportunity to capture unusual photographs.
Any idea where this last one was taken?

Marianas Dive & Tinian Hot Peppers

As reported in the Tribune today...

Against the backdrop of Tinian’s annual pepper festival, members of local dive group Marianas Dive will conduct a series of events designed to increase Tinian’s appeal to divers while creating a foundation of new divers with a greater understanding of what lies beneath some of the most inviting water in the world!

On Saturday and Sunday morning, Feb. 16-17, group members will make exploratory dives with Tinian Fun Diving, a local dive operation. Owner Mr. Shine states that the area around Tinian's southwestern tip is “untouched and full of possible dive sites,” including relics from World War II.

As described by Marians Dive president Mike Tripp, “the ultimate goal is to put Tinian on the diving map with multiple dive sites that are short, easy boat rides from the harbor. This will help make Tinian a destination where divers spend a few days or more, taking in all the sites the island has to offer both above and below the surface.”

In addition to these morning dives, Marianas Dive will lead an underwater cleanup of Taga Beach on Saturday at 4pm. This will be the group’s fifth cleanup of this kind and the first on Tinian.

“We're excited to do one of our 'treasure hunts' at Taga beach. The water is so clear I can't wait to jump in,” said member Mark James. Tanks and mesh bags will be provided. All certified divers wishing to participate are encouraged to do so.

The final dive event of the weekend will take place at the Tinian Dynasty Hotel pool from 2pm to 4pm on Sunday afternoon. Marianas Dive instructors will offer free Discover SCUBA lessons to interested individuals over the age of 12. Discover SCUBA participants will have the opportunity to try diving in a controlled environment, including using full SCUBA gear and breathing underwater. An adult must accompany participants under the age of 18.

Discover Scuba signup forms and additional information about these and other events will be available from members at the Marians Dive booth on the festival grounds during festival hours. Those interested in hearing a dive tale or two as well as learning more about the group's goals and objectives are encouraged to stop by and jump in!

“We are really excited about this weekend. Not only do we get to experience the best of Tinian hospitality with the pepper festival but we also get to make a positive contribution to Tinian's tourism industry. Of course it would not be possible without the help from those making it all happen including Debra Fleming of the Fleming Hotel, Kiri Jackson from the Dynasty and local boat captain John Barcinas as well as the staff at the mayors office,” said Tripp.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Radio Show Tomorrow AM!

It's that time again where I get to go in and talk about diving with the self confessed dinosaur of diving Mr. Harry Blalock. I'll be on his show which airs at 7AM on KZMI 103.9 FM and on KCNM 1080 AM.

Listen in it should be a good show. We'll talk about the Marianas Dive program this weekend over on Tinian including the hot pepper festival as well as the latest in the Napoleon wrasse discussion and the ongoing efforts to improve the promotion of diving here.

So grab your morning Java and tune in!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Napoleon continued!

Today the Marianas Variety published my letter to the editor regarding the Napoleon wrasse catch by Felix Sasamoto. It was not carried in the Tribune but rather this letter from John Gourley was and so was this one from Ben Carroll of American Samoa. You can also read my initial thoughts on this blog here.

Mr. Carroll's letter is short and sweet and basically points out the CNMI is not the only area in this part of the world that has banned SCUBA assisted spear fishing as suggested by Mr. Trianni in a previous article on this subject. Apparently America Samoa has also implemented this restriction.

The letter from Mr. Gourley is a little longer and interesting in a few respects.

First, I am glad he clarified comments made by Captain Carl in a previous article in which Carl said the Napoleon wrasse was protected over in Guam. According to John it is not and this is more in line with my understanding. I was surprised when it was suggested it was. John also quite correctly points out that since the wrasse is not specifically protected in Guam that diving tourists are not necessarily going to Guam over Saipan in order to see them. These were two points in an earlier article that also bothered me.

However, where I have objection with Mr. Gourley is with his statement in which he is referring to emails from persons within government agencies...

These individuals were irate with Mr. Sasamoto because he did not subscribe to their personal point of view, and attempted to make him feel guilty about his catch. In short, the e-mails stated the two wrasse should have been left (alive) for the diving community because tourism generates much more money over time than catching and selling fish. Their entire argument was based on the pursuit of the dollar and development of the (diving) tourism industry. I can only assume these people have very little respect for local cultural fishing practices.

First, in all the meetings I have attended and the discussions I've had with those responsible for managing our recourses I have never heard anyone disrespect the native cultural fishing practices. This is quite an assumption he makes and one that attempts to do exactly what he has said the "enviro nazies" have done and that is "alienate the very group of people whom you need support"

By suggesting that people are against the way Felix caught the fish he is just trying to stir up the pot, one he himself has had great influence in bring to a boil. No one has ever suggested that Felix did anything illegal or that what he did was not a remarkable feat. What people are suggesting is that with the bigger picture in mind - that is, future prosperity for both divers and fisherman, that perhaps these two fish found at a very popular dive site should have been left alone. If, as he and others (including Felix) have suggested, the Napoleon exists in large numbers than why kill these two. They could have brought in millions of dollars in revenue. Revenue that can help build a better education system, pay for CUC fuel or even a pharmacist at CHC. All things that everyone, including the fisherman, will benefit from.

I do not know this to be fact but I'll suggest that if Felix was aware of the Napoleon's life cycle, it's ability to loose fear of divers and it's territorial nature as well as the economic boost that could be gained by making it an attraction over the next 50 years that he would not have taken that particular fish at that particular site.

The fact of the matter is that left alone to practice only ancient fishing techniques without the need to make a living by selling the fish the fisherman and the rest of us would see islands teaming with fish resources. Population pressures, not so traditional fishing practices and illegal fishing as well as the need to sell the fish at ridiculously low prices have all come together to make for a situation in which our resources are depleted.

Again no where is anyone suggesting that traditional fishing practices should be discouraged but rather a balance must be found that makes sense for everyone.

Mr. Gourley also says he thought divers came here for the Eagle Rays and not the wrasse. As much as that was once true, currently at least, there are very few rays for divers to enjoy. This could be a function of some environmental factor beyond our control or it could also be because someone out there thought there were plenty of eagle rays so it wouldn't really matter if they took a few and now they can't recover.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Texas Hold'em Poker on Tinian!

Today when planning the Marianas Dive excursion to Tinian this weekend I was informed by Kiri at the Dynasty about their big Poker night(s)!
It's also the Tinian Hot Pepper Festival this weekend so the island will be THE place to be and we will be there! Our mission will be to find at least one new dive site and in general raise awareness about Tinian divng. We'll also be trying to get a few kids hooked on breathing underwater by doing a discover scuba event in the pool at the Dynasty. More on all this soon but perhaps in our full schedule of events we'll find some time to throw down a few hands and try our luck!

MVA say it needs $5.9M for ‘effective promotion’ of NMI

This is the headline for the story in the Marianas Variety this morning. Read the full article here.

Wow, anyone familiar with my efforts over the past year or more to help promote the CNMI especially when it comes to diving can probably guess my reaction to this article!

For those that don't know exactly what I've been doing you'll need to check back on this blog on a regular basis because I'll be filling you in a little more regularly as to what has been going on around here!

I love how "effective promotion" is quoted in the headline!

Don't get me wrong; marketing the CNMI effectively, especially with all the competition in this part of the world is not an easy task. With so many different countries as our potential customer base there are real difficulties with getting an effective message across to all that need to hear it.

But, is the issue really money? Yes Guam and Hawaii have huge budgets that we will never be able to compete with at the current rate but it's not all about the money. It's about the message and hitting the right demographics and the markets available to us. I made a post yesterday touching on the power of Youtube which costs absolutely nothing except the time to make the videos and that is just touching the surface on what can be done.

I can't even begin to tell you what could be achieved here with LOCAL talent should even a small amount of the money MVA throws away (and is now asking for more of) ended up in the hands of people who have already been making a difference on budgets that can't even pay the minimum wage!

As I say tune back in often for more! Unfortunately, right now I need to get out there and sell a few more DVD's to add to my budget for the next one!

Monday, February 11, 2008

200,000 and Counting....

Thank's primarily to the Cruel Death video and the Russian Wedding at the Grotto my Youtube dive videos have reached well over 200,000 views. The power of this tool to reach potential visitors should not be lost. For a link to all my posted videos including this one of sharks in the Grotto, click here or on the side bar under My Youtube videos.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Scuba Diving Tinian - Tinian Dive Sites

Thinking about diving our neighbor to the South? Here's a brief look at what this quiet, friendly island has to offer underwater! Check back soon for a full discussion about Tinian SCUBA diving, it's about to get that much better! I'll also ad some pictures and video soon too!

Tinian Dive Sites

Two Corals
Two Corals is a short boat ride from Tinian Harbor. This shallow pinnacle on Tinian’s west coast has great visibility and is a photographer’s dream. Crystal clear blue water and white sandy outlines accent the beauty and pristine conditions of the coral at Two Corals. Rising from a maximum of 70 feet, divers can easily swim a figure 8 formation around two small underwater mountains or adventure away from the mooring to discover an array of hard corals and sandy channels. Be prepared to go slow and stay awhile to enjoy abundant fish life of all sizes and colors. It’s not uncommon to see octopi and moray eels cruising in broad daylight while curious turtles check you out. Two Corals is a full 45-minute ride from Saipan.

Fleming Point

Fleming Point is a fantastic wall dive with dramatic drop offs and currents that can be like gentle breezes or raging winds. This boat dive on Tinian’s western shore boasts a high probability of turtle sightings along the top ridge, which curves from the cliffs at the surface down to about 45 feet before taking a 90-degree turn and heading straight to the abyss below. Sea whips and large Gregorian coral fans line the wall and brace themselves against the current while schools of Fusiliers and triggerfish dart about. The amazing visibility of an early morning dive will offer silhouettes from the rising sun while an afternoon dive will find the wall bathed in sunlight making it well worth doing more than once. In fact, you’ll probably need a few days just to get the most out of the point as Fleming can also be distinctly different whether you choose to go north or south from the mooring.

The Tinian Grotto
Tinian’s answer to Saipan’s Grotto, the Tinian Grotto is a popular cavern dive. It’s a bit smaller than its Saipan counterpart, but well worth exploring. Located midway along Tinian’s west coast this boat dive is popular with both Saipan and Tinian operators. Entering the water you can often see rising bubbles escaping through the coral from the inside of the cavern long after divers have left. Most divers enter through the top hole at about 35 feet and explore the inside looking for lionfish, nudibranchs, and schools of soldierfish. Bring a light with you to really bring out the color and discover those creatures that might be a little more shy. Exiting through one of two large holes divers are able to explore the top of the reef under the watchful eye of many types of hawkfish and Damsels. As with most Tinian dives, you’ll need to do the Grotto more than once here as another wall dive awaits those who come back and explore a little further (and deeper) out from the shore.

Dump Coke North
Often mislabeled as Dump Cove, Dump Coke North gets its name from the many Coco-cola bottles thrown from the cliffs during WWII. But bottles aren’t the only thing that made their way over the towering limestone walls. Littered with WWII artifacts including tanks, planes, jeeps and ammunition, this site which served as a trash can during and after the war, is now an intriguing glimpse into a bygone era. The undersea critters—octopi, grouper and the ubiquitous Green sea turtles—seem to love the artificial reefs.
WARNING: Care must be taken not to handle ammunitions or touch the white substance (phosphorus) which coats the rocks. Many of the shells are still “live” and can explode even after all these years, while the phosphorus will instantly burst into flames once it mixes with oxygen on the surface. Rising to the surface at the end of the dive may find it burning anything it is in contact with including skin. All the more reason to use good buoyancy and take only pictures to get the most out of this unique spot.

Tatzumi Reef

Located on the eastern side of Tinian, this interesting site is dependent on wind and sea conditions for the journey to explore its unique coral formations. Not often visited, this secret spot will treat lucky divers to pillars of hard corals that often resemble the goal posts on a football field. It’s not hard to imagine kicking a field goal through the uprights. Many crevices and small caves line the large plateau reef, which has an average depth of 60 to 90 feet. Clouds of parrotfish munch on the corals, while blue fusiliers gather in large schools and play in the surge and swirling currents. Keep an eye open for sleeping white tips and cruising grey reef sharks.

Goat Island / Aguijan

Located a short boat ride from Tinian harbor, or a full 90-minute ride from Saipan, this uninhabited island is rugged frontier diving at its best. Pristine conditions await those who come here as few operators venture this way. The untouched terrain, cruising sharks, turtles and Napoleon wrasse don’t get the attention they deserve. Is it worth the ride or a few days on Tinian to experience the Marianas Dive’s best-kept secret? Absolutely!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Carnival of the Blue - Editors Choice

Sometimes a "pick me up" happens out of the blue and at the right time! Not long after posting my thoughts about the Napoleon wrasse I found out that I had recieved the editors choice award for this months Carnival of the Blue.
The carnival is being hosted by Kevin Z a marine biologist and graduate student researcher at Penn State University and host of The other 95%. If you are unfamiliar with the carnival see Angelo's excellent hosting effort here or visit the carnival blog. To have my effort recognized in this way felt pretty good as it took a while to write and I hope the discussion about this topic continues!
Here's what he had to say....

But thankfully for the Marianas, The Saipan SCUBA Diving Blog tells us that the humphead wrasse is one the few predators for the toxic Crown of Thorns. Unless, of course, its hunted away. An excellent lesson on the natural history of this fish, Saipain SCUBA brings it home with an intense discussion of the conservation of large reef fish, politics, spearfishing, tourism and the economy. This is the editor's choice for this month's Carnival of the Blue.

For good measure I'll also show you what Tamara had to say in the comment on lil hammer's blog.

scubatripp says it best in his blog post. When I saw the first article in the papers about the catch, I have to admit that while I was impressed at such a feat Mr. Sasamoto performed in holding his breathe long enough to catch that gigantic fish and bring it up, at the same time, I had this overwhelming feeling of sadness at seeing the Naploean Wrasse killed.. Like I said, scubatipp describes it best in his blog...

Thanks guys!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Catch of the Day - Saipan’s Napoleon wrasse controversy!

A couple of weeks ago, local award-winning, free diving spear fisherman Felix Sasamoto was able to catch and haul out of the water a 100-plus pound Terminal Phase (TP) Napoleon wrasse and a slightly smaller Intermediate Phase (IP) one a few days later. The Saipan Tribune has reported two stories, one here and one here.
Photo from Saipan Tribune.
If you're not familiar with the Napoleon wrasse, or Humphead wrasse as it is often called, I’ll refer you to a couple of online sites from which much of the information I present here is obtained.

Most of what is on wikpedia seems in line with other sites and texts I've looked at. A good marine reference site I use is Fishbase and I have also found the links to these stories useful.

From PBS the Trade in Live Reef Fish for Food – Part 1 and part 2 as well as this Odyssey transcript log. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (or World Conservation Union) Red list page (aka IUCN Red list) is also very informative.
First of all let's be clear - those are a couple of big ass fish and no matter how you feel on the issue of whether or not they should have been taken, you must admit that doing so was quite a feat. To dive 50-plus feet on a single breath of air, hunt it down, shoot it and bring it to the surface after the struggle is impressive and is not something the average human can do these days. My hat goes off to Felix and his ability to catch fish, especially big fish, in this way.

Also as Mike Trianni, the Fisheries Manager at DFW has said, Felix has not broken any laws. He was not using SCUBA to fish which is illegal in the CNMI and he was not fishing in a marine protected area (MPA). Nor was he using any of the nets currently banned.

So what’s the controversy?
It’s economics, sustainability, a way of life and the “Teddy Bear” effect.

According to the IUCN Red list assessment in 2004, the Napoleon wrasse is an endangered species. It appears in Appendix II of the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This list includes species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.

A few other facts….
Photo from PBS Odyssey log
The Napoleon wrasse is a magnificent fish. The largest of the wrasses, it can grow to a length of over seven feet, weigh in excess of four hundred pounds and live for more than 30 years.

In Asia, Napoleon wrasses are sought after for their meat. A Napoleon wrasse the size of a dinner plate can fetch more than US$1,000. The large fleshy lips are considered a delicacy and are highly sought after with an average asking price of over $300.

Terminal phase males breed with a harem or a small group of females. The supermale is territorial which means it remains in the same location over time and protects the area and the females there too. When the supermale dies a female becomes a male and replaces it. This ensures there is always the ability to reproduce and a continuous opportunity for divers to interact with large inquisitive fish only inches away from their mask.

The reproductive cycle is poorly understood. Overall its resilience is considered low with a minimum population doubling time of 4.5 - 14 years.

They cannot yet be bred in captivity. Not a single Napoleon wrasse has ever spawned in captivity and the outlook for aquaculture is not encouraging.

Its primary foods are mollusks, fishes, sea urchins, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. The Napoleon wrasse is one of the few predators of toxic animals such as sea hares, boxfishes and crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS).

Although the Napoleon wrasse is one of the largest reef fish, it is usually easily scared off. In a few places around the world however, individuals, often older specimens, have become quite well known and are visited regularly by divers. Usually after a period of feeding, bonds are formed with individual divers whom the wrasse recognize and seek out. These 'friendly' fish often appear as soon as divers enter the water and choose to spend the entire dive with them, even allowing divers to touch them.

Here's a quote from the Odyssey captain in the Maldives. (This I can absolutely relate to as I have had similar experiences in places like Palau and Yap).

“Then I noticed, amongst the backdrop of wonderfully colored fan corals, the charismatic Napoleon Wrasse, who had an air of grandeur and splendor about him making the dive complete before it even started."

“Looking into his eyes and interacting with this wild and gentle fish was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had. This was an animal very much aware of our presence. When no one was petting him, he would maneuver around the group, giving the closest person a gentle nudge or a brush, perhaps to remind us that he still required our attention”

A clip from youtube… of the Maldives Napoleon.

So what does this all mean to the CNMI?

In the eyes of the law Felix did nothing wrong. With the Saipan economy on the ropes, the argument that catching a fish like this is not only necessary for survival for some but also a right of the people prevails. Unfortunately, this type of attitude is shortsighted and ultimately bad for the economy and the population as a whole for many reasons. In the end, it is potentially devastating to future generations of people in that they may never get a chance to see or eat one of these charismatic, tasty fish.

In defending the catch it is also fairly easy to look to the past when fishing pressures here were far greater than they are today and to take solace in the fact that “it used to be worse”.

About 4 or 5 years ago the CNMI banned spear fishing with the aid of SCUBA gear. As Mr. Trianni has pointed out, we are the only area in this part of the world that has done this and in so doing we have effectively created a depth-dependent marine protected area. Other than a few exceptional individuals like Felix, it is pretty hard to catch these guys in their normal habitat.

In an email to me, Felix recounted how the commercial SCUBA fishing industry here once had 4 companies each harvesting as many as 2-5 Napoleon wrasse a day! This fact and the extended time required for this species to recover goes a long way in explaining why, after 5 years of diving here, I can only recount a handful of sightings of Terminal phase males. None of which were too interested in getting to know me or allowing me to capture more than a fleeting moment on camera.

Felix also suggested that this practice of using SCUBA, although reduced, still continues today. In defense of Felix he is quite correct in saying that the agencies tasked to do so should be more concerned with those individuals harvesting illegally than with him. That comes down to enforcement and as anyone who has lived here knows - that is a whole other story on which I will not digress!

Until such time when the Napoleon wrasse is common in our waters the overall economic benefit to the island is far greater with them alive, swimming on our reefs, than dead in a market. This would be especially true if the territorial Terminal males were protected at popular dive spots. The idea being that with time the resident male would become one of those “friendly” fish for photographers and videographers to capture endlessly over and over again.

In this scenario the economic benefits to everyone are drastic and must be broken down into two categories. First the more obvious benefits of direct revenues from diving activities including tourists renting gear and traveling to dive with Saipan’s gentle giants. The second, perhaps less obvious form of revenue the island would benefit from, revolves around branding and advertising. This can best be summed up with what I’ll call the “Teddy Bear Effect”. You just want to reach out and hug these types of animals. It's what the RARE Pride campaign is about.

Encounters with marine life demonstrating “personality” and “charisma” are memorable and sought after by divers. These encounters turn into memories that linger with you for a lifetime, entering your conscious mind during times of reflection and ultimately they bring you back to that pin in the map.

To a tourism industry they are that 30-second Super Bowl ad that’s worth a million or so dollars a second to air. But, unlike those make believe commercials, these are real experiences that stick with you forever. They barely lose the emotional intensity invoked at the time. In other words they put a destination on the map and they keep it there. Done right, a single image, in this case a Napoleon wrasse with a diver, shouts to the rest of the diving world – Palau, Maldives, Saipan……

I still get goose bumps when I tell people about some of my most memorable dives and I never have trouble recounting where I was at the time. Memories of dives petting a grouper, looking into the eyes of a curious fish twice your size or being surrounded by a pod of dolphins are among those that never fade. And when someone asks you... Where was that? There's no hesitation – Imagine if we could say Saipan and the response was… Hey isn’t that where they have the Eagle Rays, the Grotto and that huge Napoleon named Harry?

Unlike Super Bowl ads, to a tourism industry this type of advertising is provided free of charge by Mother Nature. It is ours to utilize and maintain or ours to destroy. If it is destroyed only memories remain in the minds of the living and in the images produced by those privileged enough to capture them on film.

If we choose preservation then in a situation where the Napoleon wrasse is prevalent and protected (with limited harvesting dependent on sound numbers) even the fisherman benefit. Hopefully in some direct way from the overall improvement of the economy but, also because the species is actually around in numbers that will allow some sort of harvest and profits from the catch without risking sustainability.

At the moment this situation does not exist here and although Mr. Trianni points out that the species is not rare but uncommon here the numbers are still low and I am not aware of any dive sites where Terminal males approach divers fearlessly.

Therefore, I think it would make a lot of sense to do what is necessary now to ensure that this fish has the best chance possible to become common in our waters. Yes, we can point to successes in the past like the banning of scuba spear fishing (by all accounts the numbers are improving) but doing more now could pay even bigger dividends down the road especially if the Napoleon becomes extinct in other areas. This would of course make our destination that much more attractive to the customers of a profitable sustainable dive industry.

So while I don’t believe Felix should be persecuted for his catch, I am also saddened by it and believe that with the bigger picture in mind he should not have taken these fish especially because they inhabited a very popular dive spot. Given time, their territorial nature, long life spans and ability to lose fear of humans could have made them permanent fixtures at Obyan and ultimately in photos distributed around the world with the strongest form of advertising around - word of mouth.

I respect his abilities greatly and would hope that the agencies with the power to do so will take his advice and pursue those fishing illegally and, if deemed necessary, develop legislative action to protect these animals further in some way. This could be as simple as designating certain sites like Obyan, Lau Lau and Ice Cream as no take zones and enforcing the rules. The spill over effect will benefit everyone for generations to come.

On an aside note I also find it interesting that the Napoleon wrasse is a known predator of the crown of thorns starfish. Of course other predators such as the triton trumpet also exist and they have their own controversies here in the CNMI. I’ve heard on occasion from individuals in some of the agencies that many feel the COTS are a problem here. I don’t believe this to be the case but, hypothetically speaking, if it is then wouldn’t it also make sense to further protect the Napoleon allowing mother nature to take care of the COTS?

One last quote from the Odyssey in the Maldives – Man I want to go there!

"Protection of reef fish species will further develop eco-tourism. This is already happening in the Maldives where the country's main income is derived from the tourist dollar. Tourists will pay a lot to dive on protected reefs where they can have memorable interactions with charismatic but increasingly rare, large grouper and wrasse".

Monday, February 4, 2008

Super Bowl Sunday (Monday) on Saipan

There's the 2nd turnover - is that it, is that the game!
Wait no it's not a turnover! and the game continues....
Quarterback Tom Brady down in the second quarter. 7-3 New England .The Super Bowl on Saipan is a different experience than most. This year I decided to head up to Marianas Dive Members Mark & Tammy James's place in the hills on the South Eastern side of Saipan.
No cable at the pool but not a bad set up while most people in the US mainland are partying hard they'll also be off to bed soon enough. While here the day will have just begun so some get their nap in now.... It's 10AM Monday morning!Of course there area few negatives like the local TV station has to pull in the signal from the Armed Forces network so the reception is often questionable. In addition we don't get all the new Super Bowl commercials. For some reason they are not allowed to play them for us.
There will be other photos from Super Bowl Parties on Saipan popping up on the blogs I'm sure. The party at Godfathers is one people should hit at some point if you spend multiple years on the island. I like to watch the game so a small gathering with a great view and some diving talk over the blank air spots suits me just fine!

In fact the island pretty much shuts down. It was always one of the slowest mornings at the PHI pharmacy.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tinian Ferry!

I took my Mom over to Tinian for a couple of days this weekend and will post more than this in a few days but, what is up with the Tinian Ferry! Every time I get on it I think how much better the ride over there would be if we could just see out the windows!That's not water splashing on the windows. It's permanent remnants of the destruction caused by constant salt water without any fresh water rinse. The result - this is the best view you can get for the hour ride over crystal clear, turquoise water! Unless you stand and look out the rear porthole!
Of course when you get off the boat and make your way over to Taga beach you can clearly see just how beautiful the water is! Just imagine the extra PR that would come from people snapping photos of the islands coast line on the way there and back.
I mean this is how clear the water is. The shot below is taken while standing at the lookout in the picture above! You don't even need to SCUBA or snorkel it's so clear.
Of course a future post will discuss exactly why you would want to take the time to dive the sites around Tinian but that I'll leave for another day.

My point today is for the Tinian Ferry people to invest in replacing the windows on their boat. It will help with PR as well as relieve that sea sickness feeling for those who don't like being on a boat where they cannot even see the horizon!

For more pictures of Tinian and the Tinain Fiesta from a previous trip click here