Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Large LA Earthquake From the Top Floor Downtown

A 5.8 quake rocked my birthday world today. At precisely 11:42 LA time this day started with a bang!

Wholly shit! Guess I’ll remember this one!
I’ve felt my share on Saipan and in a few other places but not like this.

What made this especially scary was not only seeing how much the building moved but also the fact I’d just left the kids, Mom and Nana waiting for the elevator on the top floor of a building built in 1925. I’d barely taken two steps back into our 83-year-old room when I was forced to stumble and catch my footing. It nearly knocked me over!

Boom! It was quick! Time enough for a “wholly shit” realization and a real quick coyote breakfast (Coyote breakfast = A quick look around and a piss). No I’d didn’t loose control of my bodily functions but, man that was scary. The walls were moving and bending, no question about it. It felt and looked like feet but I doubt it was that much although it did knock things off the TV and cause drawers to open. With the streets of downtown LA far below our window it did briefly enter my mind to run and take a look at the action below.

Instead I turned and ran out the door to see (thankfully) the stroller coming towards me with adults looking a little uncomfortable to say the least while the kids where carrying on quite normally.

Twelve flights of stairs later my heart was still going and I can tell you it wasn’t from the physical exertion of caring a 2 &1/2 year old all the way down. It took a good 10 minutes in the lobby with everyone there talking about what had happened before the legs didn’t feel quite so shaky and the ticker had lost that flight or fight response!

Mom and Nana were happy not to have gotten in the elevator; a few seconds latter and they would have been on the ride of their lives. I’m not sure how keen the little one would have been from that point on for her much-anticipated Alligator rides (Alligator = Morgan for elevator)

I’m not sure how keen I am of staying here tonight but for now there’s a birthday to remember!

Here's the BBC story.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Saipan Tribune Favors Monument

In case anyone missed it here's the link to the editorial published in the Saipan Tribune today.
Obvious support with some good points. Here it is......

Marine Monument: Good for the CNMI, good for the environment

Since the decline of the local garment manufacturing industry, the CNMI has struggled to revive its economy and reinvent its image in the eyes of the world. Now we have that chance with the White House considering the waters around our northern islands as the site of a future national marine monument-a golden opportunity to capitalize on one of our region’s greatest assets, the fragile and unique ecosystem of our oceans.

History is full of economic success stories born out of environmental preservation efforts. Take Kalispell, Montana. Founded in 1891, Kalispell began as a station stop on the Great Northwestern Railway. After the railway sought to promote Montana’s wilderness as a tourist attraction, it lobbied Congress for help and in 1910, President William Howard Taft signed legislation designating the nearby wilderness as Glacier National Park. Today, Kalispell is known as the "gateway" to Glacier with a thriving tourism economy-Need a hotel near Glacier? You’re going to Kalispell. Need gas to tour the park? Stop in Kalispell. You get the idea.-and has grown to become the largest city in its region of the state.

Countless places throughout the world share the same story. Look at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, near Grand Teton National Park, or Banff, in the Rockies of Alberta, Canada. Ecotourism has brought them significant economic growth, jobs and a promising future. With a national marine monument, the CNMI could have the same.

A more direct comparison to bear in mind is the Papahanaumoku National Marine Monument in Hawaii established by President Bush in 2006-a key step in fostering his so-called "blue legacy" of ocean conservation-which draws $10 million in annual funding alone, according to a recent study released by the Pew Charitable Trust, the organization that is spearheading the monument campaign here in the CNMI.

Economic statistics on the Hawaiian monument are scarce right now, the study notes, but just one 15-person trip by tourists into its waters results in $75,000 worth of spending. The same study found that a monument here in the CNMI could spur up to $10 million in tourism spending each year, and create hundreds of new and much needed local jobs.

Yet perhaps more important than the economic impact of a marine monument is the dire need to preserve our ocean waters for the future. The world’s oceans are now threatened with a slow death due to over-fishing and pollution. Ocean scientists have warned, for example, that if these problems continue at their current rate, 90 percent of the world’s seafood supply will be depleted by 2050. Already, a continent-sized swath of water in the Pacific is engulfed by a swirling mass of plastic garbage that threatens marine life and litters beaches, a problem with no foreseeable solution in sight.

Meanwhile, global warming is taking its toll on ocean life in the CNMI and worldwide. A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report on the nation’s coral reefs revealed that researchers in the CNMI recently had to add ocean acidification-a process that occurs when ocean waters absorb carbon dioxide, prompting changes in pH levels that can harm a variety of aquatic species-to the list of threats facing local corals as atmospheric carbon levels continue to rise.

Pew is also poised to release a scientific report in the coming days composed of never before revealed data showing the proposed monument's waters are a hotbed of biodiversity and rare geological activity, placing greater urgency on the need to safeguard them for generations to come.

The Saipan Tribune is first and foremost a community newspaper. Our commitment is and always will be to do right by the people of the CNMI. And it is in that spirit that we are giving our endorsement to the proposed national marine monument. The proposal is the right plan at the right time, and was put forth for the right reasons. A national marine monument will benefit our local tourism economy and preserve a beautiful environmental gem. It is our hope that President Bush will establish the monument to give the CNMI the economic boost it needs and the environmental protections its waters deserve.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Coral Spawning on Saipan

Four days after the July full moon! Get your cameras ready that's tomorrow!

It's that time of year again! Time for mother nature to take the spotlight, front and center but first a few local links you may wish to check out in preparation:

Peter Houk, DEQ marine biologist extraordinaire has written a great piece in Beach Road Magazine as well as in the Saipan Tribune this past week.
The Marianas Dive Forum has a thread going discussing the upcoming event and with any luck a few of our members will be posting pictures and video of the event as it happens or as quickly as they can get dried off and download some pictures and video!
There are also a couple of other links you many want to check out if interested in reading a little more about how corals regenerate themselves. This one from the University of Guam, and this one from our friends in Palau where the corals spawn following the April full moon. Here's a link from the BBC with its own video.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control I will not be in the water filming this years event. In fact I won't even be in the CNMI! Trust me I'm not happy about it. Last year shortly after the coral spawning Marianas Dive was born in part because many divers out here felt not enough information about Saipan's diving was made available for people to take advantage of. One of the things we pointed to was how the coral spawn could occur under our noses with very few divers knowing about it or knowing exactly when it would occur. Many people expressed frustration with our marine biologists from the government agencies for not giving this event the attention it deserves and a proper "heads up" to local and international dive communities.

Well not true this year! I'm happy to say, this year at least, it is unlikely many divers will miss this spectacle from a lack of being in the water. The information has gotten out there and I have no doubt, it is at least in part, due to the activities of this group - another feather in the cap for all of us at Marianas Dive. Now lets just hope mother nature does her thing as predictably as she's done year after year and the battery packs on all those cameras hold enough juice to capture the action in detail. Did I mention just how frustrated I am not being there to do my part in bringing this spectacle to your computer screen!

At the moment when you do a Google search for "coral spawn Saipan" the top hit is (sorry Greg) a very poor video from Greg Morretti. He'll be the first to admit he was just happy to be there last year and capture anything at all since right before the dive he lost what I recall to be his second camera in about as many months. He captured this on one he borrowed at the last minute from someone else on his dive boat.

Here's another link to a Youtube video that comes second on the list for that Google search. When I saw it the irony of where the feed comes from and what large marine park they discuss in the piece was not lost on me. Hmmmmmm what do you suppose next years news report on KSPN could look like given mother natures predictability and the possibility of us having our own internationally recognized marine monument. Please, for all of you against the proposed marine monument concept WATCH THIS VIDEO!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Pew's Role Defined

I think one of the biggest issues in the area of the Marianas Marine Monument concept has been the role of the Pew environment group. It is true (at least in my opinion) that the organization has not done a great job of bringing this concept to the people in a manner that would be considered appropriate by most folks in this neck of the woods. In particular the underestimation of resources required on the ground and the need for "back room politics" comes to mind. Despite what most would consider a large financial capacity at their fingertips the job of coordinating and pursuing public education and support for the concept has fallen on the shoulders of a very small team, the local Pew coordinators Angelo Villagomez and Laurie Peterka. Over the past number of months many (including myself) have pointed to Angelo's approach as one of the factors behind some of the resistance encountered especially from that of local government officials and members of the indigenous populations. However, in all fairness to Angelo and Laurie the blame cannot be pinned entirely on them. Yes mistakes have been made but they have been up against a large, well-oiled machine in the form of WESPAC and pro-fishing forces. These lobbyist are well trenched in this region of the world and their capabilities are very real and very well designed to head off any attempt at reducing their own jurisdiction and control. Second, in some cases they (Angelo & Laurie) have been unable to react to issues in a constructive and timely manner partially because of what I can only characterize as corporate bureaucracy and misunderstanding from the top as to "how things work here in the CNMI".

At the heart of matter for many opposed to the monument concept is their opposition to Pew and the approach taken in bringing this idea forward. That is why I was pleased to read Jay Nelson's special to the Tribune in today's paper. I think it clearly shows that Pew's role revolves around bringing this concept to the people and that their motivation behind wanting to establish the monument comes down to a dedication for conservation of marine resources and ecosystems world wide.

Now, hopefully, people can look past the fact that an outsider has brought this opportunity to our door step and move forward in examining the benefits and pitfalls that may exist. In doing so it is my hope that our local government will ultimately do what is best for the people of the CNMI and ask for a seat at the table when developing the declaration and subsequent rules and regulations of the monument. If the Federal government does in fact pursue this designation Pew will essentially disappear and it will be up to the local population to develop a proposal that makes sense for the residents of the CNMI.

Here is Jay Nelson's article from the Tribune.

The Pew Charitable Trusts: Committed to ocean conservation

Special to the Saipan Tribune

Editor's Note: Jay Nelson is director of the Pew Environment Group's Global Ocean Legacy, a project to protect some of the world's most spectacular marine environments.

Considerable recent press has been devoted to plans to establish a world-class marine park in the waters around the three northernmost Mariana Islands - Asuncion, Maug and Uracus. Letters, editorials and opinions have focused on both the benefits of the idea and on the non-profit organization, the Pew Charitable Trusts, which believes such a program would not only benefit the Mariana's marine environment and economy, but would also greatly enhance the reputation of the Mariana Islands as an environmentally friendly tourist destination.

The participation of people in CNMI in this very public discussion has been useful and healthy and will hopefully continue.

Worldwide, the oceans and their marvelous ecosystems are in trouble from global warming, pollution, overfishing and a host of other problems. But there are some places, like the Mariana Islands, where people still have a chance to preserve their cultural heritage and leave a wonderful environmental legacy for their children, while at the same time creating jobs and revenue that can improve the local standard of living.

Any new idea, however, is bound to stir interest and questions. So what of the Pew Charitable Trusts itself?

Pew, through its environmental arm, the Pew Environment Group, has launched a global effort to improve scientific understanding of the oceans, prevent the continued decline of fisheries to the benefit both fish and fishermen, and promote the preservation of particularly spectacular locations that have yet to suffer the devastating impacts of much of the world's marine environment.

Our efforts to encourage the establishment of a marine park in the Marianas are very much in keeping with our work around the world. Pew is an independent, non-profit organization governed by the same set of U.S. laws that apply to other charitable or non-profit groups, such as the Red Cross. We operate completely independent of government and business, although we try and work with both whenever possible. Moreover, as a non-profit, we make no money from our charitable work.

Pew has been a leader in advancing policies that improve lives, in Philadelphia where it is based, and throughout the world. Indeed, we are one of the most well-known, independent, non-profit organizations in the United States, running programs relating to education, culture, public health, the arts and the environment, among others. Our polling and information work is considered to be amongst the highest quality and most influential of its kind in the world.

For two decades the Pew Environment Group has been a major force in promoting sound conservation policies in the United States and, in recent years, internationally. The Environment Group is staffed by respected senior scientists, attorneys and policy specialists, all of whom have had significant prior experience in nonprofit advocacy, government and the private sector.

The Pew Environment Group focuses on reducing the scope and severity of three major global environmental problems: dramatic changes to the Earth's climate caused by the increasing concentration of global warming pollution in the atmosphere; erosion of large wilderness ecosystems that contain many of the world's rapidly vanishing plants and animals; and damage to the world's marine environment.

What led us to our work in the Mariana Islands was a number of factors. First, the environment in the waters around the northernmost islands has been little impacted by fishing or other extractive activities and is relatively healthy, containing some of the world's most unique geological features and ecology. Second, there is virtually no fishing in this area because it is so remote, and has never had the concentration of high-value fish that would make it a productive commercial fishing area. Third, it contains a portion of the world's deepest marine canyon and a host of native species, plants and other marine organisms that make it ecologically unique. And fourth, establishment of a marine park would actually benefit CNMI's economy through increased tourism and government support, in addition to generating jobs and revenue.

In the Mariana Islands, as in other areas of world where we are encouraging the establishment of marine reserves, we work with governments and the public to analyze the potential environmental and economic benefits of protecting these remarkable places.

The area being proposed for protection in CNMI is a spectacular complex of coral reefs, undersea volcanoes and deep ocean waters along a portion of the famed Mariana Trench. We believe this area will best serve CNMI both economically and culturally if it is conserved for education and research, for tourism and for future generations. We have sought to collect and disseminate information on the significance of this area and to bring this information to the attention of federal and local officials, as well as to better inform the people of the Mariana Islands about the area's natural values.

As part of our assessment of what a marine monument might mean to CNMI, three months ago we asked a respected economist at the University of Guam, Dr. Tom Iverson, to study the potential costs and benefits of such a designation. Dr. Iverson calculated that a marine monument would produce up to 400 new jobs and annually generate $10 million in new spending and $14 million in sales. He identified a number of potential benefits that would be created from a monument, many of which are related to the visitor industry and tourism marketing.

The establishment of parks or wildlife reserves, either on land or in the sea, is often a controversial process. There are always some individuals who do not believe that special natural areas should be protected from activities such as industrial fishing, mining, logging, and that these areas offer more value to people if their resources can be extracted for commercial gain. History, however, has generally proven this to not be true. The great parks of the world, places like Yellowstone or Yosemite in the western United States, or the spectacular game parks of Africa, provide far more benefit to people as parks than they ever would have if left unprotected. Protecting the waters around the three northernmost islands as a marine park will create much greater economic value for CMNI than commercial fishing or other extractive activities are every likely to produce. And at the same time, one of the world's most spectacular oceans areas will be protected for the culture and the people of the Marianas and their children and grandchildren as well as for the rest of the world.

Quite simply, we have approached the Mariana Islands as part of our overall mission to protect and conserve natural resources. In doing so, we seek to create a healthier and more sustainable environment for both people and nature. Our goal for the CNMI is to be a constructive advocate for an environmental opportunity that will not only benefit the local and global marine environment, but also the people who live here.

The decision on whether or not to designate a monument can only be made by government. If a marine monument is established, Pew will have no role in its management, and receive no compensation or benefit other than the satisfaction of knowing that a portion of the world's marine heritage is protected for future generations, while at the same time bringing certain economic benefits to local people.

Designation of an internationally recognized national-park-of-the-sea in the waters around the three northernmost islands of the Marianas will protect a portion of one of the world's premier marine ecosystems. It also will focus favorable global attention on the Mariana Islands, promote local tourism-including ecotourism-and establish CNMI's reputation as a global leader in marine conservation. As one of 15 protected areas within the U.S. National Marine Sanctuary Program, CNMI also would be able to take advantage of federal dollars devoted to public education and conservation. We believe this is one of those fortunate circumstances where conservation and economic development can work together for the benefit of both.

We encourage you to investigate this opportunity for yourself and look closely at its cultural and economic benefits. We look forward to continuing to work with the business community, your elected leaders and the public on this proposal.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Coral Triangle Meet the Trench Monument

I wrote the following way back on October 14th 2007, long before I'd heard about the Mariana Trench Monument concept. There is a link to the original post here but, for those of you too lazy for an extra click I've cut and pasted it below. I thought it appropriate to look at this again given the Tribune article today anouncing the upcoming release of a Pew sponsored scientific study.

At the end of my original Coral Triangle Post I've taken a moment to address a few things that might relate to the marine monument currently being debated in the community.

Here's my original post on the Coral Triangle. By the way, "Coral Triangle" remains one of the biggest search engine key word searches people use to get to this site.

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

No, in fact, we're talking about a region of the earths ocean described by the World Wild Life Fund (WWF) with this in mind...

"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 rain forest".

This map shows that most biodiversity occurs around Indoneisia and Papua New Guinea
However, the map below shows how the Northern Mariana Islands not only fall within the upper end of the triangle but they also establish a boundary line!
I realize the primary area of focus for the triangle is Indonesia and the surrounding countries but, it's important to note that we do 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 especially up North. 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 documented. Bottom line, 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!

Coral Triangle & Marianas Trench = Synergistic Marketing!

Like I say, those were the original thoughts I had on the triangle when I first became aware there was such a theoretical boundary. Now, throw in the concept of having an internationally recognized "Monument of the Sea" including the deepest part of the world and it's easy to see how potentially powerful such a marketing combination could be. A monument designation with all the hoopla that would come form the Bush administration announcement would instantly and effectively focus positive attention on us from around the world. With ensuing federal funding from the NOAA sanctuary program this beacon of light in the pacific would likely shine for many many years if not forever and glow ever stronger with time. The spotlight and funding couldn't possibly do anything but benefit our tourism industry and the scientific community.

Take a close look at the map. Have you ever tried to go on a vacation, diving or otherwise, to one of the remote islands of Indonesia. With the exception of perhaps Bali, it's not usually to encounter flight delays or planes that just don't show up for days. If you go, prepare for an adventure and be very pleased if your travel time is any where close to what it says on your itinerary.
For our largest tourist markets Indonesia represents long, multiple flights while we offer single non-stop daily flights from both Seoul and Tokyo. With fuel surcharges going up for all flights but particularly noticeable for long haul trips we can also offer a more affordable and convenient excursions to the "Amazon of the Sea" than perhaps anyone else in the region. Now, build a world class visitors center with information on specie diversity within the coral triangle and the untouched wonders of the deep and yes, they will come AND yes, they will spend their money!

From a purely scientific point of view there has to be something said for lying on the edge of even an arbitrary boundary. I once had to do a paper for an economics class based on what happens in communities where artificial boundaries exist. Mine was pretty easy as I lived close to the US / Canada boarder where the "line" actually meant large beautiful homes on one side and fields of very little development on the other. My point is, if the boundaries of the Trench monument can be maintained so as to allow an entire ecosystem withing the Coral Triangle to go untouched by things other than mother nature it should provide a nice baseline for years of comparison to other less protected areas outside the triangle. A scientests dream come true I would imagine, especially in a world without many baselines!

The Pew sponsored economic study released a few months ago touched on how a stable, long term marine protected area would bring long term sustainable dollars from increased research and scientific voyages. With increased research (and research dollars) who knows what else they'll find, but one thing is true, they'll probably find more with more trips and more minds looking into it all! New species, cures for diseases........

Ultimately, if the local people demand a seat at the table, with any and all governing bodies deemed necessary to develop and maintain the park, than control of how it is used and how it will benefit the people of the CNMI will remain tied to local interests. Without the seat at the table and an open dialogue there is the potential to A) risk loosing a significant long term opportunity that would grow the islands economy and preserve a resource for years to come or B) have the monument designated without local input leaving everyone scrambling to get the needed balance and local control that can only come with meaningful participation from local representation.

The benefits are real and at hand NOW!