Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Heading Home - Traveling LAX to Saipan

I wonder if the check-in agents got a raise when the airlines started charging for luggage and enforcing weight restrictions? On either side of me there’s been yelling and sarcastic answers from the other side of the counter with at least 3 groups. More than one person has been disgusted with having to repack a bag or pay extra for one that is over weight. I continue to stand and wait patiently as the agent process my paper work. My bags have all ready been weighed and they BOTH come in at 47.5 pounds – Ya baby!
Things have gone extremely well up to this point. There was an agent directing traffic in the first line and as soon as I asked where I had to go to check in with an agent I was politely directed to the SHORT line for once! The agent at the desk took his time making sure everything was done properly, even getting chastised by a supervisor who seemed like she really didn’t care what procedure he followed so why was he asking her! In the end he apologized many times over for the delay and even came out from behind the counter to shake my hand and try to help me with my bags. Following check in, as I pushed my cart of bags towards the baggage drop off line, another NWA agent quietly told me I could wheel them a bit farther down the hall to another entry point closer to my gate and with no line. Sweet! This is going well.

Arriving at security my documents were stamped and I passed through a pretty short line at lightning speed. Then, “This way sir” the dreaded words – To the pat down area I go! Oh well it really had been too good to be true to this point!
The first thing the man doing the patting said was I was selected for screening by the airline. I find that a little hard to believe unless they print out your boarding pass with some special code for “pick this guy”. As far as I can tell there is no communication between the airline and the person standing by the x-ray machine with the little baton directing you either to carry on or to move into the Plexiglas enclosure.

Whatever! I’m here in plenty of time and after all I am a single male traveler with a laptop and a hard drive in my carry on. I’m also Canadian and have been in the mainland US for over three months and am now returning to a US Commonwealth that few customs officials actually even know exists. Besides I probably look way too relaxed and happy since I arrived pretty early and have plenty of time for this. So being singled out probably makes sense in this case but it still sucks because a ½ hour later my chill’n time at the gate has been erased!

When I arrive the gate area is packed and they are making a last call for passengers requiring assistance to pre board. They’ve also made an announcement for general boarding and that line up is already very long. I think, what the hell, this surgery thing has to be good for something. I don’t really need much help but I do have 2 medical letters and getting on a little early would be much better than waiting in what was now a growing line.

I got a real look from the agent doing the boarding pass check at the gate as the last wheel chair went before me. She even said, as if I was an idiot, “we’re doing the pre-boarding sir”. I thought to myself “oh ya, was that the pre-board pat down your airline just selected me for back there?” This as I showed her my letter and then smiled as she said oh, ok sir and waived me through.

I’m even wearing my Torrance Memorial cardiac rehab shirt. I’m so tempted to go topless in Tokyo’s Norita airport and see what kind of service I get!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Preparing to Head Back to Saipan

I’m packed. Probably the earliest I’ve ever completed that chore on the night before a flight. This gave me a chance to hang out with my friends Dave and Sandy. They’ve been my saviors here in LA. From numerous transportation efforts and family meals to a roof over my head and the company of friends from the good old Club Med days, the hospitality has been more than anyone could ever ask for.
On this last day in LA many things have come to mind that, in an odd sort of way, made me think how grateful I am this heart issue and resulting surgery happened. Of course I can only say that now because I’m doing really well. No real issues I can’t live with. Sure there’s a scar but who really cares about that. Besides don’t chicks dig scars? I also feel at ease because I know there was nothing I could have done to prevent the rapid heart beat that triggered the chain of events of the past three months. Once diagnosed I really had no other choice than to have open-heart surgery unless of course a quickly deteriorating level of health and probable premature death was what I had in mind. The cause and outcome also means no major life style changes are necessary although the events have been a much needed wake up call for the tweaks required to give myself the best chance of keep things going for a while longer!

So, I really am just happy to be alive and realize, among other things, that without the need to come to LA my daughter would never have played with Dave and Sandy’s boys at this age. All of us now have memories that will make seeing each other in the future that much more special and I’m sure by then Ryan will realize I’m not Morgan but rather Morgan’s dad!

I knew this time away from my family was going to be really hard and I know it doesn’t compare to many others who’s jobs or circumstances regularly take them away from home for great stretches but that doesn’t make it suck any less. I feel like I’ve missed the whole crawling phase of my little guy’s life and that doesn’t sit well. Today when walking around Target and noticing far to many babies and kids the same age as mine I couldn’t help but get excited knowing that I’d soon be back to being a dad and a husband. It’s the type of giddiness that coined the term “absence makes the heart grow fonder”, because it really has.

Three weeks ago if it were not for my decision to remain in LA and do a cardiac rehab program I’m not sure I’d feel the same level of excitement about going back to Saipan as I do now. Besides had I made the choice to return I wouldn’t have met these fine ladies from Torrance Memorial.
Nor would I have been able to say I’ve shared an apartment at Seal Beach in Southern California with Michael Jordan. I likely would not have gone to DEMA and perhaps most importantly I know I would never have met my little friend Rudy who’s family’s circumstances reminds all of us to stop and smell the roses and appreciate every moment we have even if it doesn’t always seem like much fun.
You go little guy, I'm thinking of you in more ways than one.

It seems much easier for me now just to be happy I’m alive. There is something extremely freeing to be able to do that easily. We often think it or say it but to really feel it and recognize it often every day is something I’m not sure was possible for me three months ago. Life really is short and what’s important is your family, your friends and the ability to recognizing the little things most people take for granted.
I’ll likely be off the air for a few days as I fly over the Pacific but one of my intentions upon returning home is to pick up where I left off with a racing heart beat. I also plan on going SCUBA diving within 24 hours of my plane touching down in the Marianas so stay tuned!

For those of you coming into this little open heart surgery discussion a little late you can find all the posts easily by clicking on the Open Heart Surgery Labels at the bottom of this post or by clicking on the links under open heart surgery over on the right hand side of the blog. Those ones are listed in chronological order!

Obama Live on CNN

I've got a very busy morning before heading back to Saipan tomorrow but I made the mistake (or perhaps not) of turning on CNN as I was finishing a list and preparing to leave the house. Obama had started his speech in Iowa. Part way through, even though I know time is tight, I started to listen. Primarily because I wasn't hearing all the pundits nor was I hearing the same stump speech headlines or all the same deliveries. I was drawn in, bottom line, he makes sense and clearly communicates his ideas and looks to be someone people could be proud of having as the leader of their government.

Do I believe everything he says? No. Will everything he says happen? No. But nor have I ever believed everything any politician looking to get elected has ever said. If I was an undecided American voter I don't think I would believe much of what either of them say!

He's still on and it's probably almost over now. All I can say as he finishes up is that if this man is not elected President of the United States there is something seriously wrong. Seriously!

Time is tight, excitement runs high, only one more sleep and a whole lot of napping (hopefully) on the plane - gotta go!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

DEMA Las Vegas 2008 Comes to a Close

Day four.

I awoke today feeling excited but oddly not at all for the last day of DEMA. I needed the “keep your eye on the ball” mentality today because I had a job to do. With only six hours left in the DEMA show I had to concentrate on what was at hand rather than the fact I’d soon be reunited with my family. During last nights 5-minute telephone conversation with my daughter she had told me “only five more sleeps daddy before you will open my door”. Her words were now playing in my head over and over again only the number was now four.

Time to concentrate. One day left. What’s the priority? What’s left to do? Agghhh! I could use another 4 days here. The first three have been fantastic for their own reasons and I knew today would be no different except of course it would be the last and I was feeling like a kid in a candy shop when Mom and Dad give the 2 minute warning. I had made my list and knew getting to the show floor would keep my head in the game and focused on things other than future giggles over pancakes in my own kitchen.
(DEMA Floor by Indonesia)
Zip…….. 7 hours later and DEMA is over! Just like that. The full tally of people I’ve met is not yet complete nor is my informal survey designed to find out just how many of these dive industry folks even know where Saipan is let alone how many have dove the waters surrounding it. All week I’ve talked about Saipan, Tinian and Rota to many of the leaders in dive travel, underwater imaging and marketing industries as well as training and conservation organizations. My goals were clear from the beginning.
(Annie Crawley and her very proud Mom!)

(Me and Bob Talbot - never been to Saipan)
Networking with the intention to promote the CNMI, The Underwater World of Saipan DVD and my skills as a videographer. I was also here to learn from the best in terms of both people and locations including how and why they have become or continue to be successful. Finally I was determined to enter the world of still underwater photography by purchasing a housing for my Nikon D200 or perhaps a smaller less expensive option. Either way I was in need of expert advice and this was the place to find it as well as invest in the future.
(Wyland and I, yes if he looks like he is in pain he is . He just had a turtle added to his arm)

(Friends of Jennifer McKinnon and our Underwater Historical Trail)
During every interaction the discussions included Saipan and the CNMI. Among the things that brought the most interest and further discussion were the potential marine monument in the northern islands and the development of a historical underwater trail including the many WWII relics scattered around the Saipan lagoon. It should be noted here that I have now experienced first hand the beginning of what would be a very real increase in worldwide exposure should these two endeavors become reality. This is especially true for the monument as more than a few prominent leaders in this industry raised eyebrows with interest and expressed support for the concept of large-scale conservation in the region. All agreed it would be good for tourism and the planet.
(Ikelite housing - possibly)

(Sea and Sea - mmmm possibly)
As you walk parts of the floor at DEMA it’s like walking the globe. The Micronesian section takes you to Yap, Chuck, Palau, Kosare, Pohnpei. The Bahamas and Cayman Islands occupy large areas of the floor while additional Caribbean destinations have smaller booths nestled together according to geographical location. The same is true for Asia including the large set-ups from the Philippines, Indonesia and Australia. North and South America are well represented especially California and the Florida Keys. Within each section are individual operators and resorts looking to stand out from the rest by offer something no one else has or fulfilling a local need.
(Jeff, a good Canadian putting us on the world map with the Diving Almanac)

(Joey who knew where Saipan was!)
(Wendy and Jason Heller from .......
At the end of the day my opinion that the diving in the Marianas deserves discussion among the most popular dive destinations around the world holds true. Ultimately Mother Nature has delivered the necessary features and diversity for us to become popular with divers around the globe but at the same time the level of success for our dive industry is dependent on effective marketing and delivery of a positive experience for all who visit.
(The Put Another Dollar In - PADI booth)
No doubt improvement in both these variables is needed especially outside the Japanese market but at the same time increasing international awareness while improvements to service and infrastructure are made is not only possible but also proactive and necessary based on the initial response to my most popular DEMA question “Do you know where Saipan or the Northern Marianas Islands are?”
(Bill Acker from Yap)(Sam of Sam's Tours Palau)
While I believe I have done a lot to spread the good word and promote the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Rota I came up a little short in deciding upon a housing option for my still camera. DEMA was the place to put my hands on the hardware but in the end it will be getting home to my family and resuming income generation that will allow the actual purchase!
(The Wetpixel Team including Adam, Alex, Eli and Eric Cheng)
Only 4 more sleeps! This next one will go by quickly. It’s been a long four days and even though I wish I could have accomplished more I am truly happy I was able to make it here at all. I am happier still that I’m now closer to getting back to warm weather and crystal clear water only minutes away from my home.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Saipan Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest 2008

Today marks the 2nd annual Marianas Dive Underwater Pumpkin Carving contest. Obyan beach is once again this year's location and once again there will be delicious cupcakes! Check out pictures and stories from last years fun here. Everything gets underway around noon with a BBQ, free T-shirts to the first 20 entrants and yes Rose has promised her famous cup cakes. Last year coverage made the local news including judging controversies and a whole lot of fun.

Here's video from 2007, the first Marianas Underwater Pumpkin Carving contest. Unfortunately for me I can't be in two places at once so I'll be hitting the DEMA convention show floor while everyone else enjoys themselves in crystal clear warm waters making crazy pumpkin faces!

Have Fun! Share pictures!


Check out Kelli's blog for a great run down of this years event. Looks like fun was had by all.
Atsuko also has a whole bunch of great pictures on her Picasa Album here

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Las Vegas DEMA 2008 - Day One

A pretty good first day I’d say. I must admit it got underway a little later than planned but the bed just felt way too good this morning and the drapes don’t let in any light. So I didn’t actually get to the floor until noon. Here's me checking in and although I can’t remember this ladies name she had her picture taken because she didn’t know where Saipan is. Oh well I look like I'm still asleep!DEMA is a pretty big show. More than 11,000 dive and travel industry professionals from around the world including more than 700 exhibitors on a show floor that spans 185,000+ square feet. I walked and stood and talked and listened for six straight hours. As I sit on my comfy bed writing this I can feel my chest is sore but then again so are my feet!
It didn’t take long before I started meeting up with a few familiar faces. First was Annie Crawley. I completely forgot to get a picture with Annie but I’ll be back to talk to her a little more. She’s added a number of DVD’s to her collection of productions and I would like to take a closer look at them and get the scoop on how she’s managed to do so much in such a short period.
Just after entering the Micronesia section I ran into Navot Bornovski the owner of Fish N Fins in Palau. In the time I’ve known Navot he and his wife Tova have added two live aboard dive boats to their fleet making a total of three. In fact his newest vessel almost made a run up to our northern Islands this past summer! They have a great program at Fish N Fins so if you’re thinking about Palau you won’t go wrong there.
Of course the New World Publications booth is always a good place to find some pretty famous diving folks. I had the pleasure of meeting Ned and Anna DeLoach for the first time. Ned and I talked about the amazing number of new species being discovered in Indonesia and the coral triangle. I asked if it ever gets old stumping the scientists by taking pictures of creatures that until that moment were not known to exist. Judging by our discussion I’d say the answer is no!I also got to speak with the great Stan Waterman for about an hour. I’d met Stan a few years ago and he recognized me (and the DVD) right away. We again talked about the CNMI and how it’s not well known among the dive world. We talked about ways that could change. We talked about his book, open-heart surgery and how often life’s material collections are really only worth the relationships and circumstances from which they are acquired. I know, a little deep but you’ll just have to read his book Sea Salt.Next up, recent Women Divers Hall of Fame inductee Nancy McGee. Nancy has been a scuba diver and underwater photographer for thirty years and is an extremely active in promoting diving and new destinations at trade shows and to audiences around the world.
I think it was some time in March when Charles from Wreck Diver magazine was on Saipan. Eric at Speedy Tertle asked if I could help out and take him on a couple of dives and talk to him about Saipan Diving. It was shortly following the underwater survey of the lagoon and we discussed all the possibilities including development of an underwater historical trail and Wreck Diving doing some coverage in their magazine.
With an ever-growing list of locations I couldn’t help but think about how one of this guys creations could help the CNMI. When I stopped by his booth and discussed the potential Frank certainly didn’t rule it out and pointed to the success Guam and its Visitors Bureau has had with his unique work. In this case something Guam has might be worth making ours too.
Come to think of it I didn't see the Guam booth. They are usually here. I must have missed them but I didn't miss this Saipan Spotted Eagle Ray. This photo belongs to photographer Dough Perrine and it is on a wall of fame here. Doug was on Saipan a year and a half ago taking shots of the rays at Ice Cream and Eagle Ray City. He had two articles published from that trip including one in a National Geographic publication. And yes to anyone from MVA who recognizes the photo, it is the one I've used in my presentations. As you can see it's a impressive, eye catching shot and I'm thankful to Doug for allowing me to use it.
That's enough for today It's time to get ready for tomorrow!

Eight Weeks Later it’s Time for DEMA

Eight weeks ago last night I had a long sleepless 8 hours at UCLA medical center in the cardiac ICU. It was impossible to sleep with chest tubes, central lines, IV’s, a catheter, beeping machines, compression stockings turning on and off and perhaps the most irritating thing, an little oxygen sensor attached to my finger like a leash. I couldn’t move much because of the pain and all the attachments. If I did dozed off for a few seconds, a machine would beep, a nurse would come in to change an IV or take my blood sugar or perhaps it was time for the 4AM x-ray!
It’s a far cry from my surroundings last night and the deep sleep I had at the Las Vegas Hilton in preparation for attending the first day of the largest Diving professional trade show of the year. The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) gets underway today with over 10,000 industry professionals hitting the large floor at the convention center.
Eight weeks has been the magic number for all the medical people. On Monday, just one day shy of 8 weeks, my cardiac rehab nurses finally allowed me to work out my chest on a rowing machine. Literally each day I have gotten stronger and after carting around my luggage yesterday I think I will even be able to pick up my little 20 lbs buddy when I return to Saipan next week.

It’s truly unbelievable to me that I'm preparing to network with everyone in the diving world today when only a few months ago I wasn't sure if I would ever be allowed to dive again. I’m a little torn about feeling so good however, because in the back of your mind you want people to know what you’ve just gone through yet on the other hand I’m extremely happy there are no outward effects of having open heart surgery only 2 months ago! I need one of those buttons again!

Here goes. Stay tuned for nearly live updates and looks at this convention.

For those of you coming into this little open heart surgery discussion a little late you can find all the posts easily by clicking on the Open Heart Surgery Labels at the bottom of this post or by clicking on the links under open heart surgery over on the right hand side of the blog. Those ones are listed in chronological order!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Monument Letter to President Bush

The federal discussions are now underway on Saipan. This week is the week to make public comments regarding the proposed Marianas Marine Park. (No name has been officially adopted so I'll change it up now and again.)

Anyone with an opinion is being asked to write to the president, or call your local congressperson or senator the number is 664-8999. Your opinion matters. Here's my letter to W.

October 20th, 2008

George W. Bush
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President George W. Bush,

My name is Mike Tripp. I am a SCUBA diving instructor, underwater filmmaker, pharmacist and father of two living in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands on the island of Saipan. I write to you in support of the large marine protected area that will be created by proclaiming the waters surrounding the three northernmost islands of the archipelago a marine monument.

If my words, in any way, help sway your decision in favor of this designation then I ask that they also persuade you to do everything within your power to ensure the monument not only protects the marine habitat within its boundaries but that it also helps ensure the preservation and practice of local Carolinian and Chamorro culture throughout the CNMI.

As a Canadian living on Saipan and as someone who has traveled extensively, I am familiar with the concerns of those who feel their language, culture and traditional way of life is threatened by outside forces. In the CNMI this threat is not new nor is it unfounded; therefore, it is imperative that any governing body tasked with regulating the monument area have strong representation by local indigenous people whose ideals are in line with those of their ancestors and whose actions will uphold the high value of conservation passed down from generation to generation.

At the same time I ask for you to do everything within your power to ensure creation of the monument is followed by the resources necessary to achieve the many benefits touted for local residents and the world as a whole. Without proper funding for education, infrastructure and enforcement the federal designation of a monument will be nothing more than a line on a map and one that has the potential to divide our local population.

With funding and effective co-management comes the ability to protect this vast area far better than what can currently be achieved by good intentions alone, as these are no match for foreign fishing fleets illegally poaching such a vast area so far away from the populated islands of the south. With funding comes the ability to build a world-class visitors center that will not only stimulate the local economy by creating jobs and increasing revenues from tourists, but it will also provide a foundation for marine education and the preservation of indigenous culture. With funding and effective management will come international notoriety and a sense of pride for local residents when they are recognized by the world as long-time environmental stewards and role models for effective conservation. This pride will ultimately help fuel the creation of additional infrastructure and programs required to immediately stimulate economic growth while encouraging new generations of young indigenous people to embrace their own heritage and ensure traditional ways are passed on to their children.

As a father of two children who were born here on Saipan, I feel a sense of responsibility to do what is right for future generations of islanders as well as the planet as a whole. I believe creation of a marine monument along with appropriate funding and effective management by both federal agencies and the local people provides an opportunity that should not be missed especially as a result of the few who wish to see the status quo maintained.

In closing, as an active member of the community I believe, in context of the information above, the vast majority of CNMI residents support the designation of a marine monument surrounding the islands of Asuncion, Maug and Uracas and hope that you will decide in favor of its creation.


Mike Tripp
Mike Tripp Productions

cc: Benigno R. Fitial, CNMI Governor
Pete P. Reyes, CNMI Senate President
Arnold I. Palacios, CNMI House Speaker
Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior
James Connaughton, CEQ Chairman
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., NOAA
Carlos M. Gutierrez, Secretary of Commerce
Ignacio V. Cabrera, Chairman - Friends of the Monument

I encourage everyone to take the time to write your own letter or email. Send it to the paper, send it to any government office or take it down to American Memorial Park. It does not have to be long it could be written on a napkin although paper and a pen would be preferred.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Most Interesting Day on Saipan - A Monument Hangs in the Balance

It’s a beautiful, not too hot, not too cold kind of day here in Southern California. I have no idea what the weather is like on Saipan today but I do know it is going to be a very interesting one to say the least.

Yesterday, James Connaughton arrived on island to conduct official federal discussions with the people of the CNMI regarding the wishes, concerns and, ultimately, support for or against the creation of a large marine protected area surrounding the islands of Asuncion, Maug and Uracas.
These tiny, remote islands in the Western Pacific make up the northernmost tip of a rugged archipelago stretching over 400 miles to the south. Each of the 16 islands of the Mariana chain protrude like vertebrae on a human spine as they arch their way along the deepest part of the world, the Marianas Trench. Three of the islands are considered active volcanoes while 7 are inhabited. Less than fifty people live in the northern islands while the southern islands including Saipan, Tinian, Rota and Guam make up the population base. Politically the chain is divided but it is also united under the flag of the United States of America. The southern most island of Guam is considered a territory while the other islands, with Saipan as the capital, make up the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands (CNMI).
Today gets interesting because after 10 months of discussion the concept of the Marians Trench Marine Monument becomes an actual proposal and the dialogue between the federal government and the people of the CNMI including local government representatives officially begins. Open to the public on Capitol Hill at 11:30 AM there will be a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives where Mr. Connaughton, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, will presumably be outlining the preliminary details of the proposal. A proposal that would see President Bush use the powers of the Antiquities Act to create the second largest marine sanctuary or protected area in the world. A proposal that has caused a lot of debate and, with significant advocacy campaigns for both sides, a certain amount of tension and distrust between those who favor and those who oppose.
Anyone who follows along with CNMI politics or who has had the opportunity to sit in on a session of the house or senate knows that this should make for a very interesting start to a long day indeed. Just to fill in anyone who’s jumping into this midstream, I’ll provide a quick run down of the highlights and how I perceive we’ve gotten to this point before jumping in with a few “fly on the wall” predictions as to how today might go down.
The Marianas Trench Marine Monument, as it has become known, was a concept first floated by Jay Nelson of the Pew Environmental Group in November 2007 during a public retreat designed to establish the goals of a local NGO, the Marianas Island Nature Alliance (MINA). It was stated that President Bush was looking to have large NGO’s from around the world assess potential areas for the possibility of protection through use of the Antiquities Act as was done in creation of the Papahanaumokuakea monument in Hawaii two years earlier. While MINA decided to concentrate efforts in other directions, their director at the time, Angelo Villagomez, would later become the local Pew representative in charge of coordinating community outreach and advocacy for the monument concept.
During the MINA retreat, John Gourley, a local resident, former biologist at the Division of Fish and Wildlife and advisor to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac), opposed the idea and would later become a leader of the movement to block the concept from being discussed. Shortly after Pew began conducting public information sessions, the CNMI legislature also acted quickly (within 24 hours of its introduction) on a resolution essentially stating they were not interested in any proposal that allowed unilateral action by the federal government. Around about the same time, Governor Fitial also wrote a letter against the idea despite never meeting with Pew representatives or hearing the concept.

From the beginning the lines were drawn. Fortunately the story does not end there. Those in favor of the concept did not give up and quickly pointed to the need for conservation as well as the potential benefits beyond resource preservation that would come with the designation including increased tourism, more jobs, positive international exposure and higher education for local residents. The opponents pointed to a “takeover” of the waters from the local people and a loss of commercial fishing and mineral extraction rights across 1/3 of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). They also set out to create an “Us vs. Them” mentality with the pushy outsider being the Pew Environmental group.

Early on, opponents also attempted to sound the alarm that native Hawaiians did not welcome the formation of Papahanaumokuakea and that President Bush had forced it upon them. Pew brought William Aila, a respected native Hawaiian, to Saipan where he spoke about the indigenous Hawaiians asking President Bush to declare the monument. In doing so he said Bush had ended the government infighting and pro-fishing lobbying that had prevented Hawaiians from achieving the additional protections they desired.

Next came the argument that the designation would prohibit indigenous people from ever visiting the islands and that restricting 1/3 of the EEZ from any potential extraction of minerals or fish in the future would spell disaster for the local economy. Pew commissioned an economic study and like every economic study it was based on assumptions that could be argued one way or the other, but in the end it showed the immediate and long-term positive economic boost that would come from increased federal funding and increased tourism. At the time Aila also assured local fisherman that in the case of Hawaii, it is local Hawaiians that decide who is issued permits for fishing. So, although there were restrictions, it is not entirely prohibited and he encouraged people of the Marianas to demand a seat at the table when negotiating any rules or regulations for their own monument.

Another point of contention is the debate over who owns the rights to the waters surrounding the three islands. While the courts have ruled in favor of federal jurisdiction from the high water point out to 200 miles, many in the CNMI believe the issue of submerged lands is ongoing and that agreeing to the monument will officially give up what is theirs. However, many recognize that creation of the monument along with a co-management agreement including participation by local government would give the people of the CNMI a stronger position in the regulatory process while providing much needed funding for properly managing such a vast area of water.

In June just before I had to leave the island for my heart condition, a small group of local residents was formed. The Friends of the Marianas Trench Marine Monument (FMTMM) believed in the concept Pew had brought forward but realized the organization had not necessarily handled the delivery appropriately under the circumstances. They also realized that the opposition was spreading misinformation while attempting to put a stop to any real discussions before they got started. The Friends set out on a campaign to educate and discuss the issues as well as the potential benefits with the people of the CNMI. Over 5000 signatures and numerous support letters later, the group has grown and by all reports I get from the ground it seems they have been successful in gaining considerable support for the Marine Monument. This, while what seems like a few with a vested interest in the status quo, continue to oppose the idea based on the loss of potential commercial mining and fishing rights as well as the change in administrative jurisdiction. They continue to push the idea that no help is needed to protect or study this vast area of water despite the current lack of funds and personnel to do so. They point to past “effective” fishery management by local agencies through Wespac and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Act as reason enough not to consider any type of large marine protected or no-take zone in the area. It is interesting to note that should a monument be designated there will be a change at the Federal level with regards to who manages the proposed area. As it stands now jurisdiction falls under the NOAA fisheries division, of which Wespac is an advisory body. If the monument becomes reality governance will be co-managed with the lead federal agency shifting to the NOAA Sanctuaries program where Wespac has little influence. Local input and co-management responsibilities will likely mean changes at the local DFW offices as well and perhaps even the creation of a new local agency all together.

So, with much at stake and both sides firmly believing they are right, a whole bunch of people will show up this morning when discussions about the monument officially begin in the Senate chamber. No doubt on one side of the room will be Angelo Villagomez and Jay Nelson alongside the Friends in a sea of orange. On the other will be John Gourley, Sylvain Igisomar and other representatives of Wespac and DFW. I predict all or most of the government officials will be present and the room will be full. The press will be there. Jacqueline from the Saipan Tribune will get a great front-page cover shot for tomorrow’s paper. Chris Nelson or one of the KSPN reporters will be there with their video cameras trying to capture the scene including an interview with at least one of the Senators and Mr. Connaughton himself. Then later today there will be a press conference at the Friends of the Monument office in Garapan where support signatures will be officially turned over to the federal government. Finally at 5:30 tonight a public forum will be held at the Aquarius hotel. The room will again be packed with supporters in orange and those against (I’m not sure what color they will wear). There will be tension. There will be angry accusations. There will be many trying to sound intelligent but in the end many will likely ramble on. They will run out of time and then everyone will go home.

That’s as far as I wish to predict. I don’t believe Angelo and John will go for beers together afterward but I’m confident Angelo will have at least one among a group of dedicated people wearing orange.

Stay tuned for a full report!

UPDATE - The Day After.

An excellent story in the Tribune today. 'CNMI may regain control over its submerged lands'
Another Tribune story on the petition hand over. '5,502: A monumental number'
And Another Tribune article about Friends & Style 'Monument backers sport orange ahead of forum"
Jane Mack has written her take on the public forum.

Other articles and Links from the past 24 hours or so..
Amazed and Proud
Thanks for supporting the monument plan
The WOW of MMM
DFW arguments for marine monument
Angelo's Blog and Updates

The following are links to additional articles I've written about the Marianas Trench Monument in chronological order. Those with an * have been published in the Saipan Tribune and Marianas Variety.

April 25th 2008
Act Two - Northern Island Marine Monument

Friday, May 9, 2008
Marine Monument - Why Kill It Now?*

Monday, May 12, 2008
Marine Monument – Personalities & Politics*

Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Marine Monument - Lets Talk eh!*

Friday, May 16, 2008
Marine Monument - The Benefits / It's Not All About the Fishing*

Thursday, May 22, 2008
Marine Monument - Get Informed

Friday, May 23, 2008
Marine Monument - Ruth's Round Up

Saturday, May 24, 2008
Bush Eyes Unprecedented Conservation Program - NPR Report

Monday, July 14, 2008
Coral Triangle Meet the Trench Monument

Friday, July 18, 2008
Pew's Role Defined

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sunset at Seal Beach

Ok, being a little lazy on the writing tonight. I went for a walk to the beach yesterday. It was a clear night although there was definitely some effects in the sky from the fires burning around LA.
No Photoshop here, there really never is on this blog. Plenty of potential photo ops and mother nature seems to provide all that is needed.
I never get bored of trying to capture a sunset. It's gotten so much easier with digital! I remember one particular night siting on a beach in Moorea many years back discussing the crap shoot it was taking a whole roll of film not really knowing if you have the exposure right. One of the pictures I got on that night is now framed and hanging in my house. I got lucky - with the picture!I love watching the sun set and taking the time to reflect on the day. Sunrise is cool too but way too early. I like getting up in the morning about as much as I like wearing socks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Santa Ana Winds Whip up Fires in LA

I nearly froze my ass off in bed the night before last. Two blankets were not enough. Getting up in the morning was like getting out of a sleeping bag on a cold morning of camping. I laid in bed an extra hour knowing it was going to be cold but, in the end I also knew the front deck at the place I'm staying would be sunny. Finally, I jumped up, threw on pants, a fleece jacket AND socks as fast as I could. Yes socks! No time to have breakfast, straight to the sunshine.

On the deck it was windy, warmer in the sun but very windy. Later that day when I went for a walk to the pier you could see the dust and sand coming off the beach into downtown Seal Beach. Putting two and two together, this is why the warm deck I'd been sitting on was also covered in fine dirt.
Today I wake up, it's not as cold or as windy however, the news channels are reporting fires burning north of here and blaming the Santa Ana Winds. Traveling around the greater Los Angeles area for the past few months I can tell you everywhere you go it is very DRY. I had a Saipan weather report from Denise the other day telling me how humid and warm it was there. Not so here. It is very easy to see how a small fire in a trash can or from a cigarette butt, combined with these winds, could easily whip up large fires in highly dense residential areas almost instantly.
I've learned from the news today that the Sana Ana winds actually come down from the mountains east of this vast human settlement between there and the coast. I guess this explains why it's not as cold or windy at the pier today. There were definitely more folks out enjoying the winds yesterday even though they came with a bone chilling, off shore, cold.
The seagulls were the ones who seemed to enjoy the wind the most. Lifting off, spreading wings and gliding above potential food sources with the greatest of ease. I don't know if they're cold but the people fishing were bundled up and feeling it like I was.
When it comes to having to add socks to my morning routine I draw the line. If I have to jump into a body of water to get out of a fire I'd prefer it to be warm! It's time to get back to Saipan. Only two more weeks to go!

Update October 14th.
Fires continue to burn with additional ones now south of LA near the area I took my road trip a few months ago. An updated BBC story on the fires can be found here.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Miura Found Dead in L.A.

After reading about his extradition and his boarding a flight to LA a few days ago I was tempted to go to LAX and meet his arriving flight to see if it attracted as much media attention here in LA as it has on Saipan and in Japan.
Given this turn of events I think Saipan will be getting plenty of international press over the next few days at least. Once again not the kind we really want but I guess it is press. How does one hang themselves in police custody? In their cell no less?

This entire case was a huge thing on Saipan over the past 6 or 7 months especially when he was first arrested coming to Saipan for vacation from Japan. The influx of Japanese news media resulted in a huge increase in business revenue from literally hundreds of reporters.

One of the nurses from my cardiac rehab came up to me yesterday while I was riding the stationary bike and said "Hey, I heard Saipan mentioned on the news today, and I knew where it was!" I wonder just how many mainland citizens will see this story here and scratch their heads wondering, where the heck is Saipan!

Now if I could just get the remote away from my roommate who's fallen asleep on the couch watching Saturday college football I could turn to see if this story has hit the major network and cable news channels yet.

You can read more about who Mr. Mirua was including, his profile as seen on his own Wikipedia page and his original arrest reported on Saipan here. The story of his death reported in the Saipan Tribune here and how the Japanese media are reporting it here.

Oh ya I forgot to mention who Mirua's LA based lawyer was. Ya, I think this is going to get some media play! How DOES someone kill themselves in Jail these days?
Lawyer Mark Geragos, representing Kazuyoshi Miura, speaks to reporters in LA

The CNN story has hit the ticker! The "fair and balanced" look over on Fox News here.

UPDATE October 13th.

I've caught the story being played on a couple of the networks local programing and something on one of the major cable news channels in passing. In all the cases I did hear Saipan mentioned and that Geragos has called for an inquiry. How often does someone hang themselves in jail. Are there not 24 hour cameras on each cell with someone watching a monitor or do they not do that. Anyone know?