Thursday, March 20, 2008

Saipan's Spotted Eaglerays in FINS Magazine

I had an email today from award-winning professional underwater photographer Doug Perrine alerting me to his most recent article (pdf download) in FINS Magazine. It hit the newsstands today and is exactly what the CNMI needs on a more regular basis. Getting into the mainstream diving media and becoming known for a one-of-a-kind experience is how dive destinations become successful in the short term. Preserving and and regulating the experience so that it can be sustained over time is how successful destinations remain on top. The Cayman Island's Stingray City, Palau's Jellyfish Lake, and the Coral Sea's Cod Hole (off the Great Barrier Reef) are just a few examples of destinations that have taken advantage of what Mother Nature has provided free of charge while finding a way for the main attraction and its spectators to co-exist.
I met Doug about a year ago while he was here diving and writing this story. We've kept in contact regarding the issues facing our eagle ray population. When it was brought to my attention that our rays were being hunted, I contacted Doug in order to ask for his assistance in support of the now passed legislation designed to protect these amazing creatures. It was he who brought it to my attention that nowhere else in the world do Spotted Eagle Rays consistently congregate in numbers so close to shore that divers can experience them like we can here. He has been studying and photographing sharks and rays for much of his life while traveling the globe in search of amazing images so I believe him when he reminds me that Saipan is a truly special place.
Think about that for a second - Nowhere else in the world! - Talk about a signature dive, a dive that can attract even the most seasoned and experienced divers. Of course we can only say that as long as they remain here. If they are gone, Eagle Ray City is nothing more than a sandy bottom and Ice Cream becomes an average dive at best. With them millions of dollars a year is injected into the local economy. To illustrate the potential I'll again comment on Sting Ray City on Grand Cayman. It is estimated that this single dive site alone is directly responsible for over 9 million dollars of revenue a year! Even if we can only boast 10% of that it's nothing to shake a stick at!
When I get my computer back I'll post a little more about our rays. Perhaps we'll see them make a move in the mascot poll and be considered for the RARE pride campaign! For now I encourage everyone to read Doug's article and continue to put pressure on our local authorities to adequately protect them for generations to come. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to suggest that our dive industry and even tourism in general depends on it!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I'm not dead but my computer is!

So just before taking off for a month long trip back to Canada my computer crashed.  The good news is it's still under warranty and Apple will be replacing it.  Thank goodness for relatively frequent back ups too as once everything is replaced I'll be back up to where I was no worse for wear!  Fingers crossed!
Anyhow, this combined with the trans-Pacific jet lag has made for an exceptionally long absence form the blogosphere! Anyone who has made the long trek from Saipan to Vancouver (or anywhere in NA) knows that it's not an easy trip.  An early departure from Saipan, the stupid "get off and back on" at Nagoya before hitting a long layover in Tokyo followed by the 9 hours to Portland - and finally a ridiculously long walk to your next gate before hopping on the "puddle jumper" up and across the boarder can take its toll.
Now throw in a 2 year old and a 2 month old and its an experience that can take a few days to recover from!  I have to admit that traveling with kids actually is more fun than not.  They are fun to watch at this age and time seems to go by much faster than when you're watching bad movies and playing solitaire to kill the time.  But, when your daughter will only fall asleep sprawled out across your seat and you spend 3 plus hours walking around the plane because there is not a single extra seat it can take much of the fun out of the day!

All in all it was not that bad a trip.  Of course I can say that because I don't have boobs.  As bad as I felt not having a seat I'll take that over having a hungry little ball of heat in my lap for 20 plus hours.  She's certainly the better half!
With the traveling done it's now time to settle in for a week long reunion.  The family is not quite as large as the one pictured above but, it will still be a crazy week with everyone getting together for the first time since my Dad's funeral in 2005.  A few new additions and and nieces and nephews growing like weeds over the past few years makes for a full house and a whole lot of memories!

Now that the Jet lag is fading and all the additional hands are ready to help out with keeping the little ones happy I hope to keep up with the Saipan news and even make a few posts over the next month.   They just may not be all that SCUBA related!

What's that sweetie, oh yes the fasten seat belt light IS on, yes, ok, we need to fasten our seat belts!  They make it fun and keep you honest!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Grotto Memorial for Ben Concepcion

Tomorrow at 3PM there will be an official unveiling of a memorial for Saipan's number one diving pioneer, the late Ben Concepcion. It will take place at the Grotto and the Governor himself will be there to address the crowd. There is some question as to if the Grotto itself is being renamed as reported in the variety here or whether it is only the memorial. We will find out for sure tomorrow.

I was not privileged to meet Ben myself but, from everyone I've talked to he was a real genuine good guy who had a passion for diving and teaching others. He is seen in these parts as the man who started the industry here and with his passing I think it is appropriate that he have a monument of some sort as a lasting legacy.

However, the question of renaming the Grotto needs a second look. As it stands now I'm quite sure that at least in Japan if you were to ask people if they knew where the Grotto was they very well may refer to Saipan quickly. It is a famous dive site in these parts and we should work to keep it that way, maximizing its exposure and the recognition factor both with images and in writings. Unfortunately, Capt. Vicente Manglona Concepcion Park will not only be difficult to remember and say, but it will be difficult to put on tourist maps and other collateral's that MVA and others will use to sell our destination. At a time when we need a focused message like never before this has the potential to confuse the issue especially if it is expected to be used in place of the already well known and photographed name.

On another note, it also sounds from the discussions with many including one of Ben's daughters that he would not necessarily be too happy with the state of the Grotto as it is now in comparison to when he first began to explore its marvelous caverns. I can only imagine and dream what it must have been like to jump in there so many years ago. Almost any long term diver here will recount how it's not what it used to be. Now, less fish, sea fans and hard corals, more beer cans and fishing line!

Lets hope the governor reminds people how important it is to protect this very special place for years to come. Lets also hope that DFW continues to take illegal fishing at the Grotto sanctuary seriously with all the perpetrators and continue to make arrests like the one this week. Even though I never met him I'm sure Ben would want it that way.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Beach Road Photo Shoot

Well, today I crossed off one more thing on the list! Can't say this was a difficult thing although in some ways it is quite stressful having a camera in your hand knowing you're responsible for getting a cover shot!
Fortunately, looking through the lens at a beautiful girl on a gorgeous beach in the tropics has a way of making things a little easier to bare!
I know, I know you want a shot of the girl not the beach.... You'll have to wait!

The photo shoot we did today won't come out until April and I can't give away any surprises as to who will grace the cover so for now all I can give you is a shot of the stand in - JoJo Dass from Beach Road Magazine!

Ok here's one more shot of last months cover girl. Agatha Camacho Rangamar appeared on the February issue thanks to photographer Hideo Honda and the crew at Marianas Restaurant.
One more of JoJo....
Now I've got to get back to picking the best shots!!!!!

Monday, March 3, 2008

One Week eh! - Panic Setting In

Less than a week from now I'll be on a plane headed back to Canada for a family reunion!
I'd love to be able to say it will look like this but, the chances of me being able to wear shorts at sea level in March is pretty slim! The chance of me fitting into that shirt - even slimmer! I'll fight it for a while but ultimately I'll freeze my ass off in shorts and I guess this time there's the whole "set a good example" for the kid concept.

Monday morning is always a little crazy but, when I look at what's on the slate for the week and what needs to be done to get ready to go the thought of a big jump from the rock above enters ones psyche. I promise a report on my MVA meets the House day! I see in the tribune today they stand to receive some 7 plus million this year!

No doubt I'll need to find time for a giant stride entry one day before I go, just to preserve my sanity!