This is just a post full of pictures from around the island.
This is just a post full of pictures from around the island.
As you know, I spend most of my time volunteering for NOAA doing reef monitoring, and writing books.
The reef monitoring is because we need to protect our oceans, and I encourage you to please avoid using plastic of any kind, and to lower your carbon footprint as much as you can. What you do does effect the oceans! Here on Guam we have seen a huge loss in coral due to climate change, and everything you an do to help matters.
As for writing books; that is because of my friend Dave Strand. He wrote an app called Multi-Path Audio Books for Apple, and he needed stories to go in the app. I had been a journalist, and I had written textbooks. However, I had never written fiction before. I considered it an exciting challenge, and I wrote a book called The Vampire’s Sister.
This made me realize that it was possible to write a full-length novel. I guess you could say I “got the bug” from The Vampire’s Sister, and I went on from there. I don’t think I was very good at first, but I would like to think that I have gotten better as time went on.
I wrote The Teenager’s Guide to life, which is a collection of short stories about life as a young person. This book has illustrations by Anthony Black, and has been a fun collaboration.
I also wrote a series of romance novels called The Jamie Johnson Trilogy. This was meant as a counter to the negative books about BDSM like 50 Shades of Grey, which portray kink as abuse.
And then I wrote the book that ruined it all: The New Testament of The Flying Spaghetti Monster; Dinner 2.0.
I wrote it under the pen name Violet Johnson, and I was intending to use it to try to start a movement towards kindness and unity. After all, the main problem in politics and society these days is that artificial divisions are causing people to loose sight of real human values.
I worked for a year on The New Testament of The Flying Spaghetti Monster. I read all kinds of modern philosophy and listened to podcasts of people talking about comparative morality in the digital age. Rich helped me come up with ideas here and there. I took all my old vacation photos and Photo-shopped a Spaghetti Monster Rich made into them for the social media. We had fun, but it was a lot of work.
After a year of hard work, I published my book through Createspace. This is an Amazon company that my friend Chris Backe recommended to me. He thought it would be easier than wasting years trying to sell it to a publisher, and pointed out that I could control my own distribution and pricing. It sounded perfect.
However, less than a day after the book came out, Bobby Henderson reported it to Amazon for copyright infringement. You may wonder how this could be possible, since I wrote the entire book myself and I created all the images for it out of my own photos.
The thing is this:
The burden of proof is on me.
In other words: You can create an original work and it can bear no resemblance to anything else that has ever been created before. But if someone has a copyright on something similar (say the image of a flying spaghetti monster that I did NOT use) then they can report you. They do not have to prove that you infringed on their copyright.
See this clip of John Oliver explaining about patent trolls, which is essentially what has happened here, but with copyright.
There are only two ways to fix the issue:
1. Robert Henderson contacts Amazon and tells them that he reported my book in error, and asks them to please release it.
2. I hire a lawyer to prove that the work is original and protected by parody law, and they force Amazon to release it.
Now as you know, I spend most of my time writing or volunteering. I don’t have money for a lawyer. So here is what I am asking of you, my fellow humans:
Write to Robert Henderson and ask him to contact Amazon and straighten this out. I have already written to him myself, but I have not gotten a response. However, maybe a few more voices will change things.
His e-mail is: email@example.com
What he needs to do to resolve the matter is write to BOTH:
firstname.lastname@example.org AND email@example.com
He needs to tell them what he admitted to me in private, which is that he reported my book in error, and that he rescinds his report of copyright infringement.
In the meantime, I would never let a year of work and a good idea go to waste. So, you can download the book for free here or get it at the website I set up for it, which is The Unitarian Church of Pasta.
Please download the book and read it. Give it to your friends and ask them to read it. Spread it far and wide because I put my heart and soul into my books and having them be censored like this is so painful for me. I would mean the world to me if you could help out.
And e-mail Bobby because he already admitted he made a mistake in reporting my book, but if he doesn’t take the next step and tell Amazon that, it will be years before I can get my book back from them.
If any of you snorkel or dive, remember that you can always share your data with a reef monitoring project and help advance science.
I want to talk to you today about how to take pictures for reef monitoring, how to label and make notes on those pictures, and where to send them to. Hopefully some of you will find this interesting, and you’ll want to spend some time helping our oceans!
If you plan to do so, there are a few things that you want to remember:
Overall shots of the reef are more important than close-up pictures of fish or coral. The main thing that NOAA is doing is monitoring overall coral health and counting various animals/corals. For this, wide shots are best.
Make notes on the depth the photos were taken at, and of anything else that may be relevant. Remember to think like a marine biologist and note things like: The number of animals sighted and if it is higher/lower than normal, the amount of litter, any invasive species such as the Crown of Thorns, and an estimate of the water temperature. All details matter because they put the data in context (data out of context is less useful.)
You’ll want to submit the data on a flash drive with your name and contact details, and make sure to say whether or not you want credit by name if they use a photo you took for something.
Find the local NOAA office in your area and go in person, or mail the flash drive in. If you cannot find a local office, you can always do a Google search for reef monitoring in your area.
Example: I live on Guam, which is part of the Marianas Islands. So if you type in Marianas Island Reef Monitoring, you get Eyes of The Reef (which is our local outreach program by NOAA.)
If you are in the Hawaiian Islands, The Marianas Islands, or anywhere that there is coral, you should think about sending your pictures to a reef monitoring project. Even if you only go on vacation to one of these places, remember that science is about the aggregation of data and looking for patterns, and more data is always better than less.
I have been helping to share data with the Eyes of the Reef project that NOAA has in Guam for years. It’s just a drop in the bucket when you look at how big the reefs are and how many reefs there are, but every little bit helps.
One of my favorite things about being the ocean is being surrounded by schools of fish. I love when they are swimming all around you like thousands of butterflies dancing on the wind. It doesn’t happen very often.
On Gab Gab reef I see a school of Convict Surgeon fish now and then. At fish eye I saw some other surgeon fish once. However, most of the time there are not fabulous schools of fish swimming around me.
I am pretty new to life in the ocean. I grew up in mountains in California, and then in the desert in Arizona. I have not had much opportunity to even be near an ocean. When I was, it was usually a trip down to Rocky Point where we just splashed in the waves a little.
When I put a snorkel on for the first time and saw what was under the water, it was amazing. I went from someone afraid to swim to someone that never wanted to do anything else again. I fell in love with the coral, and the fish, and the turtles.
Of course, then summer came and the coral bleached. I looked into it and found that the coral has been bleaching and dying off a little more every year. I started to look at what I had thought to be rocks, and realize that it was actually dead coral. Now, I have come to realize that my time being able to appreciate the ocean is short. There is simply too much CO2 in the air and water, and all the coral planting in the world can’t save our reefs.
I regret not having the chance to see them before they began to die. More than that, I regret that there will probably be nothing left to see in my lifetime. It’s a tragedy that has left my husband and I sobbing on a beach more than once when we really saw how bad it is.
However, there are still schools of fish sometimes. There are still manta rays and turtles sometimes. There is still beauty to see, and I am grateful and I feel privileged to have that opportunity. Between this blog and my YouTube channel, I am doing my best to share what I see. I know that not everyone gets the chance to see the reefs, and I hope that I help them connect with the ocean and the animals and plants that live there, even if it is from afar.
The ocean is a beautiful place, and I wish that we could save it. That said, I know scientists have said that it is too late. I know that they have said we surpassed the levels of CO2 that will melt the polar ice caps. I know we are already in the middle of a massive extinction (the Holocene extinction.)
However, anything you can do helps. Life often finds a way when no one thought it could, and if we reduce the amount of plastic that we use and try to consume less as a species, some life in the oceans might survive. Whatever you can do, please do it. If you can afford to put Testla roof tiles on your house, do it. If you can buy and use cloth bags for shopping, do it. If you can stop buying single use products, you should.
We should all be doing whatever we can, even if it’s not enough to save every species of coral and fish. If we can save anything, we have to try.
I had never gone diving before I moved to Guam. After all, I was never anywhere that diving was a popular hobby. It’s one of the best things to do here though, so I got my dive certification.
(Note: Read about Guam Dive Spots here.)
Anyway, I went through MDA. The class was $200, and involved three nights of videos and two days of practice in the water.
I have nothing but good things to say about MDA. If you are thinking of getting your dive certification, it’s an affordable and professional organization.
The camera I bought when I got my certification is an Olympus Tough TG-4. It is supposed to be waterproof to 50 feet, but I try not to take it down that deep. On deeper dives, I go without a camera.
Mostly I dive around 25 to 30 feet. The pictures are a little dark and blue, as you can see. You need a flash and a better camera to get good pictures deep down.
However, it serves me extremely well for snorkeling.
I guess I hit the lottery. I had a blood vessel in my ear burst during my dive class, which is supposed to be extremely rare. My doctor assured me that it was a very uncommon response, and that it would probably never happen again.
However, diving with my friend later, a vessel in my nose burst and my mask began to fill with blood. I had to surface early.
The next time I dove, I also got a bloody nose. This time it was after I surfaced. I was with my husband and he freaked out because I guess there was blood all over my face.
Eventually I thought about it honestly. A few burst blood vessels doesn’t sound like a big deal if you think about it as something that only happens inside your ear or in your nose. However, I couldn’t help but realize that the next time, it could be in my brain.
That is when I stopped diving.
It’s a shame, because it’s really affordable here. A complete gear rental for two is only around $50. It’s such a good deal…
I also wish I was better at diving because of the way the fish react to humans snorkeling. They swim away so quickly.
When you are diving, the fish just swim with you as though you are one of them. They never seem frightened, or like they want to flee in fear. It’s so much better!
It’s nice to feel like one of the “in” crowd instead of feeling like a pariah.
The water here is so warm that it feels like getting into a bathtub. That’s one of the wonderful things about being on the equator.
My dive instructor, like most of the guys here, went diving in shorts and a tank. I see the appeal. The water feels lovely on bare skin.
I tend to wear long pants and a long-sleeved rash guard when snorkeling. Jellyfish hang out near the surface of the water and there is also a big risk of sunburn. But diving, it’s nice to wear a little less.
However, as I have said before, most of the dives are off of a boat. There are a lot of historic sites, such as the sunken WWII ship the Tokai Maru. We also have our own Blue Hole. And there are quite a few reefs where you can see cool marine life.
It really is a great place to scuba dive. I wish my veins were stronger so I felt like I could safely do it more.
The Crown of Thorns starfish Acanthaster planci (COTS) has contributed greatly to declines in coral cover on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and remains one of the major acute disturbances on Indo-Pacific coral reefs.
I hadn’t seen them much around Guam for the first couple of years that we were here. I saw my first one at Dadi Beach on the Navy base. I ran into two at Fish Eye Marine Park, and so on.
However, I had heard that they could sometimes breed like crazy and take over an area. Last weekend, I finally saw that happen.
We were swimming from Gun Beach towards Tumon Bay. As we passed the Beach Bar and the stage where they have traditional dances, we began to see Crown of Thorns star fish. First just one, then another, then another, then another…
By the time we were even with the wedding chapel just past the beach area, we were in the midst of a huge bloom of Crown of Thorns, at depths of 10 feet to 30 feet all along the coral.
It is always discouraging to come upon these very poisonous and very evil star fish who gobble up healthy coral and leave barren wastelands. However, it is even worse at Gun Beach, where last year’s bleaching had already taken so much of the coral. Now what little is left is being gobbled up!
For anyone who snorkels or dives regularly, remember that it can make a huge difference if you report these Crown of Thorns blooms right away to whomever handles such things in your area. Here on Guam, it’s up to NOAA, who do reef monitoring, and who are piloting a program to begin killing Crown of Thorns star fish.
It’s harder than one would imagine to kill a Crown of Thrones. I always figured it would be a good idea to just grab them from the water and let them dry out and die on land. However, it turns out that they spawn when they feel threatened.
If you scare or upset a Crown of Thorns, it will essentially spray babies out. Therefore, it is up to the professionals to strap on a dive tank, and carefully inject each arm of the Crown of Thorns with poison.
This way they are killed without being jostled or moved, and so they don’t know it is happening. (They are only star fish after all, so it’s not like they have brains.)
So the takeaway here is: These evil star fish are killing what coral we have left. If you see something, say something. Don’t try to kill them yourself, or you could make a bad situation worse. And avoid contact because they are very poisonous.
It’s unfortunate that rays are such a rare sight on Guam. My husband and I have been snorkeling nearly every weekend that we have lived here, but we never say one.
Yesterday, we finally saw one for the first time ever and it was glorious. It went gliding along the ocean floor in front of us and it was beautiful. It’s hard to tell scale under water, but it was big. I would guess about four or five feet across; maybe a little more.
If it helps for scale, we were snorkeling on the surface of the water about 30 feet from the ocean floor. Anyway, it was a magical experience and I am really glad that we got to have it before we moved to Hawaii.
If you check out my YouTube Channel, you can find a lot of the other amazing sea life that we have seen here on Guam.
We have come across a lot of stunning things, from turtles to cowrie shells, and even a friendly barracuda. It has been a real adventure living here, and I’ll miss it when we go.