Saturday, June 30, 2007

I promised a couple days ago that I would try to get some of the pictures of the students who came on my talkshow Thursday morning and post them here, since I didn't have acces to them when I wrote about it. Sami is in the blue shirt on my left side, Zoe is on my right side, she has the really long hair, and the girl on my far left just traveled here by sailboat with her parents. They are Australian, went to Japan to buy the boat, and now they are in the process of sailing the boat back down to Australia. Many thanks to www.greencnmi.com for allowing me to use these pictures on my website. You can also go there and see them.

This is Mylene and Sami, they did some very creative public service announcements for Beautify CNMI which you'll be hearing a lot of on the radio stations. You can actually click on this link to take you to their website where you can also listen to the psa's. By the way, they were written by the students themselves from the information they have learned in the camp this year. Now that's putting their newly acquired knowledge to use right away. Angelo was the one who came up with the idea of having the campers write and record their own psa's using the knowledge they learned from camp. Great concept! By the way, Angelo did a cool little video clip on You Tube using the audio from the psa's, definitely worth watching.

And this is the group that wrote and recorded the Beautify CNMI song, I was totally impressed with the song, and love hearing it on the radio. You can also go to Angelo's website to listen to the song. In this picture are Hope, Ann, Rose and Zoe. I'm hoping that these girls are so inspired by having their own song play on the radio, that they'll keep writing more songs about the environment and our islands and that I can put those on the radio too. What an awesome group of students, I hope you enjoy listening to them on the radio as much as I do, because I think we're going to be hearing a lot more from all of them in the coming days.

Zoning in Garapan

What you are looking at are cut up shipping containers, the big ones they actually load onto ships. They are made of steel, which has a tendency to rust fairly quickly in this tropical air. They work well for storage, and you can even convert them into small buildings. We have converted one into a transmitter building that we have in the tower compound up on Mount Topachou, it works just fine for that, but the key is that it's in a walled compound that you can't see unless you're on the top of Mount Topachou looking down on the compound, so then all you really see is the roof.

These containers are on a very visible corner right in the heart of Saipan's tourist district. It is right across the street from Capricciosa, and right on Beach Road. The business that is leasing this used to have some bright yellow tents set up, that was their version of a building. Now they have decided to upgrade to a container building. Now if they were doing this somewhere in the jungle or on some secluded backroad, I doubt many people would care about their container building. But because they are doing it right on Beach Road, and in the heart of the tourist district, it's not going over very well.

I got a press release from Steve Tilley, the Zoning Administrator, announcing that he had cited this business with a notice of violation for not getting a zoning permit, and not getting proper building permits. They face fines of $1,000 per offense per day. I was very glad to hear that the Zoning Board is on top of this situation and is not allowing this to turn into a shanty town.

Friday, June 29, 2007

If you've been checking out the We Love Saipan website lately, you've seen a few new additions of testimonials and their blogs. One of them I've been checking on regularly is Connie's, it's two testimonials below mine. You can go to it at http://www.islandtreasure-connie.blogspot.com/ and there you will see some of her awesome copper wire creations. I was attracted to them right away because she had a couple figures of scuba divers, complete with the tank on their back, and fins on. And just for the record, no Connie is not responsible for the rash of copper wire thefts. She gets it from old junk cars, airconditioners, fans, anything that has copper wire in it. She recycles the old wire and turns it into works of art. I saw this particular piece on her blog and commented that I really liked it, and wondered if she was selling them. The next thing I knew she had her husband drop it off at my office as a gift for me. I think it looks right at home surrounded by the sea shells I've found on some of my dives. She even managed to spell out Saipan in the copper wire. And then on the left side of the picture is a little copper wire stonefish. The picture below is a real stonefish I saw on a night dive at Lau Lau.

She said that my underwater pictures had inspired her to do some underwater scenes. So here something that I do just for the fun of it, has actually inspired someone else to create something very cool. In appreciation for her copper wire sculpture, I gave Connie one of my framed stonefish pictures, it's the one above actually. I'm hoping it continues to inspire her to come up with all kinds of new creations. Connie hasn't tried selling any of her creations yet, but I'm sure that's only a matter of time. She had no idea how to go about pricing, so I've given her a few ideas to go on, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to one of these days see a gallery of Connie's creations.

I think it's very cool though how blogging has allowed two people to connect, who probably wouldn't have otherwise, and you just never know what will come of it. I'm hoping that my pictures continue to inspire Connie and that she'll be coming up with all kinds of amazing island treasure creations. I have many times in my life wished I had the kind of talent to create things the way she does. I'm afraid I was passed over in that department, but I was given the ability to dive and capture some of it on film to hopefully inspire others. We each have our unique purpose, the key is identifying it and then maximizing it. I'm thinking there are a lot more people out there with a gift of writing, who can either educate us or just make us laugh. Blogs are free and are very easy to do, I'm living proof.

Thanks for the diver Connie, he is proudly swimming among the shells on my desk, and keep on creating, you've got an awesome gift!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

An Awesome Investment

This morning on the talkshow, Angelo Villagomez brought in a few guests to talk about Beautify CNMI Micronesia Challenge Summer Camp that is going on right now. This is not one of those summer camps that takes place at some posh resort where the campers play polo, eat crepes and are only worried about what each other is wearing. This is a camp put together on a shoestring budget, by a few very resourceful individuals, with lots of help from the community. One of the people helping put the camp on is Bree Reynolds, the science teacher at Hopwood Junior High School. No, she's not getting paid for it, but she is being rewarded by seeing some very bright young students being turned on to environmental awareness. It's called a labor of love.

They brought a couple of the campers, Sammy and Zoe, in to talk to me on the radio about what they've learned, and what they think of the camp so far. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me, or I could have put some pictures up here of these beautiful young ladies in the studio with me. Maybe with any luck, Angelo, Walt or Bree will e-mail me some of the pictures they took and I can post them here. But in the meantime, I figured since they are talking about the environment anyway, why not post a few more dive pics, after all, it's part of the coral reef that we did talk about this morning.

Tasi Tours has graciously donated the use of a van and a driver to the camp this week to help transport the campers to the various sites they are visiting. And then as soon as we got off the air, I got a call from Ed Salas who works with the Tan Holdings group of companies, asking if they could help out by taking care of lunch today for all the campers. So instead of peanut butter and jelly today, the campers are getting omelets, fried rice and other assorted dishes from Shirley's restaurant. It's amazing what can be accomplished when we all pitch in and help out in worthwhile endeavours such as this one.


After the talkshow, the campers stayed behind and recorded some public service announcements they wrote themselves about protecting our environment. They also recorded a song about beautifying the CNMI, and I believe the words and music to the song are all their own original creation as well. You'll be hearing the psa's and the song quite a bit on KZMI 103.9 FM, and KCNM 101.1 FM. I was just totally impressed with these young environmentalists and wanted to let them know they're on the right track. And I wanted to thank Angelo and Bree for making an awesome investment into the future of our islands by creating environmental awareness in this bright young bunch.

And then I do have just one question - Bree, why isn't your blog listed on the We Love Saipan page?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nudi Gallery

I had to chuckle the other day when I got a message from someone who had read my blog, and then gone on to look at my underwater pictures on my smugmug site. She said she thoroughly enjoyed reading my articles, and liked the pictures, up until she saw that I had a Nudi gallery on my smugmug site. She said she was so disappointed that I had to put pictures like that on there. Now I'm assuming here that she didn't actually look at the pictures, but just assumed that they were nude pictures of humans. If she would have looked, she would have seen that indeed they are nude pictures, but of nudibranchs, a type of sea slug. These fascinating creatures come in almost every conceivable color and shape. They make great subjects to photograph, and there is a lot of interest in them as far as divers and underwater photographers go. The top picture is a pair of mating Halgerda guahan nudibranchs. Yes they are named for the island Guam, or Guahan. Oh great, now someone is going to complain that I have sex pictures on my site too!

This is another nudibranch, it's called a Hexibranchus sanguineus, or commonly referred to as a Spanish Dancer. This nudibranch is about a foot long, and quite a sight on a night dive, it certainly adds a splash of color when contrasted on a brownish rock or patch of sand. If you'll look at the left edge of the picture, you'll notice two little horn like objects protruding from the nudibranch, those are it's rhinopores, sort of like antennae. Then toward the back of the animal it looks like an orange broccoli patch, those are it's gills. These are incredibly fascinating creatures, and as you'll see, they vary greatly from one species to the next.

I stumbled across this next nudibranch crawling across the sand at Lau Lau one day, it's a Ceratosomo Miamirana, and according to the Nudibranch book by Helmut Debelius, it is a very uncommon nudibranch, and there isn't much known about it. Fortunately I did manage to get about 100 pictures or so of it. I find you always want to take way more pictures than what you actually want, because you're never sure what's going to turn out. Again, you can see this guy's rhinopores on the ride side of him, with his gills looking like a radar array on the left end. The distinctive features on this one are the tiny blue spots just behind the rhinopores.

While this next nudibranch looks very similar to the ones in the first picture, it is distinctly different. You will notice this one has yellow dots, and has 2 yellow lines circling the outer edge of his body. This is a Halgerda malesso, and again a fairly uncommon nudibranch, but we seem to have a good supply of them here in the Mariana Islands. If you look carefully on night dives at Grotto or Lau Lau, you might see one of these crawling along the coral walls. They are anywhere from 2-4" longand about 2" wide. You might also find them under ledges or in dark holes during the day, but they look to stay tucked away during daylight hours.

And this nudibranch is named for a couple divers on Guam that have done extensive research on nudibranchs, Clay Carlson and Patty Jo Hoff. This is a Phyllidia carlsonhoffi. How cool is is to have a nudibranch named after a couple divers on our neighboring island? I could show you dozens of other nudibranchs we have here, but I think you get the point. Some of my pictures will be used in Rudie Kuiter's upcoming book, Nudibranchs of the World, and you can also see some of them on Erwin Kodiat's nudibranch website, Nudi Pixel at http://www.nudipixel.net/pictures/photographer/harry_blalock/ And if you'd like to see some of the other nudibranchs I have pictures of, you're welcome to check them out on my Smugmug site at http://saipandiver.smugmug.com/gallery/2885209

Now I probably have you totally convinced I'm some kind of sea slug nerd for knowing the names of all those sea slugs, but hey, I do have a nudi gallery on my website!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Virtual Dive

Since I didn't get a chance to go diving last weekend (so what if I went twice last Thursday, it didn't count), I thought I'd take you on a virtual dive today. This is the whole reason I got into digital underwater photography, to be able to share all the amazing things I see with those of you who can't go with me every dive. I love this picture, it's like Mr. & Mrs. shark holding hands, or fins in their case, just hanging out in the Grotto. These are some of the resident white tip reef sharks that always seem to be somewhere in the Grotto. They have always been friendly enough when I'm taking pictures. There was the one time that one of them bit my flashlight, but I wasn't even taking their picture then, so we'll just ignore that one little blemish on their record.

Without a doubt, my favorite underwater critters have to be the turtles. They are just such graceful and majestic creatures. When they are swimming and gliding through the water, it's like they own the ocean. When they allow you to take a journey with them, it's totally an otherworldly experience. And as long as you can keep from swimming into a big rock or chunk of coral head first, because you're too busy looking at the turtle to pay attention to where you're going, you'll absolutely love it. I would love to be able to paint pictures of them or draw them, but I have no talent in that area at all, so I have to settle for taking their pictures. But God's handiwork is hard to improve on anyway, so I'm happy to just capture them on the camera. By the way, this little Hawksbill turtle lives at Lau Lau Bay.

For the longest time I thought this was some kind of egg sack at Wing Beach. But I could never see anything developing inside them, and they always seemed to stay about the same size. I watched them over the period of a couple months before my Marine Biologist dive buddy Greg Moretti finally identified it as a fairly uncommon type of coral, Plerogyra Sinuosa. It likes to be where there is fast moving water and strong currents, which would explain why you can find several clusters of it on the wall at Wing Beach. This is a great picture to zoom way in on to look at the detail on each one of those sacks. I actually had this picture blown up to an 11" x 14" and have it hung on my wall at home.

This is one of the magnificent big orange sea fans inside the Grotto. If you don't have a flashlight with you on the dive, you will never realize that these fans have such vibrant colors. I love photographing them with the ocean blue background. This particular one has a little yellow coral sponge attached to it, just adding one more splash of color. There are several little caves and swimthroughs outside the Grotto that have these fans lining their walls, making it seem like you're swimming through some kind of fantasy world. And people really can't understand why I like to spend as much time as I possibly can down there?

This is a very common sight to anyone who has done much night diving out here. Usually the parrotfish will find a nice little hole to sleep in, where they are protected from predators. This one however fell asleep right out on the open sand. Parrotfish sleep at night with their eyes open, and they will blow a bubble around themselves, which is supposed to help protect them from predators. You can go right up to the fish and touch it, as it is soundly asleep. But beware when it wakes up suddenly, it might come slamming into you. Just think how you would react if you were jolted out of a peaceful sleep. This parrotfish was in the sand fingers at Lau Lau.

And for our final stop on today's dive, we'll check out this colorful stonefish I stumbled across on a night dive at Lau Lau. Most of the stonefish I have seen previously were a brownish color, and seemed to totally blend in with their surroundings, making them very difficult to spot. This one stood out like a sore thumb though it was so bright and colorful.

I could keep doing this all day long, but unfortunately I just noticed that you are low on air, therefore I'd better get you back up to the surface before you're having to breathe on my spare regulator. I hope you've enjoyed this little virtual dive though. If you'd like to see more pictures from my dives, go to http://www.saipandiver.smugmug.com/ Check out the underwater album. Let me know when you get your tank refilled and let's do this again!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Displaced Shells

Anyone who has ever been to my office before will recognize that mess as my desk. If you know anything at all about me, you know I love to scuba dive, and you probably know that I like to look for shells when I'm diving as well. I've brought in a small sampling to my office, so I can be surrounded by these marvels of the sea all day while I'm at work. And people usually enjoy looking at them and seeing shells they had no idea existed out here.

I also used to display hundreds of shells all over my big desk at home. It had a high back and shelves on it, so it was perfect for putting shells everywhere. Then we moved, and somehow in the move, I lost my desk to my daughter, she claimed it and put it in her room. Needless to say, she had other ideas about what she wanted to put on the shelves of the desk, so my shells had to find a new home.

I had packed them all in a suitcase for the move, and there must have been one or two, (ok - maybe 10, possibly 20, but certainly no more than 100) that had a certain odor associated with them. If you don't get all of the crab or animal out of the shell, it can really smell pretty bad after a while, and the smell doesn't really seem to go away with time, until you actually get that piece of whatever out of the shell. Well that's what Kelli claims anyway, personally I hardly ever smell anything, it's probably just a female thing. So because something in the suitcase might have had a little odor, I've been ordered to leave the shells in the suitcase, and store the suitcase somewhere that no one comes into contact with it. While I have missed seeing my shells at home greatly, I'm afraid I'm the only one who's missed them.

Up until Greg brought a friend over to see my shell collection yesterday, then all the sudden there was a legitimate excuse to go digging the shells back out again. So I got the suitcase, and took it outside to the patio, so as to not anger the odor police, and we went through shells on the patio table. I'll admit, it's possible I might have gotten a whiff of something as I was going through the shells, but it could have been from something out in the jungle just wafting in too.

These are just a few of the larger shells from my collection, but I didn't have the heart to put them back in the suitcase, so now I have to try to find spots throughout the house to hide them. What I really need to do is build a display case for them with a sealed glass top or door. I did look at a couple to buy, but I got there right after Bruce Bateman bought it right from under my nose. Now that I think about it, maybe he is the most evil person in the world - just kidding Bruce. I can easily think of at least a dozen far worse than you.

But if the shells are in a sealed display case, you won't be able to smell them, and I won't have to dust them, a winning idea all around! But guys if you really think you're the king of your castle, just try displaying some shells that might, just might have a slight trace of a less than favorable odor emanating from them. Then you'll find out who's really in charge in no time at all. If you're lucky, you'll be allowed to stay in the castle, but the shells will undoubtedly be banished to the dungeon. Guess I'd better get busy on building that display case!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Cat Door

So do you know what this little contraption is? We're hoping it's something that will allow us to be able to sleep all night long without having to get up to let the cats outside. It is a cat door that you install in your regular door. The idea is fairly simple and in theory will make your life easier, the cats can now come and go as they please simply pushing through the clear vinyl panels that are held down with magnets. Since it only consists of two pieces of plastic and the vinyl doors, and 6 plastic screws and nuts, you would think it would be very cheap.

Well I'm here to tell you, there is nothing simple, easy or cheap about this cat door. You can buy a brand new wood door at the hardware store for $89, you can spend $139 just for an animal door big enough to fit your dogs and your cats. I wound up spending $39 for the cat door, or almost half the cost of a nice new wood door. So much for being inexpensive. Installing this little personal entry door for my cats cost me my afternoon dive Sunday afternoon. There were no words on the instructions, only pictures, so you'd better hope you can figure out what they are trying to demonstrate. I suppose it makes it easier for different language speakers to use, but personally I like very detailed, thorough instructions. You have to measure the spot for the door, then try cutting the hole in the door, keeping your cuts straight. That's not too bad if you can take the door off the hinges and lay it down to work on, but when you have to cut the hole in it while it's hanging, it's not a lot of fun. Then you have to drill the holes through the door for the screws to go through, and hope you do it straight so thay they line up on both sides of the plastic car door frame.

When you're all done, it should look something like this. Well, I'm not really sure I have the side with the vinyl doors on the right side of the main door, the pictures weren't real clear about that. But it doesn't really matter that much anyway, since the door opens both ways, so the cats can come and go. So after the cutting, drilling, fitting and installing is all over, you would think all the hard work was over and you could just sit back and relax. If you really think that, you've obviously never owned a cat. Next comes the process of trying to teach the cats to actually use the door. You've heard the old saying you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. Well you can hold a cat up to a cat door, but you can't necessarily push him through. Well, that's not entirely true, you can, but it may be a painful experience for both of you.

And here's another very valuable lesson for you, it is much better to push a cat, than to try pulling a cat through the door. Kelli was gracious enough to volunteer to be the cat pusher so I could take a picture of it using the door at least once. So far we have successfully pushed both cats out of the cat door. Neither of them has successfully made the journey back in by themselves yet, but if they are ever going to return to my house, it's going to be through that cat door I just spent all afternoon installing.

So after all the time, trouble and expense I just went through to give those 2 their own door, I'm wondering who is really the pet and who is really the master? So if you ever need to install a cat door, get a nice cold bottle of wine, or a bottle of scotch, and give me a call, I'd be more than happy to sit there drinking it while telling you that your cats probably won't use it anyway, but it will make for a great conversation piece when you have friends over. We may or may not wind up installing the cat door, but I can guarantee we'll have a great time talking about it!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Day of bloggers or Summer Solstice?

My Thursday morning guests on the talkshow were Angelo Villagomez, Boni Gomez and Jeff Turbitt, they are all established bloggers here on Saipan. I'm a johnny come lately blogger, since I've only been doing it a couple weeks, but these 3 actually know what they're doing and what they're talking about when it comes to blogs. So we had a good time discussing what blogs were, how they can help Saipan, and we learned from Angelo that you can lose a job because of your blog.

Jeff had sent around an e-mail earlier in the week about wanting to go for a blogger dive before he left for vacation. If you know anything about me at all, you know it doesn't take a lot of coercion to convince me to go diving. Bruce Bateman generously offered to take the blogging divers out in his boat, and Jeff suggested Thursday afternoon, so it was all set. The divers were Bruce, Jeff, Angelo and yours truly. We all thought that Angelo's girlfriend EJ was coming along to snorkel as well, since that's what Angelo had been saying in his e-mails, the only problem was he forgot to tell her. She did wind up coming to lunch with us though, so I got to meet her there. She wanted to have a picture taken with me, personally I think she just knows she looks that much better when sitting next to me. But if you want to see that picture, you'll have to go to her blog http://koreanpartygirl.blogspot.com/2007/06/guess-who-i-ran-into.html

Then it was off to Bruce's boat and out to Ice Cream, one of favorite dive spots on Saipan, thanks mainly to the group of spotted eagle rays that hang out there. So for all those of you who had to work Thursday afternoon and couldn't play hookie with us, here are a few shots of our dives. We did the shipwreck after Ice Cream, and made a full day of it.

This is Captain Bruce backing the Emerald II out of the slip at Smiling Cove Marina. Not only was he a great boat captain, but he was a great guy to talk to as well. Sorry Bruce, but I think your standing for the "most evil person in the world" ratings is slipping.

Angelo and I were the first two in the water, and were floating out to sea waiting for the other two to get their gear ready. Not to worry though, we all eventually met up underwater on the coral formation known as ice cream.

This was Jeff as he was slowly descending into the depths. Interesting technique, it looks like he's home sitting in his recliner watching a hot political debate or a Yankees game.


And here we have Bruce hovering above the top of Ice Cream. If you're wondering why it's called Ice Cream, from the surface the coral heads look like scoops of Ice Cream.


And here is the 3rd of the blogging divers, Angelo. Angelo was striking the traditional tourist pose during his safety stop on our first dive, and looking very stylish I might add. Ok, so technically Bruce may not be a blogger, but he writes a column for the Tribune, so I think that counts. And plus it was his boat so who's going to argue?

And if you're waiting for the picture of me diving, well you can just keep waiting, it's my blog and I can put in whatever I want.

It was an awesome day for diving, talking and just generally enjoying ourselves. Here are a couple of the videos I took of the spotted eagle rays. And if you'd like to see more pics from our dive, feel free to look at the Bloggers Dive album on my smugmug site. http://www.saipandiver.smugmug.com/gallery/3038601







Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Favorite time of the year!

Driving around Saipan this time of the year is a visual feast, everywhere you look it's an explosion of color. The flame trees are in full bloom, and this year seems to be a banner year for them, and the majority of the trees are covered in their orange flowering blossoms. This particular flame tree is one of my favorites, it is located on the side of Beach Road, right by the old tank at the end of Quartermaster Road.

While it might be true that there are quite a few things that can be frustrating about Saipan, there are also some things that are just absolutely spectacular, like the scenery. Every time I get in my truck and drive around, I'm just blown away by the incredible natural beauty surrounding me. I never get tired of it, and I try to never take it for granted. After growing up in Michigan, and living the better part of my life there, I was already used to some pretty awesome scenery in northern Michigan, but I have to say, it paled in comparison to this.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the challenges and frustrations that we don't take time to stop and smell the roses, or the fragrant plumeria in our case. This beautiful bougainvillea plant is on the side of my driveway, so it's what greets me as I come home every night. If you can't appreciate something like that, you obviously haven't spent months on end in Michigan when everything is brown, or brown covered in white. The trees, the grass, the plants, pretty much everything goes dormant in the winter and turns a depressing shade of brown. That is covered up occasionally by white snow, which gives everything a clean fresh look. But you won't see much green, just a lot of brown.

We have beautiful green plants year round, and colorful flowers year round as well. I know it never hurts to remind myself of what a beautiful place we live in, and I'm guessing it won't hurt to remind you either. Next time you go for a drive, take a look at all the amazing sights, the ocean view along Beach Road and all the flame trees, the thousands of coconut palms on the backside of the island, and the banana plants that seem to grow just about everywhere.

I understand that those that were born here and who have lived their entire lives here might think that the rest of the world is a very attractive place, and they can't wait to leave here and explore it. But I would urge you, try to appreciate what you have while you have it. My son at one point couldn't wait to get off this island either, but after being gone a few years I think he would do almost anything to be able to come back for a while. We are living in a tropical paradise, sure it has it's problems, but it also has a lot of very big advantages to it as well. Stop on the way home tonight and smell a plumeria!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sometimes it pays to speak up!

This is a site that I am all to used to seeing when I dive the Grotto. I realize that there isn't much I can do to stop it from happening in the first place, so I've decided that everytime I dive the Grotto I'm going to pick up all the trash I see down there and haul it up to the garbage can. It's identifying what you can do to actually make a difference and help improve the look of our islands. By doing this I know that at least the diving tourists that go after I'm done won't have to look at all the garbage on the bottom of the Grotto instead of the fish. It's amazing to me just how much garbage can accumulate down there from one week to the next. I can haul out a dive bag full of garbage most weeks, just because people think it's easier to throw their bottles and cans in the Grotto rather than carry them back up to the garbage can.

We have had quite a problem with trash on Saipan for a while now, people just don't seem to think it's any big deal to leave their garbage laying around. They seem to think that someone else will pick up after them, or that the ocean will just carry it away and they won't have to think about it again.

Beautify CNMI, which has been trying to lead by example this past year and clean up our island has had a great impact, but there always seem to be the few that just don't care. Or maybe they think that no one else cares if they trash paradise. It's this bunch that I would like to somehow get their attention and make them realize their behavior is just not acceptible, and I don't care if previous generations did just throw all their garbage in the ocean. Back then everything was biodegradable and would break down in time. Now we have aluminum, plastic, rubber, glass and a whole assortment of other things that never break down, they just stay there, forever!

Saturday, I was sitting on the patio at Oleai Beach Bar & Grill, as I do pretty much every Saturday for lunch. This is the view from the table that I almost always sit at, when someone doesn't swipe it from me first that is. It's a gorgeous view isn't it? You are about 30 feet from the waters edge, you can hear the little waves lapping at the beach, you see the schools of fish go swimming by, and if you're lucky you might even see a Spotted Eagle Ray flapping his wings in the shallows, or a big fish jump nearby. It's a tranquil spot, especially when you have an ice cold iced tea and bacon cheeseburger sitting in front of you. It brings to mind the old Jimmy Buffet song, Cheeseburger in Paradise, because that's exactly what you're thinking as you sit there.

All the sudden, the tranquility of paradise was shattered as I saw dozens of pieces of trash floating out into the lagoon. There were foil chip bags, plastic bags, plastic bottles, dozens of pieces of garbage just floating out to sea, and it was all coming from a group that was having a picnic down on the beach. I guess they just thought it would be easier to throw all their garbage in the water as opposed to packing it all back up and throwing it away in a garbage can. Very few things make me as upset as that, so I stood up so I could see the culprits. They all recognized me and started waving. I shook my head, looked out to the trash, and simply said, not cool! Then I sat back down. The people sitting near us took off, I don't know whether they were embarassed or afraid of confrontation. But I didn't care, it wasn't cool at all, and those people needed to be told it wasn't.

Much to my surprise, a minute later, one of the guys in the group was wading out into the lagoon picking up every single piece of garbage and bringing it back in to dispose of properly. If I hadn't said anything, that garbage would have been spread all over the reef. But because I decided to stand up and tell them it wasn't cool they went out and brought it all back, and hopefully will think twice before they do it again next time. You just never know when someone like me might be watching, and might have the nerve to actually say something about it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Housewarming party

This is the patio and outdoor kitchen at our new house. We were going to be having a housewarming party last Saturday night, so I went out and bought a few new patio chairs and a new Weber grill for the occasion. I did have the foresight to take a picture before the party started, for what I'm not really sure. But then once the party got started, I got so busy I completely forgot about taking any pictures. We had a great time at the party though, and had an amazing turnout of people. In the week leading up to the party, I kept running into people, and I would keep inviting them to the party. It started out as something fairly small, just a few close friends over that we could easily accomodate on the patio.

Well you know how it is, you're in Ace Hardware, buying the grill and you run into Ryan, who you really haven't seem much of the last couple of years. So of course you have to invite him and Erin and their 2 children to the party. Then I wound up taking Roland for his first dive Saturday morning, so of course I invited him and his wife Shana to the party as well. The guest list went from 10 to about 40 in no time with me on the loose. I'm surprised Kelli didn't lock me in the outdoor bathroom and take away my phone, and then plug any air holes leading out of the bathroom. I kept assuring her they wouldn't all show up and everything would be just fine.

Sure enough, at 5:30 they started showing up, and they just kept coming. I had a hunch there might be a fairly large group of people, so I bought a big Rainbow Runner and 3 big tuna to grill out. I marinated them in jerk sauce for a couple hours that afternoon, and then just threw them on the grill. By 7:00, the patio was full to overflowing with people, the kitchen was full of people, and the living room was full of people. Boy was I ever glad I grilled all that fish! People brought dishes to pass, wine, desserts and there was plenty of food to go around. The next morning we tried to do a count to figure out exactly how many people came. We came up with 29, although I'm fairly certain we missed a few in the count. Everybody kept commenting how good the fish was, I told them it was an old jerk secret. I think a few of them were insinuating that it was my personal secret, but that's ok.

It seems everyone had a great time though, and it was kind of funny, because after a while, some of the guests were actually playing tour guide and showing other guests through our new house. Some of them just kept going on the tours for the fun of it, or maybe they just liked walking on the plush carpeting in our bedroom. But in spite of all the worrying ahead of time, everything went off perfectly, and to my knowledge nobody even noticed the blue internet line that went from the corner of the kitchen to the wireless unit on top of the refrigerator. It's a woman thing, don't ask me.

But one of the most entertaining aspects of the party was Hozumi trying to figure out Doug's cork trick. She worked on it for most of the night until she was finally satisified she had it. For a very unique perspective of the party, I encourage you to read Hozumi's blog http://blog.goo.ne.jp/womaninsaipan go to the entry for 6/16/07 titled "House warming up party". You have to remember that Hozumi is Japanese and English is her second language, but I think it's awesome. And when you get to the part about the jorks, she really means jokes, just thought I'd help you out with that one.

To everyone that came to the party, thanks for an awesome evening! And for those who I didn't get around to inviting (Kelli was really threatening me with bodily hard at that point), let me know when you want to come over and we'll do it all again, if Kelli doesn't kill me first.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

This is a site I'm never really happy to see when I'm diving. I was diving Wing Beach Saturday morning, along with about half of the other divers on the island it seemed, when I happened to come across an anchor line. There were a couple boats tied to the two moorings when I first got in the water, and they were the only ones I noticed. They both took off as we were coming back from the crevasse, leaving the moorings open.

Toward the end of the dive, we were just cruising over the shallow coral on the outside of the reefline, and that's when I saw the anchor line. I knew that the moorings were free now because I saw and heard the boats take off at least a half hour earlier. I followed the anchor line down, and sure enough, there was the anchor hooked into some coral on the bottom. I find this deeply disturbing because you don't have to look very far at Wing Beach to discover a lot of coral that has been completely destroyed by such things.

I'm not entirely sure why some of the boats seem to want to throw their anchors out on the coral, and drag it over the coral, busting it all up, especially when there are moorings put there for that very purpose. My first thought was that maybe this was a fishing boat, or someone was spearfishing from it. I tried to tell myself that maybe it was possible they didn't know about the moorings. Maybe they didn't realize that the reef was really that shallow right there and was covered with all kinds of beautiful coral. But by this point my curiosity was getting the best of me, so I surfaced to see just who would be so careless and show such a lack of concern for our natural habitat and beauty. I was quite surprised when I surfaced and saw this.

This was not a fishing boat, nor was it a spearfishing boat. This was a Japanes tourist dive boat - the May Fly! Of all the people who should know better than to throw their anchor overboard on top of beautiful live coral, I would have thought that a dive operator would be one of the most conscientious. After all, they make their living by taking tourists down to see all the wonders beneath the water, you would think they would want to keep our underwater treasures as pristine as possible. But not this one, they were carelessly destroying the very coral they were taking their divers down to see.

Now we do have laws against such things, the problem we have is enforcement, basically it doesn't exist. The agencies tasked with enforcing the laws protecting our environment are never on the scene, and even if you take the proof to them, such as this with pictures, and the identification of the boat clearly shown, they never bother following up on it. Since our government is so cash strapped and broke, you would think they'd be looking for every opportunity to bring in some much needed cash, and writing citations for violating these laws seems like a no brainer. But no, they can't be bothered.

So if our government really wants to save some money and cut down on wasted government services, I'd start by gutting the agencies tasked with upholding the laws protecting our coral reefs. Something tells me we wouldn't see any difference whatsoever if they just all the sudden ceased operating one day.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

For the love of turtles!

Any diver that has ever had the pleasure of swimming alonside a turtle and watching them gracefully glide through the water will tell you that it's a magical experience. If you read Mike Tripps blog earlier this week, the one dated June 11, 2007, you saw some pictures of some baby turtles that had just hatched and were making their way down to the ocean. He told what an incredible experience it was, seeing a hundred of so of these amazing creatures all starting out their life and making a mad dash for the ocean. The odds of a turtle making it from that stage to a full grown turtle are very, very slim. They have numerous natural predators, and I believe that less than a handful will actually live to maturity. A big full grown turtle like the one pictured would be at least 20 years old. They have survived all kinds of things and now grace the open oceans with their presence.

I'm completely enthralled every time I see a turtle on a dive, it never gets old, and I enjoy each one as much as the last. These creatures are so serene and peaceful, they don't bother anything else, they just quietly munch on the algae and vegitation that grows underwater. They also happen to be very valuable tourism ambassadors for our diving on Saipan. Diving tourists love seeing turtles, and love to take pictures of them. One simple turtle sighting might make their entire trip worthwhile, and give them memories that will last a lifetime.

I understand that once upon a time it was a custom and culture to take turtles for food and making jewelry out of their shells, but those days should be behind us. The islands are far more populated now, and we could easily wipe out our turtle population if we continued taking them for "cultural" purposes. The federal government has protected the turtles and does not allow them to be taken any longer unless it's for scientific research, and then it is only allowed by federal permits, and is very tightly regulated and controlled.

It breaks my heart every time I hear about these magnificent creatures being poached just because someone wants some turtle meat for a fiesta, or wants to make some bracelets out of their shells. Fortunately I don't think it happens as often here as it used to, but the fact that it still happens at all deeply disturbs me. What bothers me even more is when I hear that the very people that are supposed to be protecting these ocean treasures, are the ones that let the poachers get it away with it, and don't follow through with enforcement or prosecution. In the past we have seen poachers let off because of political connections, or questionable decisions made by the Attorney General's office.

This is a very small island, and news about poachers getting caught gets around quickly. It also doesn't take much investigation to find out the rest of the facts about what happened after the poacher was caught. There are those of us who care very deeply about the turtles, and want to see them protected properly, the way the federal laws intended. Many of us believe that those caught should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And anyone who did not do their job properly in the aftermath of the whole thing should be relieved of their duty, and be prosecuted as well if applicable. That is all I'm going to say about this for now, but I will be watching the case closely, and won't hesitate to push the issue harder if I don't feel it is being handled properly.

How could anyone not want to protect such an amazing creature, and not take care of one of our true natural resources?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Your pictures linked with Google maps

This is probably one of the most recognizable scenes from Saipan, of course it's Bird Island from the Bird Island lookout. Pictures are a great way of communicating the beauty and uniqueness of Saipan to those who have never been here, or who may have never even heard of Saipan. I was playing around with some of the settings on my Smugmug picture page. One of the settings I've seen for a while, but never really knew what it was or how to use it was for "mapping". Today I finally decided to teach myself a little bit more about it and find out what I could do with it. Was I ever glad I did, it's amazing what you can do with this handy little tool. You can link any of the pictures from your galleries to a Google map showing exactly where the picture was taken. You tell Smugmug you want to map the picture, and it takes you to a Google map, you just zoom in to where the picture was taken, and then leave a marker there. In the case of my Bird Island picture, I was actually able to zoom in on the map and actually see Bird Island on a satellite picture very clearly, so I left one of my markers right on the exact spot. I have only begun to play with this amazing tool, but you can see what I've done so far by following this link http://maps.smugmug.com/?feedType=geoAlbum&Data=2715756 That will take you to a zoomed in shot of Saipan. If you zoom out a bit, click on the minus button on the picture control, you will see little markers for all my pictures that I have marked. If you click on the marker, it will then show you the picture that I took of that very site. You may need to give the map a minute or two as it is loading up all the pictures associated with it.

I also started "mapping" some of my pictures from my trip to Hong Kong last year. I could actually zoom in to the point of being able to see the hotel I stayed in and put a marker for it's picture right on the exact spot on the map. What a great way to keep track of your travels, and to let any visitors to your site take a little tour of where you've been as well, courtesy of Google and Smugmug.

Here is a picture I took of a bunch of the Filipino maids gathering on Sunday afternoon on one of the walkways by one of the big malls in Hong Kong. And then you can click on this link http://maps.smugmug.com/?feedType=geoAlbum&Data=2895553 and it will take you to that exact spot on a Google map of Hong Kong.

Yes, this is a very cool way of keeping track exactly of where you've been, but it can also be very useful for others in planning their trips, or knowing where to go. I can think of many uses for such a thing. Sure it is a bit of work to set up properly in the first place, and there is a certain amount of trial and error involved, but once you get the hang of it, it goes very smooth.

For those of us trying to come up with various ways of positively promoting Saipan, this is an awesome tool! Not only does it create awareness of exactly where Saipan is through Google mapping technology, but it let's you put your pictures in perspective for guests who have never been here. I'm sure that there are some sites other than Smugmug that incorporate Google maps, but I'm only familiar with that one because it's the one I use. Do a little exploring though, and see what you can come up with as well. What a great tool for creating awareness of Saipan and letting people see not only where we're located, but letting them see the pictures that go along with the maps as well.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Occasionally I get people who can't understand how I can possibly spend so much time underwater. Ok, the truth is, I get comments like that all the time. People wonder what it is I'm doing down there all that time? Haven't I seen everything there is to see after thousands of dives? And why would I want to carry a tank that weighs a ton just so I can stay underwater longer than most people? All legitimate questions I suppose, but only if you have never gone diving and actually experienced the magic that is waiting for you down there.

Since I have started diving with a camera in my hand at all times, it changes the way I dive, and it changes how carefully I look at everything. I find myself looking in every little hole and under as many rocks as I can. You just never know where the really cool critters are going to be hiding. And since it seems there is a never ending supply of things to take pictures of, the more time I can spend underwater without having to come up, the more things I can take pictures of. And I have been known to sit in one spot and take dozens of pictures of the same subject. Some from the top, some from the side, from the front, from the back, and from the bottom. You just never know how some of these things are identified, so it's good to take as many pictures of them as you can. Sometimes you have to wait for the sediment in the water to settle down for a clear shot, and sometimes you are waiting for the sun to come back out to help out with the lighting.

Most people dive with an 80 cubic foot aluminum tank that holds 3000 pounds per square inch of compressed air. I dive with a 130 cubic foot steel tank that holds 3442 pounds per square inch of compressed air. An 80 will weigh about 33 pounds, while mine weighs over 50. Most people are doing good to get about an hour of downtime on an 80 cu. ft. tank. I have been known to stay down for 3 hours in the Grotto on my tank. I do dive safely with a computer, so I know exactly how long I have to spend on my decompression stop, which sometimes goes over an hour. But I come back with some very cool pictures because I have the time to spend waiting for just the right shot, or exploring looking for unique nudibranchs or other sea life. And I also like having plenty of extra air just in case somebody else runs short and needs some extra air.

When you have lots of time to just stare at things and wait to see if they move, they discover things like this Leaf Scorpionfish, which I probably would have never seen or recognized before. It acts just like a leaf, and looks like a leaf as it blows back and forth in the currents. It only uses it's side fins to help it position itself or get a little extra boost as it is trying to get somewhere. To me one of the greatest things about underwater photography is that it allows me to share all the underwater wonders with people like Kelli, who got certified years ago, but hasn't done any diving since. She does still enjoy seeing it, but would prefer seeing it through my camera lense as opposed to up close and personal.

No, diving never gets old to me, and is never boring. I see something new and unique on almost every single dive. And being able to share it with others, whether taking them down on their very first dive, or just letting them see my pictures makes it even more enjoyable to me.