Thursday, April 30, 2015

Watercolor of another cathedral

I doubt Medieval cathedral architects had access to underwater caves for inspiration but submarine caverns certainly could have inspired them.

The reef in front of our beach is like Swiss cheese: it is riddled with holes and little (and some not so little) tunnels and passages called swim-throughs. Many/most are open to the surface. The sunlight streaming in is like sunlight pouring through the stained glass of a cathedral. The water changes the color of the light with different depths and distance. Divers' bubbles react with the light. It is a magical spiritual place. 

 These photos are from two of the most beautiful dives I've ever done. first at Shacks - right out our front door - and then at Natural.

For much of the year Shacks, which faces due north into the winter waves, is just too rough to safely dive. But when it's good, Shacks is a beautiful dive. Yesterday was an exceptional day: 80-to-100 foot visibility, no waves and no surge, no current, clean, clear, warm, as close to perfect as it gets. Quite a first-ever diver for our new friends, father-and-son, Jeff and Jack.

Our second dive at Natural was every bit as good. Natural has a penchant for butt-kickin' south currents, especially in the summer. We expected to get caught in one of those currents and we were prepared: we planned to do a drift dive three-quarters of a mile to Wishing Well. Once again, Natural threw us a hooking, sinking, sliding curve. Not only was it not ripping from the south, there was a slight north current. Again, as perfect as it gets: clean, clear, warm and mostly free ride home on that north current.

As you've probably figured out, I love to scuba dive. I'm quickly approaching 300 dives. This day and these two dives are stand outs.

(And just to add and exclamation point to the day, we took the horses swimming just before sunset. What a day!)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Michigan winter light on the beach

This morning the light on the beach reminded me of winter light in Michigan. I used to call it "a platinum grey dawn:" weak sunlight straining through high hazy snow clouds. Only here it's not snow clouds. It's dust from the Sahara Desert.

Every year in the sprig and summer Trade Winds blow sust from the Sahara eastward across the Atlantic and right at Puerto Rico. Right now the dust ball is huge. Estimates based on satellite images are this cloud is the size of the continental U.S.

Besides hazy skies the dust cloud does a couple of things. It holds heat in during the day, pushing us to near record high temperatures. Second, the cloud actually shades the ocean waters between here and the west coast of Africa. The shade keeps the water temperatures as much as 5 degrees cooler than they would be otherwise. The desert air carrying the dust is very dry. These two factors - the cooler water temperatures and the dry air - help inhibit the formation of tropical storms off the coast of Africa. Fewer, less intense tropical storms reduces the chances of a major damaging hurricane.

It never ceases to amaze me how interconnected every thing is. Until I move here, I never would have guess a dust storm in the Sahara Desert would have any impact on a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Calorcito pa'l Corazon

A trip to the emergency room anywhere can be and frequently is traumatic. In Puerto Rico, where tropical weather mean people are often dressed in shorts, tank tops and flip flops without time or opportunity to change or bring warm clothes, it can be even more difficult because people are not only injured, sick or helping someone else who is, they are also COLD. Emergency rooms are kept at low temperatures to keep bacteria and germs at bay, waiting time for admission can sometimes take a few days, and loved ones feel they cannot leave patients because they want to be sure they are aware of all the information from doctors and know what care has taken place.

In June 2014, Elaine visited a friend in the emergency room at Aguadilla Buen Samaritano Hospital and noticed an elderly woman in a corner bed who had wrapped herself in a plastic shower curtain - apparently the only thing she had with her - and was shivering. Although she had a younger woman with her, that woman also looked very cold. Having been in a similar situation herself the previous year, Elaine offered the woman her sweatshirt and a pair of warm socks. This gift was received with tears of gratitude. An idea was born - a community group who would collect and take blankets and warm clothing - free - to people in the emergency room.

To clearly understand this, I need to point out some differences between the medical system in Puerto Rico and that in the States. First, as mentioned above, ERs and hospitals are kept at quite chilly temperatures to keep down bacteria. While there is both public and private insurance, the medical system here is not driven by insurance companies and insurance payments; costs are lower here than in the States. Hospitals do not have huge laundry facilities for sheets, blankets and towels. While this helps keep costs down, it means patients and their families must provide their own linens.

Emergency rooms are different here as well. In the States, the goal is to get patients out of the ER as quickly as possible, either treated and released or admitted. In Puerto Rico a patient can remain in the ER for up to several days depending on treatment needs. Also, unlike the in the States where patients and families are separated at the treatment room door, patients here usually have one or more family members with them the whole time.

From the humble beginning of a gift of a sweatshirt and socks, the group Calorcito Pa'l Corazon (Warmth for the Heart) began. In August, 2014, the group held their first meetings and fundraiser at Limoi Lounge and received generous donations of cash (used for printing, purchase of needed delivery supplies, and more blankets) more than 20 new and used blankets, 150 new pairs of socks, and a variety of gently used warm clothing. Within less than two months the group had grown to over 30 volunteers and donations had reached the point where regular visits to the local hospitals could start.

Twice a week starting last October, volunteers take new and gently used blankets, warm clothing and pairs of new socks to Buen Samaritano Hospital in Aquadilla and San Carlos Hospital in Moca. Volunteers all have identity cards and pass out information cards to recipients explaining the purpose of the group and letting them know items are free, but they are welcome to re-donate them once they have finished using them. Each time people are so grateful to receive help with staying warm. In some cases, people have been in the emergency room for more than 24 hours without clothing or blankets to stay warm.

One older woman, who has cancer and is unfortunately a frequent visitor in the emergency room, was moved to tears when she was given warm pants, socks and a sheet. She then went on to tell others that the Calorcito Pa'l Corazon volunteers were there and several more people came out to the waiting area to ask for and receive items of warmth.

Buen Samaritano at Aguadilla Hospital currently has a group of hospital volunteers, headed by Lisette Martinez, who work in the main hospital and who have welcomed the donations from Calorcito Pa'l Corazon (CPC) as well. In early October, Lisette was so happy to receive more than a dozen quilts and comforters. She told CPC that the volunteer group had been out of blankets for more than two months because their regular supplier did not have any in stock. At San Carlos Hospital in Moca, there is no volunteer group and so CPC has been welcomed as a much needed service to people arriving at the emergency room there.

CPC held a fundraiser at Ola Lola's earlier this month. Thanks to the generosity - and despite the only rain in nearly six weeks - we raised over $1,000, one-third of the budget for the year.

Huge thanks to all the volunteers and community supporters. You've helped make people's lives a little better

Thursday, April 23, 2015

In the Cathedral

I've had this photo under the mooring piers at Crashboat Beach in mind for a long time. Under the piers has always seemed like a cathedral to me and I've tried to capture that feeling. I have couple of other attempts but they aren't what I was looking for. This one is the best, the closest (so far) to the photo in my mind's eye.

The photo finally came together on a perfect 100-foot visibility day with the new fisheye lens for my underwater camera. I've known for a while that I wanted a wider-angle lens for underwater work but I didn't know how much I wanted one until I saw some of my freind and dive buddy Darryl's photos. At that point, I had to have one.

The new lens is everything I hoped it would be and really, more. I love it. And having 100-foot visibility helps the shot too.

:You can see more from this dive and photo shoot on our Flickr page. Take a look. And enjoy!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Why I will never have an aquarium

This beautiful little creature went missing, stolen by poachers. When a local diver, my good friend and dive buddy,  approached the poachers, they attacked him with a machete, all in broad daylight, in front of witnesses. Fortunately the diver was not injured but the poachers destroyed nearly $500 worth of camera gear because they thought he took a photo of their vehicle and license plate. (Fortunately someone else did get a photo the vehicle and license and posted them online.)


The obvious answer is the poachers were doing something illegal and wanted to protect their identity. But why were they poaching in the first place?

Salt water aquariums are a big business. While many, maybe even most, aquarium owners and dealers and suppliers are honest and aboveboard, some are not. Some owners want exotic or endangered species that are illegal. Some dealers try to get by on the cheap knowing they'll pay poachers less then legitimate suppliers.And where there is a market, there will always be someone to  fill it.

I told an acquaintance who works for the DRNA (the Puerto Rican Department of Natural Resources) about the incident at Crashboat and asked him why the DRNA didn't do more about poaching. His response was the DRNA is supposed to have someone at Crashboat all day every day but they are too short-handed to keep someone there. While that is possibly true, all too often I see too many DRNA agents who won't get out of their air-conditioned SUVs to actually DO asomething about anything.

Poaching is not just a problem here in Puerto Rico. In Hawaii in May, 2014, a woman, who worked for an organization that wants to totally ban harvesting sea life for aquariums, was scuba diving off Maui and recording the work of presumably legitimate aquarium suppliers gathering sea life. One of those divers attacked her and ripped the air supply regulator from her mouth.

And don't even get me started on deer poaching in Michigan or elephant tusks in Afirca!

Aquariums can also be a source of unintended consequences. When I first started snorkeling and diving here almost 10 years ago, we didn't know what a lionfish was. Now we see this destructive invasive species on nearly every dive and even snorkeling in the shallows.

They are beautiful feathery fish, very popular in aquariums. But lionfish, which can live for up to 15 years, are native to the western Pacific Ocean, not the Atlantic and Caribbean. They arrived here courtesy of an aquarium in Florida destroyed during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Now they are all over the Atlantic coast, islands and throughout the Caribbean and Central America. All because of an aquarium spill.

I am fully aware of and freely admit how fortunate we are to live 300 meters from a spectacular living natural aquarium.

 And I do spend as much time as possible in our various "octopus's gardens."

And that is yet another reason I could never have an aquarium: After hanging out with these creatures in their homes, I could never confine them to a tiny tank in mine.