Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lau Lau Watershed

On Wednesday I inspected part of the Lau Lau watershed with Jeremy Shaw from DEQ and Luis Sablan and Tim Lang from CRM. This morning I went for a beach dive in Lau Lau Bay.

It is going to take me a while to upload the pictures and to come up with a short outline of what is going on with the area. In the meantime, please enjoy the picture of the orchids which dot the Lau Lau hillsides.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

CNMI Forestry Nursery

The trees for the revegetation project in Lau Lau are being propagated at the CNMI Forestry nursery in Kagman. Ben Cepeda gave us a tour of the facility before we inspected the revegetation site. Here are some pictures:

Oh yeah, and here's Ben:

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The First Few Days

I started this blog just over a week ago and it is already beginning to pop up on Internet search result pages. We've already had visits from people using google, yahoo, and from places as far off as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, Singapore, and the Philippines.

Thanks to everyone who has linked to us thus far. The more links we have to this blog, the higher it will appear in search engine results. The higher we appear in search engine results, the higher the exposure of our coral reef public involvement program to the rest of the world.

So if you can, please add a link to this blog from your blog or your personal website. Other than clicking on the paypal link below and making a donation, this is the best way for you to help our project until we get our volunteer activities off the ground (this is especially true if you live off-island).

In other news:

Tomorrow morning I am going to visit a potential revegetation and water quality monitoring site. I don't want to give too much away, so come back in a few days for pictures and more info.

You should bookmark us so that you don't forget the url!!!

Monday, April 24, 2006

About Saipan

"Guam sir? There's nothing going on in Guam. Why Guam?"
-Sgt. Major Dickerson, Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

Every once in a while, the topic of Guam pops up in some Hollywood movie. They always mention it as some far off place where hardly anyone ever visits.

To give you an inkling of how far away Saipan is from the rest of the world, one usually has to stop in Guam for a layover on thier way to Saipan (although there are direct flights from Nagoya, Osaka, Narita, Manila, Shanghai, and Guangzhou these days).

Saipan, however, although distant when measured in miles, is not as isolated as you would first think. There are over 70,000 permanent residents and just over 1/2 million tourists visit Saipan and her neighboring islands each year (and one of the governor's campaign promises is to raise this number to 1 million by 2008).

The island is extremely plugged in, so since somebody has already put it online for us, I don't need to do a recount of the landmass, rainfall, or history of the islands since Magellan landed here in 1521. I've added several links with that type of information to the bottom of this post. The Marianas RC&D Area Plan is an especially good resource. It has the best Area Background I think I've seen for these islands. Please check it out.

I want to focus on the three things that I believe make Saipan unique, namely the unbelievably diverse population, her rich history, and her unmatched natural and scenic beauty.

People from all over the world come here to make their fortunes, taking full advantage of the business friendly tax structure, and to enjoy the type of lifestyle that one has when they live on an island in the Western Pacific. As a result, for her size, Saipan is probably one of the most culturally diverse places in the world. If you walk around the open air market that is in the Garapan tourist district every Thursday night, you are likely to hear English, Tagalog, Chamorro, Carolinian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Russian, and a fistful of other Micronesian languages. It is pretty amazing.

Saipan's diverse cultures can even be seen in the landscape. There are of course naturally beautiful places on the island, but the historical importance (Saipan has had four different colonial rulers) of almost every inch of this island makes these places even more beautiful and special.

Take Obyan Beach for example:

Obyan Beach is on the southern end of the island. It is popular with divers because the coral gardens just offshore are beautiful and easy to access. It is popular with locals who barbeque on the beach every weekend and who go fishing on the reef for fish and octopus. It is also the site of an ancient Chamorro latte stone house AND has two Japanese WWII era pillboxes. It is also a beautiful place in itself.

There is a lot going on there. This single beach generates income for the tourist industry, supports the local culture, and protects historic relics from the past. It is also inherently beautiful and therefore important.

That is why this project is so important. We're not just trying to protect coral reefs because some people think they are pretty. They are the backbone of the local economy, culture, and lifestyle. If we can protect the coral reefs, we protect all of those other things as well.

Want to know more? Here are some other places to find info on Saipan:

What outsiders say about Saipan:
CIA - The World Factbook

What locals say about Saipan:
Ruth Tighe - On My Mind Personal Pages
The Traveling Rumptz's
Major Mal To Ground Control
Jennifer Ambler

Local News:
Saipan Tribune
Marianas Variety
Pacific Times

What to do in Saipan:
Saipanagogo Events Calendar Events Calendar

Tourist Info:
The CNMI Guide
Marianas Visitors Authority
Saipan-Da (japanese website)
My Micronesia

...I think that is a good start

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What are the goals of the program?

The Marianas RC&D wants to establish a program by which the public can become more involved in coral reef management and monitoring efforts on Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). To accomplish this, we will work with key target groups to increase their exposure to coral reef management challenges and their involvement in collecting valuable information to improve coral reef management.

So how are we going to accomplish this, you might ask?

There are three government agencies in the CNMI charged with regulating coral reefs. They are the Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Coastal Resources Management (CRM), and the Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). They do a lot of good work on these islands and all three of them already utilize volunteers in some capacity.

The MRC&D wants to help these government agencies expand their volunteer utilization. We want to work with these agencies to help set up three volunteer programs that will serve the dual purpose of educating the public about coral reef management issues and help the agencies collect valuable data about coral reef health.

Specifically, MRC&D wants to involve members of key target groups that have the most to gain from a sound coral reef management strategy, namely dive shop owners, fishermen, anyone else that makes a living off of the coral reefs, and students.

As previously mentioned, we have three activities planned. We want volunteers to engage in revegetation efforts on Saipan (and maybe Rota), water quality monitoring, and we want them to participate in a macrofauna survey. All of the island agencies are doing some work in each of these areas, so the MRC&D is going to work with the agencies and the volunteers to develop a volunteer action strategy that will help the agencies accomplish their goals and that will best utilize volunteers' time.

In doing this over the course of a year, we hope to increase the public's understanding of coral reef issues in the CNMI.

I understand that I have told you probably sounds extremely vague. I did that on purpose. Six months from now, I don't want a volunteer or an agency head to say something like, "Hey Angelo, back in April, you wrote on the MRC&D blog that every volunteer was going to (fill in the blank)."

The specifics will come soon. I promise.

In the meantime, please help us by adding a link to our blog on your website (or your blog). The more links to a website, the higher the rank on Internet search engines. We want to publicize all of the good work that is being done in the CNMI, not just by us, but by other groups and agencies as well, so we want this blog to appear towards the top when people use Internet searches engines.

Friday, April 21, 2006

What is the MRC&D?

The Marianas Resource Conservation and Development Council, Inc. (RC&D) is an incorporated 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization which was authorized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in 1992. Nationally, there are a total of 375 RC&D councils. The goals of the National program are to provide technical assistance to local communities through designated USDA areas led by RC&D Councils. The purpose of the program is to accelerate the conservation, development and use of natural resources while improving the general level of economic activity and standard of living in communities across the nation. RC&D Councils coordinate conservation and rural development assistance available from USDA, other federal, state, and local government and nongovernmental sources.

Click HERE for more on the USDA RC&D program

The Marianas RC&D Area covers the entire Marianas archipelago, which includes the Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Volunteers from Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Rota make up the Council membership. Our volunteers share a common desire to protect natural resources, preserve island culture, and improve the economic well-being for all residents of the Mariana Islands.

Click HERE to read the MRC&D brochure
Click HERE to read the MRC&D By-Laws
Click HERE to read the MRC&D Area Plan

The Marianas RC&D Council helps people and communities care for and preserve their natural resources. The Marianas RC&D Council effectively develops partnerships with government, non-government and private organizations. These alliances provide the necessary tools and resources that allow the Marianas RC&D Council to accomplish their goals and objectives. With the understanding that local people usually have the best ideas for solving local problems, we help facilitate people to work together and to carry out their projects, making the Mariana Islands a better place to live.

Click HERE to read the MRC&D 2005 Annual Report

The Coral Reef Public Outreach Program has been made possible by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We are going to work with key stakeholders in Saipan to raise awareness about coral reefs and threats to their health, monitor reef health and use, and reduce activities damaging to the reefs.

Click HERE to read about NFWF

Click HERE to read about NOAA

I was hired as the Public Involvement Coordinator to carry out the plans and goals outlined in the grant contract between MRC&D and NFWF. So what are those goals?

Not so fast!

The program doesn't start until Monday; I'll get to that in a few days.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Let's get it started!

The first payment came through! All is set. The program is set to start on Monday. I'm excited!

In other news, Susanne's Letter to the Editor was published in the Marianas Variety today. It is the same letter published in the Saipan Tribune, so there is no need to repost it, I just wanted to point out that most people on island will have read it by now.

Thanks, Susanne!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Letter to the Editor by Marianas RC&D Volunteer

Susanne is a teacher from Germany living in Japan. She visited Saipan about a week ago. It was her first trip here.

I took her to Managaha on Saturday and she enjoyed herself so much that she went back there on Sunday. She wanted to help with our project, but since we haven't started yet, I asked her to write a letter to the editor about her experiences on Managaha

Here it is:

Dear Saipan Tribune,

I visited Saipan last week and would like to tell you about my experiences. I am from Germany but am living in Japan now. All in all I had a very good time and was very impressed by Saipan's natural beauty. I especially enjoyed visiting Managaha and the great snorkeling around the island.

But one thing made me sad and quite worried: I saw dozens of tourists stepping on the corals with their fins, so that actual pieces broke away. I could hardly believe my eyes! I think it is not only unbelievably sad to destroy the reefs' fragile structures but, at the same time, this means a slow destruction of the financial resources of the island. Many tourists love snorkeling around the coral gardens that are close to the shore, so the intact reefs are not only a natural wonder but also an important source of revenue for Saipan. Once they're gone, the island will become much less attractive for visitors from all over the world.

Also, I saw several tourists feeding the fish with hotdogs. I think this is problematic as well as it goes on day after day. Sausage is not an adequate diet for the fish, and the feeding affects their behavior in an unnatural way. They start to swarm around people and even attack them. The tourists should be taught to respect the reefs and animals more and watch them in their natural environment and behavior. The boat trip to Managaha would be an excellent opportunity to show a video or make the visitors listen to a tape that explains and informs them about the reefs' uniqueness and fragility. And the DOS and DON'TS when snorkeling. Both the tourists and the submarine wildlife would take great advantage of that.

Susanne Prein
Nagano City, Japan

Monday, April 17, 2006

Not on Saipan? You can still help!

At this point in the project, you, the reader, have no idea what our project is all about and what our goals are. I don't expect you to.

The project has yet to officially start, but I want to set us up so that we can hit the ground running. An integral part of our plan to make this project a success is to raise a rather substantial amount of in-kind and matching fund donations. We need to create the capacity to accept online donations using Visa, Master Card, American Express, and/or Discover to make this easier.


Just click on the MAKE A DONATION button at the bottom of this post.

The RC&D is a non-profit organization, so donations are tax deductible.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Introducing the PIC!

This is where I was when I heard about the job vacancy for the Public Involvement Coordinator:

I love Japan, but I'm loving the weather in Saipan a whole lot more.

Hi, I'm Angelo Villagomez and I am the new Public Involvement Coordinator working with the Marianas Resource Conservation and Development Council. Depending on who you ask, I am either a Chamorro born American or an American educated Chamorro. Both are true. Take your pick.

My Mom is an American and my Dad is a Chamorro from Saipan. Although I was born on Guam and spent the first few years of my life in Saipan, my parents divorced while I was very young, so I grew up in Massachusetts, well, until we moved to London in 1991, and then again, until we moved to Florida in 1992.

Because of my school schedule, I was only able to visit Saipan during the summers, but it was during those summers spent tromping around Saipan with my Dad that I first gained an appreciation for the outdoors and for environmental protections. My father gave me simple lessons, like don't take a coconut crab if it is carrying eggs, but they were the building blocks for what eventually became my environmental ethic.

Unfortunately, the last time I spent a summer in Saipan was in 1995. While in college, I always had either a summer job (I worked at Walt Disney World for seven years) or took summer classes, so I haven't managed to make it back until recently.

As for my education, I received my Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Richmond in 2000 and my Artis Baccalaureate in Environmental Studies from Rollins College in 2004. At Rollins College I was the 2004 Environmental Studies Student of the Year.

An internship my last year at Rollins College lead to my first job in the environmental field. I was a Team Leader with the League of Conservation Voter's Environmental Victory Project. We went door to door to raise awareness of the environmental voting records of both presidential candidates in the hopes that swing voters could be persuaded to vote for the candidate with the better record. We knocked on 284,383 doors and made 110,459 voter contacts in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, and Lake Counties in Florida.

I've always wanted to live in Japan, so after the election I started working on a plan to move there with my girlfriend to teach English. Things were pretty quiet immediately after the election, so while I waited to find out if I got a job there I worked at Roy's Restaurant in Orlando (by the way, there is Roy's in Guam. I can't wait to go there!)

A few months after the election I was contacted by the Florida State Manager of LCV and was offered a job as LCV Campaign Coordinator for Florida. I told her that I was moving to Japan at the end of the year, but that I would love to work for LCV in the mean time.

We spent most of 2005 working on grassroots efforts to educate the public on water quality and offshore drilling issues and lobbying lawmakers to vote pro-environment. We also worked closely with several other local progressive (and even a few conservative!) groups to collect signatures for three separate Florida Constitutional Amendment initiatives. LCV headed up a Central Florida Steering Committee whose members, in addition to swapping barbs about each other's political affiliations, managed all of the volunteer petition gathering activities for the Central Florida region.

Then in late November I moved to Japan.

A month later, a notice from the Marianas RC&D asking for proposals for a public involvement coordinator came across my desk. I knew it was too good of an opportunity to pass up. So much for teaching English, ne?

I submitted a proposal and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now I get to spend the next year or so protecting this:

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Nondiscrimination Statement

The Marianas Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, Inc. prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, and marital or family status. The Marianas RC&D Council is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

Contact Us

Marianas Resource Conservation & Development Council
D.Y. Building, Beach Road, South Garapan, Saipan
P. O. Box 505149
Saipan, MP 96950

Phone: (670) 236-0894
Toll-Free from Guam (671) 735-4118
Fax: (670) 236-0895


The First Post!!!

First posts are always awkward.

So, where to begin?

This is going to be the official "unofficial" blog of the Marianas Resource Conservation & Development Council for the next year or so. Although the council works on a number of projects throughout the year, the focus of this blog is going to be coral reefs and the RC&D Council's coral reef public awareness and involvement initiatives in Saipan.

The RC&D Council recently recieved a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to raise public awareness of coral reefs in Saipan. I don't want to get too far into the details in this first post, but over the course of a year, this blog will chronicle the implementation of the activities and goals set forth in the grant.

That should be enough to get this thing started. It will take a lot of hard work to make this initiative a success, but I think we are going to be very successful. I'm looking forward to it!

The program will be starting in a few days. Please bookmark this page and come back and visit us often to see how the program progresses!