Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Another Typical Grotto Dive

I do an average of 3 Grotto dives each week, which I think gives me a pretty good idea of what can be found there on any given day. These pics were all taken last weekend and represent things you could expect to see anytime you dive the Grotto. The picture above is a green sea turtle swimming near some of the big boulders outside of hole #1.This is a fairly small school of Tuna that hang out down the cliffline from the Grotto a ways. They were all up near the surface so I was floating face up to get this shot. I always enjoy just swimming into the middle of a school like that and becoming one of them.I was swimming over the top of one of the huge rock outcroppings outside of the Grotto when this eel poked his head up to say "hi". I find that most of the green morays really aren't that shy if you take the time to let them get used to you and you don't make any fast, erratic movements around them.This giant clam is one of the biggest I've seen anywhere on Saipan. It is outside of the Grotto and has obviously been there for quite a while to get this size. It is tucked into an out of the way spot where you wouldn't find it unless you knew right where to look, which is probably why it has lived this long and gotten this big.And this is a big colony of Plerogyra sinuosa, or bubble coral. This is a fairly uncommon type of coral that prefers living where it gets a good current ripping past it. There is also a fairly big cluster at Wing Beach, but these are the only two places I have seen it on Saipan, although I'm sure there have to be more spots.Unfortunately this is becoming an all too common site outside the Grotto thanks to the illegal fishermen. I spend at least an hour every weekend untangling the fishing line from the coral heads, wrapping it all up and taking it out.And sadly this is also becoming a very common sighting inside the Grotto. The swimmers who come down into the Grotto to party think it's fun to just throw their empty cans into the Grotto when they're done with them. I pick up an average of 6 of these every weekend as well. Tomorrow I'll show you some of the cool shots I got on my night dive in the Grotto last Saturday night.

Illegal Fishing At The Grotto Continues

On our Saturday morning dive, we spent quite a bit of time untangling fishing line, hooks and homemade sinkers from the coral outside of the Grotto. Some of the pieces of fishing line were well over 100 feet long and went from one piece of coral to the next. The illegal fishermen were using pieces of cut up rebar, old spark plugs set into a mold with melted lead poured around them, and chunks of busted up concrete. A little over a month ago, Fish & Wildlife officers arrested 2 Chinese fisherman at the Grotto for fishing in a sanctuary. We were all glad that something was finally being done about it, some of us were getting tired of spending the majority of our dives unraveling fishing line and picking up homemade sinkers.

But then the 2 Chinese fishermen went to court and had to face Judge Mona Manglona. Instead of teaching them a lesson and showing them that this kind of behavior won't be tolerated in our sanctuaries, it seemed as if she was almost apologizing to them in the sentence she handed down. She gave them 6 months in jail, all suspended except for the first 9 days with credit for the 9 days already served. She then placed the defendant on 6 months of unsupervised probation and hit him with a staggering $25 fine. According to the story in the newspaper, in accepting the plea agreement, Judge Manglona said the accused had pleaded guilty to a "rarely committed offense". Absolutely unbelievable!!! Can she possibly be anymore out of touch with reality?

But now the question comes in, who is really at fault, was it Judge Manglona, or was it the prosecutor from the AG's office prosecuting the case? Was Judge Manglona given enough information from the AG's office to make an educated decision. And why did the AG's office choose to settle this through a plea bargain as opposed to actually prosecuting it? Is it because they don't have the time or money? Do they not feel the crime was important enough to merit a trial? If we're not serious about protecting our sanctuaries and enforcing the laws that pertain to them, then why have them in the first place? If we don't have the time or money to follow through on things like this, then let's stop playing games, just get rid of the laws, the sanctuaries and the rules, after all they really don't seem to mean much anyway.

This is the pile of garbage picked up on just one dive last Saturday morning. All the pieces of cut up rebar were used as sinkers for fishing line. There is easily over 300 feet of fishing line there. And I didn't even bother bringing up all the broken up chunks of concrete that were used for sinkers down there. A rarely committed offense? Hardly! Our system is not functioning properly, and our laws have become a sad joke. We just sent the message loud and clear that you might as well go ahead and fish in our sanctuaries because you'll easily catch enough fish to pay the $25 fine you'll get and you'll still make a good profit. And that's only if you manage to get caught. I'm guessing that the Fish & Wildlife officers aren't exactly thrilled about going out to try and catch more of the illegal fisherman at the Grotto now that they've learned they'll only get a $25 fine.

In the meantime, I'll continue collecting the fishing line and cut up chunks of rebar, concrete, nuts and bolts and just hope that a diving tourist doesn't get entangled in the fishing line before I get to it.