Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shacks Beach Marine Protected Area

A number of people are working very hard to make the Shacks Beach area a Marine Protected Area (MPA). This is a very important effort to protect the beach, water and especially the reefs of Shacks Beach. Here is what an MPA is:
Marine Protected Areas
Over 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water. Yet less than .5% of Marine Habitats are protected
The federal government’s MPA program defines marine protected areas as "any area of the marine environment that has been reserved by Federal, State, territorial, tribal, or local laws or regulations to provide lasting protection for part or all of the natural and cultural resources therein" (E.O. 13158, Federal Register, 2000).
MPAs perform as sites for research and education, as biodiversity reserves, as tools to conserve historic or cultural marine resources, as designations to reduce user conflicts, and to manage natural resources.
MPAs provide varying degrees of protection and permit or prohibit different uses.
Most MPAs permit certain human recreational or commercial activities and some extractive activities such as fishing or shellfish harvesting, while many MPAs prohibit certain extractive activities such as oil and gas drilling.
Benefits of Marine Protected Areas
—Conserves our ocean resources
Enhancing the reproductive potential of marine species
Protect long term health of our oceans
Increased fish size
Promotes cultural heritage
Maintaining species diversity
Preserving habitat
Preserving ecosystem functions
Ensure fisheries production
From the book: Ocean and Coastal Law and Policy Baur, Donald C./ Eichenberg, Tim/ Sutton, Michael

You can read more and see more on a new blog, http://shacksbeach.blogspot.com. Check it out. We expect to be able to follow the progress of the process on this blog. BTW, you may recognize many of the photos - they are mine!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Hace calor!

Chocolate enjoys cooling off with the hose too!

It's been pretty hot here in Bajuras the past month or so...temperature's actually about the same as always for this time of year - from mid-70s (low) to mid-80s (high), but the tradewinds have been lighter than usual and the humidity seems to be running higher than usual.

But, it's not all bad. When you live like you're camping, there's no need to worry about "dressing for success" or staying dry. So, lately we've been living in swim suits all day, showering with the hose outdoors, having regular water fights and getting in the ocean as much as possible.

Woo hoo!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Meet Mylo

Sometime in mid-February 3-4 tiny kittens (probably only about 5 weeks old) were dropped off near our house. We heard them but only our nephew Jordan saw the litter. However, I did find and started to care for a teacup-size female that I called MyLO (for "My Little One").

Before long she was coming when I called her to give her food and water. She also was climbing (and coming back down) our huge almond tree and using it as her safe haven. And, we were taking her to the vet and treating her for ear mites and fleas, as well as getting her needed shots and scheduling her to be spayed.

In case that weren't enough, I guess the name should have tipped me off that we weren't just a temporary foster home: she was now part of the family. The true test came when one of our friends and customers was at Ola Lola's and said she wanted to adopt her. I said, "Well, that might work" and John said, "No, you can't give away our kitten."

Turns out he was under the illusion that she might keep the mice and rat population down. The problem with that is that until very recently most mice outweighed her by half. At one point early in her stay, the dogs - who were raised with a cat and think it's just a funny looking puppy - cornered Mylo and she arched her back, puffed out all her fur and her tail, and hissed loudly. She was no more scary than a poofed out Q-tip.

John and I were both under the illusion that she would be an "outdoor" cat. This - particularly for those of you who have seen our house - is truly laughable! We are, in fact, always open to the outside on at least 2 sides of the house (even when it's pouring rain). So, instead we have an "everywhere" cat who now weighs almost 3 lbs. She loves to sleep on the deck by the computer, spring onto the bathroom roof, scale the fish nets we use as railings for the stairways, play high-wire along the window ledges, and climb the trees in the garden. She has also discovered that the outdoors is hers and hers alone when Ola Lola's is open (no dogs allowed). From this vantage she pounces on customers' legs as they go to the bathrooms, darts in and out of my feet as I bring food from the kitchen, and watches the party from treetop level - whichever suits her fancy.

So, I guess it's time that everyone meets Mylo.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wave-eye view

The kite surfers at Shacks Beach - especially our good friend Eric - are among my favorite photo subjects. I have photographed them from the beach and have some pretty spectacular (if I modestly say so myself) KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) photos taken from above with a kite. One of my photos was chosen for the cover of the current issue of Kiting, the magazine/newsletter of the American Kitefliers Association.

The one perspective I don't get very often is from water level. For the most part the winds are best for kite surfers in the winter - which is also surf season. Usually the water is too rough and choppy to bob around trying to dodge kite surfers and get some good pictures. Plus, in the winter there is usually a strong current along this part of the beach which makes it hard to keep the proper position.

But last week the conditions were nearly perfect: good wind for Eric to kite in, warm calm water with little current for me to tread water in. I was out snorkeling when I saw Eric putting up his kite. I kicked hard to get down to that part of the beach.

The results are pretty good for a first try. I learned a lot. Hopefully, I'll get a few more chances like this while the water is calm, before the surf kicks up in the fall. I really like this perspective and want to work with it more. And Eric is such a great subject.

You can see more from this set on Flickr.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mess on the beach

I hope this video and just the sight of our beautiful beaches cause enough outrage to change the way people look at our most amazing resource.


This video was shot the morning after Noche de San Juan at Ocean Park, a well-known and popular beach in San Juan. I would like to be smug and say something like, "well, that's in San Juan." But Jobos looked pretty much the same this morning. And our beaches will look this way after the 4th of July (and after the 3rd this year since that's Friday and the "official" holiday) and Constitution Day and...and...and...

This obvious lack of respect for the incredible beauty of our beaches and ocean is probably my biggest disappointment in living here in PR. It hurts to see this and it makes me very sad. Many of us, puertoriquenos and norte americanos alike, try to make some little difference, but that's all it feels like sometimes: very little difference. There are a lot pissed-off people expressing their outrage on Facebook. I hope somehow that outrage turns to action instead of a shaking of the head and a sad, "well, that's the way it is. There's nothing I can do."

This is a translation of the text in the Ocean Park video:

Unfortunately, the video is long.

I wonder how many offenders were arrested for throwing trash in public areas.

I guess that there were none with so many people.

I expected to find at least Tito Kayak, protector of the environment, picking up trash...or at least tied to a palm, protesting this disaster...but I guess he's still asleep, after all it is not yet 10 am.

And when I left the beach, I met a couple of tourists who could not believe what they were seeing ... asked me because if this island is so beautiful, why is there so much trash...I tried to explain there is generally less trash...they responded: ohh, it must be cultural...I never felt so embarassed

but I guess those that spent the night in the ocean, today say they spent a brutal night.

The penalty to Puerto Rico. The penalty.

Feel free to share this link with any of you/our friends, especially here on the island. I hate preacing to the choir. Let's ALL make a difference, here on the island or wherever you are.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fiesta de San Juan de Bautista

Today is Dia de San Juan de Bautista (St. John the Babtist Day). Last night was Noche de San Juan, the night of St. John. It is a night of revelry and partying on the beaches. People camp on the beaches (which is technically illegal) so at midnight they can continue the tradition of throwing themselves backward into the ocean three times. More than a thousand people crowded Jobos last night.

For some Noche de San Juan is just an excuse to party on the beach. For others, though, it really is a religious observance, celebrating John the Baptist baptising Jesus. Unfortunately, it's not all fun. The morning after the beaches are always a mess with trash, empty beer bottles and even used diapers. Somewhere around the island there are always fights and cars broken into. It's sad that a special, fun night is marred that way.

We didn't make it 'til midnight, didn't even plan to. Instead of throwing ourselves backward into the ocean, we went night snorkeling much earlier in the evening out on "our" reef.

The reef at night is a completely different place. Obviously it's harder to see; your field of vision is defined by what your dive light illuminates, like the way your driving vision is defined by your car headlights at night. Fish appear in completely different colors and we have to identify the familiar ones by shape alone. We see fish at night that we don't normally see in the day time. And the sea urchins. By day, the appear to be anchored to the rocks like barnacles. But they're not. At night they cruise around the rocks and the reef. It's pretty amazing to watch.

It's not the first time we've been night snorkeling (I even have one night dive). I guarantee it won't be the last!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Happy Father's Day (belated)

First of all I hope all the fathers had a wonderful day. I had a pretty lazy day - right up 'til Ola Lola's opened. We worked our tails off! (Not complaining, mind you, but it was Father's Day.)

To my own children, Happy Father's Day from your father. Please know that your father is happy and that you are one of the reasons he is happy with his life. (To make a sudden shift) I miss you and wish we were more a part of each other's lives, but I'm happy you are living your own life. Your mother, stepmother and I worked very hard so you could be independent, even from us. (Especially from us?...)

To my own father, I miss you, more with each passing year. There are so many things left unsaid between us, and so much of what was said was said badly. I was always afraid I was a disappointment to you (Mom said I'm wrong), that my son John is the son you should have had. Be that as it may, I wish you were here to know your grandchildren and now your great-granddaughters. I think you would love them. And I think you would be proud of the way your grandchildren turned out, in spite of my mistakes as a parent. I know I am proud of them. I wish you could know them.

One thing that was never said enough: I love you, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Elaine is now officially a certified diver

Elaine swims through the coral "canyons" on the outside reef at Shacks on her final certification dive

Elaine got her SCUBA diving certification card this week. HOORAY! Way to go Elaine! Now we're both certified which means we can rent SCUBA tanks and gear and go diving on our own. There are a lot of little places we want to explore.

When we first got here she was perfectly happier to "just" snorkel. I was the one who really wanted to dive. Her passion was (and IS) her horse. I like to ride, but I'm not nearly as good or as passionate about it as Elaine is. Our "deal" was she rides, I dive.

But the more you snorkel, the more inviting, the more interesting diving becomes. And I do like to horesback ride. Plus, we both want to share our passion with the other, and we both want to share in what makes each other happy. So Elaine learned to dive so we can go together. Now it's my turn to learn to be a better rider.

On Saturday, I take my first horseback riding lesson since I left college. A good good friend is a trainer and for my birthday, she is giving me riding lessons. We're hoping this can lead to regular access to another horse in addition to Chocolate so we can ride together.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A great party at Ola Lola's last night

Wow! What a great birthday party last night at Ola Lola's. I have no idea how Elaine manages to put together a surprise party, for me, at our bar, right under my nose, but she managed it. What a great time! Thanks to so many of our friends who came to help us celebrate and for so many e-mails and messages on Facebook. And thank you, Elaine!

If anyone has pictures of the party, please e-mail them to us so we can post them. It's hard to be the guest of honor and the barman and the photographer all at once.

Happy birthday to me! It was awesome!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My photo on the cover of Kiting magazine

Kiting is the newsletter/magazine of the American Kitefliers Association (AKA). The cover of the latest issue is one of my photos of a kite surfer at sunset here at Shacks Beach. The photo, titled Hang Time, is one of my all-time favorites from my kite surfing pictures. This issue features several articles about kite surfing and kite surfing locations, including an article I wrote about kite surfing on Puerto Rico's north coast. A few of my kite surfing friends probably won't be too happy with the article. They would just as soon keep the "secret" to themselves.

I've been a member of AKA since 1985. Kiting and kite flying has brought some of my best, longest lasting friends into my life, including Elaine. We first met at a kite festival. It's really a romantic story but it's really her story to tell, so you'll have to wait for her. To find out more about kiting and and the AKA, check out their web site, www.aka.kite.org. It's a great organization.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Our friend Darryl and another diver head out to Blue Hole on their way to dive the caverns.

I was reading an article yesterday in Scuba Diving magazine about the Maldives and the danger rising sea levels poses. It's not the first article like this I've seen, only the most recent.

The Maldives holds the record for being the lowest country in the world, with a maximum natural ground level of only 2.3 m (7½ ft) with the average being only 1.5 m above sea level. Over the last century, sea levels have risen about 20 centimetres (8 in); further rises of the ocean could threaten the existence of Maldives. Current estimates place sea level rise at 59 cm by the year 2100. There are concerns about global warming and the possibility of much of the islands being inundated with water from rising sea levels.

That said, we have been having the lowest low tides (and lowest high tides, for that matter) we've seen. There are more coral heads exposed to a greater extent for longer periods of time than I've seen before. You can see in the picture above practically the whole coral ring around Blue Hole is exposed. And this wasn't even at full low tide!

This is from the same KAP session as the beachrock photos posted a few days ago. You can see the whole set on Flickr.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Speaking of Flickr...

Our Flickr page now has more that 3,000 photos and is approaching 26,000 views! Wow!

If you haven't looked at our Flickr site, check it out. It has the best photos from our two-and-a-half years in Puerto Rico.

Thanks for sharing the adventure with us.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Road trip

Angel rests her head in the car on the road trip to San Juan

After two years of not going to San Juan at all, I've been twice in three months. While Steve and Angel and Theresa were here, we took a road trip to Old San Juan to see the two forts, Castillo San Cristobal and Castillo San Felipe del Morro (El Morro). We were just there with our nephew Jordan at the end of February.

This was the first time I've actually been inside El Morro. What a place! You come in on the top level, which is Level Five and then work your way down to Level One at sea level. There are cannon batteries on every level, including the "water battery" at sea level. Cannons were placed here to fire at the hulls of wooden-sided ships.

To get out on Water Battery (that's as in gun battery, not "car" or "flashlight" battery) you have to pass through the oldest part of the fort, a tower that was built in 1539. There is a fragment of a 13-inch shell stuck in the wall of the tower. The shell was fired at the fort by the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

There is obviously a ton of history here. El Morro and San Cristobal were continuously occupied military installations through the end of World War II. You can see evidence of all the changes throughout the fort, from the Spanish sentry posts (which are the semi-official "logo" of Puerto Rico) to the concrete WWII observation posts built onto the walls.

Some of the architecture is fascinating. There is a spiral staircase in San Cristobal and a triangular staircase in El Morro. The compound curves under these stairs are amazing - and defy verbal description. (I tried and the person I was telling about just looked blank and said, "Uh-hunh.")

My photos of the two forts are really just a taste of what's there, certainly not an exhaustive photo essay. But that gives me reasons to go back. Someday.

You can see all the photos in this roadtrip set on Flickr.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Not karst, part 2

For the same two-and-a-half years I've also (incorrectly) called this other-worldly stuff, found at Jobos, Middles and other beaches, "karst." Like the beachrock in a previous post, this is also not karst. Actually, in some ways it's more interesting than karst.

This is eolianite. It is in fact an ancient sand dune, created by the wind (probably) in the last million years, and then turned to stone (the proper term is "lithified"). Wind-borne sand and pounding waves have eroded it to the wickedly sharp but relatively brittle formations we climb on today. (For more information see the Wikipedia article.) It turns out there is a lot of eolianite along PR's north coast. Check out this page to learn more.

There is karst on the island, lots of it. The two most famous examples at the Camuy Caves and the radio telescope observatory in Arecibo, which was built where it is because of a giant natural sinkhole.

Thanks again to our friend Kathy Hall for sharing some of this information and getting me started looking for more.

Other links:
Arecibo Observatory - http://www.naic.edu/

Karst - http://geography.about.com/od/physicalgeography/a/karst.htm

Geography of Puerto Rico - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geography_of_Puerto_Rico

Friday, June 05, 2009

Kennedy's first bike

A couple of days a week Kennedy goes to the Child Development Center (CDC) on the Coast Guard base. She LOVES riding the trikes there. So abuelo and abuela got her an early birthday present - her own trike for home. She loves this one too! We let her ride on the deck by Ola Lola's. Right now she still "scoots" it along but she'll be peddling before long.

BTW - for all you conflicted Ola Lola friends who think this deck is a carport, it is really a restaurant/bar and tricycle race track!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

It's not karst - it's beachrock

I have KAPped these rock formations along our coast for two-and-a-half years. They are fascinating and beautiful, especially from the air.

For two-and-a-half years I have (incorrectly) called these rock formations at the edge of the beach karst ('cause somebody told me that's what they are). They are not karst. Rather this stuff is called (appropriately enough) "beachrock." According to our friend Kathy Hall (who kindly and gently corrected my error), "This is beachrock, which consists of sand grains cemented together by calcium carbonate. It forms under the sand, but is exposed on shorelines where the sand has eroded (often due to sand mining)."

Beachrock forms quickly, usually in a few years, of "unconsolidated" sand in the "intertidal zone" (the area of beach exposed to air at low tide and covered with water at high tide). Different layers of beachrock represent different periods of cementation. (from Wikipedia)

Beachrock often "floats" on top of underlying sand, but is also sometimes covered by sand as well. How much beachrock is exposed at any given place at any given time depends on how the wind and waves move the overlying sand around.

Here at Shacks and Bajura, big waves will push sand up into the dune or suck sand off the beachrock, leaving more exposed. Other times smaller waves will deposit sand on the beachrock, covering it up.

This is really fascinating stuff! (Well, to me at least) Thank you, Kathy, for setting me straight. If you're interested you can find more information about Puerto Rico's coastline here and here. And there are more photos from this KAP set on Flickr.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What a couple of weeks!

Steve, Angel, Amy and Kennedy at Ola Lola's on Steve and Angel's last night in PR

Yesterday morning we said good-by to our son Steve, granddaughter Angel and our new friend Theresa. They drove off into the sunrise, headed for San Juan and their flight back to Washington, D.C. There just aren't words for how wonderful it was to spend time with them. We got to catch on Steve's live and got to know our beautiful Angel.

They in turn got to sample live in paradise. True the weather pretty much sucked (at least by our standards - grey, and cloudy with afternoon rain) for much of their visit but Saturday and Sunday the weather gods put on their best sunshine and blue skies.

We took them to Viejo San Juan for a day to visit Castillo San Cristobal and El Morro. That was a great time. Steve and I spent a long time checking out the architecture and construction of the forts. Angel had a great time running up and down LOTS of stairs. And we showed them the treehouse in Parque Colon in Aquadilla (Steve built a pretty amazing treehouse in our front yard when he was a kid.) and then we went snorkeling into Blue Hole.

They did a lot of exploring on their own as well. They made a brief excursion into the Guajataca rain forest, a place we've only been to the edge of (we're going back SOON!).

Mostly we just enjoyed hanging out with them on the beach and at Ola Lola's when we were open.

We saved a lot to see and do for next time. And there WILL be a next time. We can't wait.