Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Presentations and Turtles

No time for a dive today, another diving presentation to give!
Enjoy this little guy, I'll be on the lookout for him tomorrow!

That's Lau Lau bay in the background! Always a hot bed for Turtles!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Last Day of Flame Tree Festival

It's the last day of the 2008 Flame Tree Festival on Saipan! The first 3 days have been long and hot but, a lot of fun with many, many folks stopping by our booth!
In fact you just never know who's going to show up. Like acting governor Tim Villagomez above and a team of underwater archaeologists below!
If you have not already done so come on down and check out the show. Water color artist extraordinaire Greg Elliot and I are centrally located in a large, comfortable space so come by and see us. The Underwater World of Saipan DVD has a special Flame Tree price at $20 while Greg still has a few original works left but, likely not for long!
Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Act Two - Northern Island Marine Monument

The second show at Porky's on Wednesday was Angelo's presentation regarding the largest Marine Sanctuary in the World and how a similar concept is being proposed here for the Northern most islands in the chain.
I'm not going to say much about this here now for a couple of reasons. One I have little time as I'm headed down to our Flame Tree Festival to sell my DVD - 20% off retail all weekend long!
Sorry for the shameless plug, I digress.

Given the fact that both local papers are reporting today that the Senate and the House have both passed resolutions against the proposed marine park I feel I have to say this.

Thanks to all those who came out to hear the facts, to debate the issues and to discuss the concept. I know it is controversial on a number of fronts but, keeping an open mind and becoming informed rather than rejecting the idea all together because a few think it is a bad idea or have their own agendas will do no one any good.

I, for one, am like many of these people. I'm getting to know the facts and hear both sides of the issue from those who care. Once I feel I have the necessary answers to my own questions I'll weigh in on the matter more thoroughly.

To do anything less is just plain irresponsible!

Given the interest and emotions on this topic I would agree with Dive God (see previous post) when he says that any future public forum should be held in a venue without alcohol. I can't guarantee a Canadian Peace Keeper in the room every night!

A discussion by the divers has started here at Marianas Dive.
Other blogs have started giving their two cents. Follow the links from Angelo's post to read most of them. Wow, lots of activity - you may want to start here.

See you at Flame Tree and keep an open mind I'm glad those in Florida did! Please take the time to read the post below it is more relevant than you think!

Saipan’s Underwater Historical Trail Unveiled

Wow! What an interesting night at Porky's! Only those who were there know that this statement applies on many levels! The title of the post may be miss leading only because it is a little premature - read on!
Rather than talk about the Canadian Peace Keeper in this post I'm going to talk about our first presenter and the discoveries / excitement that ensued!
First, a big, big thank you to Jennifer McKinnon (above) who gave an excellent talk on the 1733 Spanish Galleon Shipwreck Trail in Florida. Jennifer was a senior archaeologist on the project and knows first hand the benefits of such a concept when it is allowed to happen. She also knows first hand how much work it takes and what is needed to pull it off.

If you have not already read the links from my previous post, start with this one. Look around the site as it talks about the entire Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary of which this shipweck trail is a part.

Basically, the program in Florida benefited many people. First, everything about the shipwrecks and surrounding areas, including the coral reefs was documented. This preserves a snap shot in time forever but, it also formed the basis of information guides, maps, and plenty of marketable material and activities. Not to mention the scientific data that will help establish truly sustainable conditions for years to come.

The shipwrecks have no restriction regarding fishing and provide another option for divers of the Florida Keys. Do a Google search for "Florida Shipwreck Trail Diving" and you'll see no shortage of people making money from the program. Historians, divers, fisherman, and marine biologists are at the top of my head right now with regard to who might benefit the most but, we can't forget about the restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and ice cream shops. In fact anyone who sells the guidebook would gain something!
As Jennifer indicated, getting the program off the ground and completed wasn't always looking like an easy task. There were those against it from the beginning. Treasure hunting and removing things from shipwrecks was considered a right of the people for many, many years in the area. It was, in fact, a few lucky people who rode the gravy train and struck the big time. Sadly, after years and years of indiscriminate salvage, the historical trail is likely half as interesting as it could have been. The consolation to that thought is the fact that at least some of it remains and will remain documented no matter what happens from here on in. Did I mention the team researching the ships endured 4 rather large hurricanes over the course of documenting and mapping all the wrecks?

Ya, Ya, Ya, - That's Florida what does this have to do with the Marianas!

Except we're talking primarily WWII artifacts and a few years down the road!

It just so happens that over the past month or so there has been a team here working on identifying the inventory of wreckage in our lagoon and just beyond the reef. You can check out the work done to date here but, basically a team of experts are using sonar scans to identify anything that might be worth looking at. Saipan resident and long-time commercial diver / boat captain, Brady Barrineau (aka Dive God) has been working with the team and helping to document their findings. Ronnie Rodgers from the HPO office gave us a quick review of the progress and it is very exciting. They tell me they are finding things that even Brady, who has dove here his entire life, did not know existed.

Ronnie told us now that they have an inventory started they can begin the process of getting grants and funding for the project in order to continue it in the same manner as the Florida trail. Jennifer has even offered to come back from Australia to give divers instruction and training in marine archeology so they can help with the process!

Are you kidding me?
Training our local people to have a helping hand in delivering more tourists to the island - what a novel concept! With federal money to boot!


When asked what would be the biggest factor in accomplishing something similar here in the Marianas Jennifer said, ENTHUSIAM and a real interest from the local residents to make it happen.

We're going to try to arrange for that excitement to grow a little more with a presentation again next week. This time it will be by the guys on the vessel doing the sonar. They've got pictures and video of the wrecks and from what they have shown me so far there is enough to do something pretty special here already and they’re not done yet.

By the way, does anyone remember that article in the Tribune way back? An "expert" diver in Japan said we needed to work on diversifying our dive sites?

First, don't always believe what you read in the papers.
Second, what a ridiculous statement by someone who really doesn't know what he’s talking about.

I won't argue with him in that a shipwreck trail sure would add to the diversity we have. Is it necessary? No, not really, our diving is already quite diverse but, why not? What are the real drawbacks to it? I’m Looking forward to seeing that so called expert on our shipwreck trail, or even on one of our wall dives, or in a cavern, or mingling with Eagle Rays or perhaps in the sandy flats meditating in crystal clear water at Obyan! If he really wants to be an expert he's going to have to do the research rather than believe what a few tell him!

Get my point?

Imagine if all those people who made the Florida Shipwreck trail a reality just gave up the first time someone said NO, it can’t be done!

That brings me to Act Two!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Marianas Dive Host Maritime Double Header


When: Wednesday April 23, 2008

Where: Porky’s Beach Bar (behind McDonald’s on Beach Road)
Smoke Free on Wednesdays
Time: 6:45PM

ACT ONE: The 1733 Spanish Galleon TrailThe 1733 Spanish Galleon Trail

Scattered over eighty miles of the Florida Keys, the thirteen 1733 Spanish Plate Fleet wrecks present a unique opportunity for public interpretation of historic shipwrecks. During the summer of 2004 archaeologists from the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research conducted a survey of these shipwrecks to determine their condition and their potential for inclusion in a proposed shipwreck trail. Presenter Jennifer McKinnon provides an overview of the project and the shipwreck trail.

Jennifer McKinnon is a Lecturer of Maritime Archaeology at Flinders University in South Australia and was a senior underwater archaeologist for the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research on the 1733 Spanish Galleon Trail.

The waters around Saipan Tinian and Rota are littered with WWII artifacts, many of them easily accessible for divers and even snorkelers. Could we take steps similar to those in Florida in an effort to better preserve, protect and market what we have? Come, find out first hand from the expert and someone who’s done the work!

ACT TWO: The National Park of the Sea

Angelo O’Connor Villagomez is one of the co-founders of Beautify CNMI and the former Executive Director of MINA. He is an indigenous environmentalist and has been working on conservation issues in the CNMI for two years.

Villagomez is currently the Saipan Coordinator for Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group. He is coordinating local support for a proposed “National Park of the Sea” encompassing a portion of the Mariana Trench and the islands of Ascuncion, Magu, and Uracas.

His presentation will discuss certain unique aspects of the area and the benefits of a globally significant protected area.

Currently a unique opportunity exists for the CNMI. Support for and against exists and people are weighing in on the proposal. Come and see for yourself what it’s all about. Ask questions and make yours an informed opinion!

Marianas Dive is a growing group of individuals with a passion for everything underwater and specifically what Saipan Tinian & Rota have to offer as dive destinations. The group welcomes community members to join and help the CNMI build a truly world class dive destination while promoting our excellent diving locally and globally. Members meet the first and third Wednesdays of each month at 6:30 PM. To join the email list, visit www.marianasdive.com.

Happy Earth Day 2008

Happy Earth Day Everyone!

The History of Earth Day

Earth Day Events Around the World for 2008

Saipan's Earth Day Event

In celebration of Earth Day and the National Park Week and of course, the Year of the Reef, CoCo is hosting a FREE movie showing at Saipan's only movie house - American Memorial Park Theater. If you have not yet seen "An Inconvenient Truth" take advantage now.

“An Inconvenient Truth” will be shown on
1. Mon, April 21 at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
2. Tues, April 22, 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
3. Wed, April 23, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
4. Saturday, April 26, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

This from
Climate change is caused by the ever increasing presence of climate changing gases in the atmosphere, like carbon dioxide. These gases are released from burning fossil fuels like coal and oil in the transport and energy sectors. Climate changing gases trap heat in the atmosphere, causing impacts like sea level rise and changing weather patterns.
While pacific islands, together, contribute less than 1% of global climate change causing gases, we are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The Mariana Islands, like most Pacific islands, the people, agricultural land, tourist resorts and infrastructure (including roads and airports) are concentrated in the coastal zones, and are thus especially vulnerable to any rise in sea level.

Climate Change will shift rainfall patterns causing prolonged droughts in some regions. Computer models predict that global warming will shift rainfall patterns, resulting in extended drought conditions in some areas, and excessive rainfall in others.

Each El Niño event has resulted in water shortages and drought in Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati and Fiji. More frequent El Niño events also bring an increased risk of tropical cyclones, particularly for Tuvalu, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands and French Polynesia.

Just because the Marianas Islands is not included in the list above, does not mean we are not vulnerable to changes in typhoon seasons, water shortages and drought.

On Earth day visit American Memorial Park and watch the Inconvenient Truth.

For more visit Climate Change in the South Pacific.

Another good read from today's Tribune is from Jaime R. Vergara. He takes a look at the big picture!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Danica Patrick Wins Indy Car in Japan

A big congratulations goes out to the first woman ever to win an Indy car race or any other professional motor car race other than drag racing for that matter! AP reports it here.
One of the things my brothers and sister did when we were home last month was go through a number of my dads belongings including a rather large box of newspaper and magazine clippings. It seems he liked to keep articles of significant nature such as the front page of newspapers when extraordinary events took place around the world. President Kennedy's assassination, the Berlin Wall coming down etc. He also had newspapers from the day each of us kids were born - not that those were extraordinary days for anyone else but, it's fun to look back and see a snap shot in time. His collection included a number of some sporting events like Ben Johnson's gold medal and yes, the day he lost it!

Whenever I would call home and he was there we would usually touch on some sports topic at some point. Mostly hockey - he'd update me on the Canucks for sure but any sport was game.

I think he would be cutting out this story tomorrow! In fact I'm a little peeved at the only sports network here, namely ESPN. They should have given this much coverage today. Yes, it's the start of NBA playoffs and hockey (the greatest game on earth) is well into it's second season but, this deserves more recognition!
I'm glad she's finally done it and proven all the cynics wrong as well as set an example for women everywhere - Way to go Danica, my hat goes off to you and if I could get a copy of a major newspaper I'd cut out your story and add it to the collection!
I know, I know enough with the pretty girls, it's a SCUBA diving blog so tomorrow I promise a post about dives done over the past few days, including the ones first thing in the morning!

Friday, April 18, 2008

A little offensive?

Does anyone else find this a little offensive or at the very least inconsiderate?

A Tribune article today quotes Gregorio Cruz, President of Tao Tao Tano as saying that the people of the CNMI are “in an economic crisis and there is no light at the end of the tunnel, except for (jumping off) a cliff".

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Power For a Week!

Delivery Made - CUC Out of Money.
Yee haa, enough fuel to last one more week!!!!!
Then what?

How does a cash strapped utility and / or government come up with more than 2 million dollars in less than a week?

As if the 2, 4 or even 8 hour power outages were not enough. Less than 24 hours ago we were faced with the possibility of an island wide black out. Now we'll do it all over again next week!

When the AC goes out again I'll have to think back to this!

Tire check - all seasons!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Fishing at the Grotto Update

As reported in the Variety a few months ago two men where arrested for fishing at the Grotto marine sanctuary. This week the sentence (or plea bargin) was handed down and reported on here in the Tribune.
Superior Court Associate Judge Manglona sentenced Guo to six months in jail, all suspended except for the first nine days, with credit for the nine days he has already served. The judge placed the defendant on six months of unsupervised probation and ordered him to pay a $25 court assessment fee.

According to the paper in accepting the plea the judge said the accused "had pleaded guilty to "a rarely committed offense".
Are you kidding me?! Apparently the judge is not a diver or has not been diving the Grotto lately. A rarely committed offence - every single day concerned divers are pulling monofilament fishing line out of the Grotto.

At least in handing down this increadibly harsh sentence (insert sarcasm here) Judge Manglona said that the Legislature's purpose of creating a sanctuary to gradually and naturally repopulate depopulated areas of the lagoon must be enforced in order to protect the islands' limited and precious resources.

I couldn't agree more but, if this is what's supposed to deter the perpetrators I suspect we'll be pulling out line for many years to come!

Wyalnd to Paint CHC!

It has been reported here in the Variety that Wyland will be coming to Saipan to paint a one of his famous murals on the walls of CHC. It is unclear if this is a done deal or not as it will take about 60, 000 dollars to get him here.
The effort is being spearheaded by MINA with the help of other island agencies including Marianas Dive which will host an information meeting tonight at 7PM, Chambre Bar in the Fiesta Hotel.
Anyone interested in hearing more about this opportunity to bring additional press to the islands diving as well as something nice to look at for everyone including patients of the hospital are more than welcome to attend. Appetizers will be available and happy hour prices are in effect!


Thanks to the folks at MINA, Chuck Sayon, Kathy Yuknavage and Ron Smith, for coming out and providing everyone with an update as to where this project stands. At the moment MINA is working out the specific dates Wyland may be available and the details of any contract for the mural. Support has been expressed by MVA and some major sponsors such as Seafix, Tan Holdings and one of the paint companies. They will be working on the details of school visits, additional murals, opening and closing ceremonies and ensuring the contents of the wall truly reflect what our waters have. All in all I think this is a great idea and done right it will lead to a lot of good publicity and education for the kids of the CNMI. How about you, what do you think - vote in the latest Saipan SCUBA poll or leave a comment.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Beach Road Time Again

Last month I told you about my first Beach Road Magazine cover shoot. I had time to pick up a copy the other day so rather than looking at Jojo the stand in here you go! That's 19 year old Karen Hartman from Saipan. It was a pleasure working with her and I think if she's truly interested in modeling that she could do well.
These are the magazine choices for the inserts.
All in all I think the shots turned out well and she looks great!

As I said in my earlier post it was certainly not a hardship to be out at one of my favorite Saipan Beaches in the afternoon taking photographs of Karen and I look forward to this months shoot! If you've not yet picked up a copy of Beach Road Magazine their office is on Middle Road in the building with Subway - on the top floor above Dial Rent to Own.

An Unbelievable Grotto Dive

It's Saturday morning, my first real chance to hit the water since leaving for Canada nearly a month ago. I need to get in and breathe! I don't really care where and finally decide on the Grotto. It will be a camera free dive, I don't want to do anything except enjoy the tranquility of being down there.

Standing on the rock ready to stride in I notice the water is calm and the tide very high. Nice, an easy exit too! Time to step off the edge. - (Insert splash here) - Ahhhhhhh the cool refreshing feeling of being submerged, no one around, no worries just my breathing and the sounds of the underwater world.

The dive itself was pretty uneventful. I headed out hole 3 to the outside and ventured down deep enough to feel some narcosis and the effects of depth. Slow, exaggerated movements and breathing - meditation at it's best. As always there were some great photo ops, bristle stars sprawled out on large sea fans, cracks and crevices with light rays bouncing in and out catching my eye here and there. No, I won't let myself go down the road of "should have brought the camera" - back to enjoying the moment, the feeling is difficult to put into words but, I'm at peace, this is my special place and all is good in the world!

As I began to make my way back up towards hole three I stopped to untangle about 30 feet of fishing line from some pristine coral. It takes some time, I was deep so the deco clock starts to add up. No worries I have plenty of air and hanging out at 30 feet near the mooring line turns out to be the most unbelievable part of my dive.

Here the tranquility abruptly comes to an end and I am left to reflect, in complete disbelief, on what I've just witnessed!

It began as any other safety stop, a group of divers beginning their descent down the mooring line with the instructor the first one down. While hovering a little deeper than the oncoming bodies he used hand signals to ask those who followed if they where ok. He began to motion the divers over to a rocky ledge next to where I was hanging out so I moved off a ways not wanting to confuse the issue with an extra body. As I watched the group I couldn't help but notice a lot of loose hoses. Everyone, including the instructor, had their octopus and air gauges hanging free rather than clipped or tucked into their BCD. It also became apparent pretty quickly that this was a very large group with none of the divers seemingly all that skilled. There was plenty of hand flailing, erratic fin movements, wide eyes and even a few rapid descents followed by vigorous kicks toward the surface and renewed attempts to equalize ears. All the divers seemed to be very much over weighted.

As I watched I began to count. Sixteen divers in total not counting the instructor. I also notice that all have gloves on and 10 of the 16 have cameras, many frantically trying to snap pictures as they descend to the meeting area. Here the instructor, now also with a camera, is arranging the group on the bottom with hole three in the background - the perfect photo op!

Imagine a pyramid of divers, those on the bottom destroying whatever may be there while the others attempt to hover above without whacking their tanks, fins or gauges on the heads below. At this point a final diver comes in from the top just in time to take up a horizontal position along the bottom row. Perhaps this could be a second instructor or divemaster but I can't tell for sure. The instructor with the camera begins to snap away. The photographer in me recognized the problem immediately - bubbles, bubbles everywhere especially directly in front of those not on the bottom of the pyramid. Apparently the instructor also recognized the issue as he scribbled on a slate and swam to the group showing it to them all. Soon the bubbles stopped, everyone was now holding their breath. The instructor quickly returned to his position and managed to snap a few shots before the inevitable exhalations began.

At this point the instructor seemed to signal to the group to swim in the area around the mooring line and so they began to disperse. The one I thought could be another instructor took up a position next to another diver and did not leave her side. Perhaps they were only a buddy team after all.

For a moment I thought - OK, it's just one big photo op and now they'll get to do a "dive" in the shallows before returning to the surface. No major harm done right, a big group just wanting to get a photo inside the grotto before heading back to Japan - wrong!

Just as I was giving the instructor the benefit of the doubt he turned and headed towards hole number two, the deepest of the three it bottoms out at over 80 feet. All sixteen customers followed. As they moved away form where I was the expanse of hole two filled up with divers. For a moment a couple of them obviously had problems as they headed up towards the ceiling of the cave before slowly returning to the bottom all the while the instructor continued out towards the open ocean never really looking back at his group.

Now I wished more than ever that I had my camera. I could not believe what I was seeing. Even if there was a second instructor in the group that's still an instructor to customer ratio of 8:1. And these were definitely not seasoned divers with plenty of experience. These were novice divers at best. I'd even hazard to guess that a few of them were on their second or third open water dive EVER. Gauges everywhere, nearly vertical swimming techniques caused by too much weight, an overhead environment and a maximum depth of well over 60 feet, not to mention holding their breath for the photo op.......

WTF. I mean seriously, peoples lives are at stake! Then of course there's the fact that another death at the Grotto is not something our tourism industry needs to deal with. By now if you're like me you're probably asking what dive shop? Who was this guy working for and how did he become an instructor? The answer, Blue Horizon Diving an NMDOA affiliated dive shop and I don't know.

I waited in the parking lot long enough to determine the shop and to see that everyone made it back ok, - this time. Next time everyone may not be so lucky. I would have loved to have pulled the instructor aside and started the conversation by saying WTF but, I thought better of it only because in the eyes of his customers he had done nothing but show them a good time.

Tomorrow I'll be headed down for a chat with the VP of NMDOA as they tout themselves as an organization with tough standards for all their members. I'm interested to hear what steps will be taken to ensure this spectacle does not happen again.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Right Route Day and a Birthday!

April 11th is a special day in the CNMI - It's my wife's birthday.
Now I've just got to figure out how I can get into town to buy her a last minute gift while reducing my carbon foot print!

Today is also Take the Right Route Day! To help celebrate the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) the folks at CRM put together a campaign designed to raise awareness about our own individual contributions to global warming. In this case, by asking people to find alternate, more efficient ways to get around the island they hope to show that each of us can make decisions each and everyday that will help combat this issue.
Of course finding alternate means to get from Dandan to Garapan and other parts of the island for errands can be a bit difficult considering there is no public transportation on the island. Then there is the issue of knowing I will likely have to go to a number of different places scattered around the island to get what I need because there is really no "one stop" shopping area. Perhaps I could ride my bike but that only looks fun at the top of the hill by the college and not so fun from the bottom coming back up!
Perhaps I can ask these kids for a lift. Now If you think this photo of very young kids riding an ATV without helmets is just a gig for an ad, think again. This scenario is played out everyday up and down the street in front of my house. If I have one complaint about this campaign it is this ad. I'm waiting for the day when one of the kids in our neighbourhood is pronounced dead at CHC. You would never see this in Canada these days. Twenty years ago perhaps but not now. There has been too much education about head injuries so these days it's now basically considered neglect to let your child ride a bike without a helmet. Come to think about it there are no road side vendors selling fireworks to young kids either!

Anyway, I digress. For all of those who take an alternate way to work today you can receive your own pair of zories from CRM, call 664-8311 for more info.
Don't Drive it Walk it!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Back on Island and ready to post again!

Ok I'm back on Island!

This blog has taken a break for nearly a month! That was not really my intention but, then again traveling to Canada with a 2 year old and 2 month old didn't pan out ot be all that relaxing or full of free time!

In fact there were a number of things that came up that would have made good blog posts but, I just didn't have the energy, time or desire to write. Of course it didn't help that I was without my computer for an extended time. So rather than beat myself up over not posting regularly enough I decided to take a break entirely.

Now that I'm back and organizing my pictures I'll try to share some insights from Canada. Some similarities to Saipan and of course some very big differences were apparent nearly everyday.

I'll also be weigning in on a few topics that came up while I was away including the PEW Charitable Trust plan to bring a marine park or protected area to the Norhern most islands and the proposed mural by world famous painter Wyland!

I hope I've not lost too many of my regular readers and hope to make it worth coming back to check out this site in the weeks to come!