Diving Against Debris:  For A Cleaner, Healthier Ocean Planet


“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

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dad-interactive-mapdad-jan-2017I decided to host my first Project AWARE “Dive Against Debris” event here on Okinawa at the turn of the New Year, and I must say, it was a smashing success!  At a local dive site called “Kadena North Steps,” almost 40 scuba divers were successful is removing 198 pounds of submerged debris from the ocean, amounting to over 635 separate pieces of trash polluting our coastal underwater environment.  Check out our full Kadena North Steps report here.  A big shout-out to all those who came out in support of this worthy effort!

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The SAD and DEPRESSING Underwater view of Kadena North Steps

 

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If you are not aware, our oceans are under siege.  More than 250 MILLION tons of plastic is estimated to make its way into our ocean by 2025.  Our everyday trash is entering the seas at an alarming rate, and it has created a clear and present danger to the ocean’s ecosystems.  But a global community of proactive divers is beginning to fight back against this onslaught.  And I decided to become more an active part of the solution than a passive participant in creating the problem.

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What is amazing is that all it takes to create grass-roots activism is to provide just the seed, although with creating an environment where that seed can germinate and take root.  What do I mean?  Make it “an event.”  Advertise.  Provide collection bags.  Offer donuts and coffee!  And take care of the debris after the divers have removed it….  Real and sustainable global change is only empowered through such grassroots action.

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Marine debris is, simply put, deadly to marine life, often hazardous to human health, and costly to our economies.   Animals, especially marine mammals, become entangled in debris and even mistake it for food – both often with fatal results.  Toxins can enter our food chains, resulting in sickness for an individual, and detrimental depressions in local and national markets.

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dive-the-blues-scuba-2017-dive-against-debris-counting-collected-trashThe event I hosted was a formal Project AWARE “Dive Against Debris” (DAD) survey.  That means we not just collected trash, but weighed, categorized, and reported the data to a global database.  I also offered training and certification, for those divers so interested, In PADI’s “Dive Against Debris Diver” specialty.  Eleven divers completed this course of education and training that morning!

Cleanup Divers Entering the Water at Kadena North

Cleanup Divers Entering the Water at Kadena North

dive-the-blues-scuba-2017-dive-against-debris-morning-diver-fueldive-the-blues-scuba-2017-dive-against-debris-kevin-event-organizerDive Against Debris® is Project AWARE’s flagship citizen-science program.  DAD is the first and only marine debris survey of its kind which utilizes scuba divers to report types and quantities of debris found on the ocean floor.  If you’re a certified diver, you can collect and report important data while removing marine debris during your dive.  With your help, Project AWARE can use the information you report to convince individuals, governments and businesses to act against marine debris.

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dive-the-blues-scuba-2017-dive-against-debris-trashed-bottom-3However, Project AWARE goes even further.  Not only does the organization work to reduce underwater impacts of marine debris, but to prevent trash from entering the ocean in the first place.  Through “Partnerships Against Trash,” Project AWARE works with businesses, NGOs and governments to advocate for long-term solutions and influence waste management policies at local, national and international levels.

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Since my experience running this event was so positive and down-right run, I have decided to take my activism to the next level.  Ultimately, the most dedicated Dive Against Debris leaders across the globe are increasing commitments to the fight against ocean trash through another program called “Adopt a Dive Site™” (ADS).   Leveraging enthusiastic dive instructors, and concerned dive centers and resorts, ADS ensures ongoing local protection and monitoring of our underwater playgrounds.

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captureMy dive business Dive the Blues Scuba and I have adopted Kadena North as “my” dive site to care for.  This means I have committed to executing monthly Dive Against Debris surveys and then reporting types and quantities of trash found underwater each month from that same location.  To support this effort, Project AWARE will be supplying some additional survey tools, and will provide a yearly report on the state of my local dive site.  ADS is focused on removing debris on a sustained basis to ultimately improve the health of local ecosystems.

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You can view “My Ocean Profile” at Project AWARE to see these local actions, and see the details of my first Dive Against Debris survey.  Finally, you can see my first Adopt a Dive Site event where you can determine if you too want to come out and become an active part of the solution, rather than be a passive part of the problem.

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And don’t forget to come out and support my February 2017 Dive Against Debris survey this President’s day, February 20th, starting at 0900 local at Kadena North Steps.  Together, we can work toward a cleaner, healthier ocean planet.  One dive at a time.  And ultimately, we as a global nation of divers will be judged all the greater for it.

Toshikoshi:  New Year Noodles in Japan


“Noodles are not only amusing but delicious….” ~Julia Child

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Jody and I are lucky to have a delicious udon noodle restaurant, Marukame Noodle, just a few minutes away, and even more fortunate to have a terrific excuse to head out on New Year’s Day to feast on a steaming bowl of fresh Asian pasta in a savory broth:  “Year-Crossing Noodle”!

Marukame Noodle, Okinawa

Marukame Noodle, Okinawa

Toshikoshi (年越し蕎麦), or “year-crossing noodle,” is a traditional Japanese noodle dish eaten, for some on New Year’s Eve, and for others, on New Year’s Day.  And although yes, I admit, the noodles are usual of the soba variant, I find myself preferring the much thicker and almost chewy Chinese udon as the noodle of choice.

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The tradition of eating noodles around the New Year became common during the Edo era (1603-1868) in Japan.  When soba noodles are made, the dough is stretched and cut into a thin, elongated form, a geometry said to represent a long and healthy life, while the buckwheat plant (source of many Japanese noodles) being a rather hearty plant that can survive severe weather represents strength and resiliency.  And cutting the noodles while eating symbolizes a wish to cut away all the misfortunes of the old year in order to commence the New Year anew and refreshed.

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However, the noodles should never be broken, cut or shortened during cooking.  And there are other various traps that could result in a backfire; don’t eat right at midnight (you’ll not be able to cut ties with the old), and don’t eat while temple bells are ringing (the bells are supposed to cleanse of evil and sin, and you wouldn’t want to consume any!).  Jody and I, having a late lunch/early dinner on New Year’s Day, were pretty much free and clear of any complexity.

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Given all this positive symbolism (see Welcome Spring and the New Year for more), why tempt bad karma and NOT slurp down some tasty noodle soup at the New Year?  Steaming hot, Jody and I topped ours with nuggets of fried tempura batter (actually the leftovers of frying tempura meats and veggies), a slew of freshly-sliced green onions, and with sides of tempura chicken, shrimp, and vegetables.  Yummy!

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Happy New Year, friends!  I hope you had an amusing and delicious meal of your own to help invite longevity and health for you and yours.

Dive Against Debris Lesson Guide


For those divers interested in qualifying for the PADI Project AWARE “Dive Against Debris” (DAD), please review the below PowerPoint briefing .  For any questions, please contact me thru Dive the Blues Scuba on Facebook.  Thanks for your interest and involvement in helping to care for our oceans!

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Ryūkyūan Glass:  An Account of War, Hardship and Okinawan Rebirth


“A rebirth out of spiritual adversity causes us to become new creatures.”  ~ James E. Faust, American religious leader

The accounting of the development of Ryukyu Glass is one crafted out of war, hardship and Okinawan rebirth.

The Nearly Complete Devastation of Okinawa in 1945

The Nearly Complete Devastation of Okinawa in 1945

The craft of glass blowing was still in its infancy when war finally arrived on Okinawa’s shores in the spring of 1945.  Prior to that time there was relatively low demand for glass, with pottery being the mainstay trade supporting needs for crockery.  Homes and businesses of the time still lacked windows as we know them in our modern, western sense.  Pragmatic items, such as gas lamps, medicine bottles and sake or awamori jars were the extent of glassware items which were locally manufactured.

Typical Post-War Okinawan Dwelling

Typical Post-War Okinawan Dwelling

Thus, the very few highly skilled glass makers who made up the trade on Okinawa were likewise devastated during the fierce Typhoon of Steel suffered by the island and its people.  Upwards of fully 1/3rd of Okinawa’s civilian population was outright killed, with probably upwards of another third injured or disabled; almost every single survivor was internally displaced, having lost their homes and most of their belongings.

Kadena Traffic Circle circa August 1945

Kadena Traffic Circle circa August 1945

The demand for glass, however, suddenly spiked during Okinawa’s recovery and occupation by allied (American) forces immediately following Japan’s surrender.  Those tradespeople left returned to their shops in the hopes of rebuilding, but often found little more than piles of burnt rubble so iconic of the complete devastation visited upon the Ryukyu Islands.  Desperate times almost always call for desperate measures, and Okinawans were forced to make use of whatever structures, fuels and raw materials which were available.

The Soda-Lime Composition of War-Era Coke Bottles Still Provides Beautiful Sea Glass on Okinawan Beaches Today!

The Soda-Lime Composition of War-Era Coke Bottles Still Provides Beautiful Sea Glass on Okinawan Beaches Today!

The Okinawan people began collecting bottles discarded by occupying forces.  Legend has it that Coca-Cola bottles tossed from ships and found in the many military’s camps’ trash heaps fueled the initial glass boom on Okinawa immediately after the war.  I can tell you this:  scuba divers routinely still find Coke bottles dated “1945,” and sea glass is a full-time hobby for many since there seems to be a never-ending supply of smoothed and rounded glass washing up on the Okinawa’s shores.  Lucky for the island, there was a steady and sustained stream of cast-off glass courtesy of the Americans.  One man’s trash is another’s treasure.

The Vivid Colors and Intricate Designs of Ryukyuan Glass Today

The Vivid Colors and Intricate Designs of Ryukyuan Glass Today

These discarded soda-lime glass bottles were melted down and re-blown on Okinawa into what slowly morphed into a unique type of recycled glassware:  Ryukyu Glass.  This locally made glass quickly became popular with American GIs who bought them in some cases as vestiges of far-away civility left behind, or as souvenirs for girlfriends or family.  So, not only did the occupation of Okinawa supply raw materials for this new industry, it also became its largest economic base.  Prior to Okinawa’s reversion and return to Japanese sovereignty in 1972, 60% of the glass fashioned was exported to the United States via troops stationed in Okinawa, 20% went to mainland Japan, and the remaining 20% was sold locally within the Okinawan prefecture, which includes the majority of the islands in the southern half of the Ryukyu Island chain.

Ryukyuan Glass

Ryukyuan Glass

Since those hard, early times of the late 1940s and 1950s when this vocation was struggling for a stable foothold, the Okinawan art of glass-making has blossomed into one of the island’s proudest, yet youngest traditional craftworks.  Now known throughout Asia, visitors come from far and wide to buy exceptionally ornate pieces selling for thousands and thousands of dollars.

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For her birthday this year, I treated Jody to a weekend get-away centered on a hands-on glass-blowing experience, something we’ve been meaning to do for over three years now.  Staying at the Okinawa Renaissance Hotel for two nights, the local glass factories in Okinawa’s Onna area were within easy driving distance.

The Glass (Foreground) We Decided to Attempt

The Glass (Foreground) We Decided to Attempt

The first location we tried is called Okinawa Kougei Mura.  A large glassware showroom is found here, along with an adjoining and rather disorganized glass-blowing studio largely open to the elements.  The sales area displays a huge array of glass pieces of every design, but be warned that there is only a small selection of items (mostly cups and a few vases), that you can try your own hand (and mouth) at producing, which are found outside next to the factory floor.  Further, the experience here includes only a minimal 2 steps of hands-on during the glass forming process.  On the flip-side, this is an inexpensive and relatively quick encounter.

Our Wedding - Hard to Miss THAT Color!

Our Wedding – Hard to Miss THAT Color!

7396101154_9fb381e9e1_b7395692146_cf91e76b9e_bHere we decided to make a set of Ryūkyūan glasses in roughly the colors featured throughout our wedding – blue and turquoise.  We selected a rather unique design, a wide-mouthed tumbler with a bumpy-textured base and flared top.  The craftsmen on the studio floor apparently speak very little English, so Jody and I made it very clear exactly what we wanted to the always polite and over-dressed sales woman, who then reminded the glass-blowers at least 4 or 5 times about the flared rim we so eagerly wanted!

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jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-necking-a-glass-3jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-jody-blowing-glass-2Jody was to make two glasses, and I would make the remaining two.  Instead of each making two and then switching roles between artisan and photographer, for some reason the shop had us alternate one at a time.  Not a big deal, except for having to don – and then slip off all the protective gear an extra time!  The glasses turned out beautifully, except for the one birth defect I forced during one of my attempts.  Forming the flared top was perhaps the most delicate part of the entire process, and of course this was one of the hands-on elements!  For one of my prenatal glasses I was, let’s say, a little too eager.  I’ll leave it up to the reader to see if you can spot my “special” glass, which already provides an amusing story and priceless memory of our weekend.  Be advised that you are the master of your glass’ destiny, and being hand-formed each and every time, no two pieces are alike.  Which is exactly what makes this all so uniquely charming!

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jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-things-you-can-makejodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-things-you-can-make-2Since we wanted to make something more, well, special, we decided to go to another location, a factory with a much more extensive showcase and workshop called “Onna Glass Studio.”  Here we were not disappointed.  But we were overwhelmed!  There is a substantial room, separated from the store’s high-end showcase, literally crammed full of glass pieces, consisting of what seems like every type and color of glass vase, cup, bowl, and drinking glass you could imagine.  And any one of them was fair game for production on the factory floor.  It was actually really difficult to select something that we desired to make; the options appeared almost endless.

Models of What We Were to Create!

Models of What We Were to Create!

I think I might have spotted my glass desideratum first.  After probably a full thirty minutes scouring through the showroom, I saw it:  an oddly proportioned long-neck, crackled vase/bottle with a flared top in the most interesting color of blue, historically the rarest color in glass as I understand it.  It’s a bottle that one would imagine from which a genie would appear.  Proudly bringing it up to the counter with a huge smile on my face, the saleswoman immediately shuts me down with a dismissive “no have, no color, cannot make….”  Did she have any idea how hard that was to find!?  I settle for a very similar design but in a slightly less-attractive fluorescent green.

Winding Molten Glass on the Iron Blowing Pipe

Winding Molten Glass on the Iron Blowing Pipe

Jody selects a rather fascinating bottle with a twist.  Literally, a bottle with a twist.  Like a twisted bottle – very cool!  The model we contemplated was rather asymmetrical, something that she also found very alluring.  Her bottle’s color gently faded along the bottle’s length between a bright red and a diminished yellow.  After negotiating price – and this place is open and even encourages haggling, a rarity for Japan – we were off to the factory floor.  Be ready to spend a few dollars here if you select a larger piece of unusual design.

Keeping the Molten Glass Formed

Keeping the Molten Glass Formed

At the Onna Glass Studio, you “the creator” are much more involved in the birthing process, from conception to delivery.  Yeah, sure, the three staff members surrounding you the entire time are helping (quite a bit actually) like midwives, but you certainly feel like you are doing the work.  Did I mention how much you have to spin the blowing bar and molten glass – constantly – the ENTIRE time??   Both Jody and I were counseled, gently at first and then with more eagerness, a number of times to “keep spinning, fingers only,” which we found nearly impossible.

Blowing Glass between Collection from Various Kilns

Blowing Glass between Collection from Various Kilns

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-picking-up-molten-glassjodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-molten-glassMolten glass is first wound on an iron pipe, a hollow bar that is used to collect, blow, shape and form your creation.  Constantly spinning the bar, its tip is carefully placed into kilns operating at over 1,300C/2375F to pick up molten glass.  The heat in the vicinity of the furnaces is oppressive, and once its protective cover is opened, a wave of heat radiates and seems to strike you much like a physical shove.  Multiple stops are required at various different kilns to get the right amount and the right types of glass, all of which is white-hot when wound.  There is a small amount of blowing in-between to shape the glass and keep it spherical.  Did I mention yet that during the entire time you have to constantly spin the bar??  The glass at this point is more liquid than solid, and it can’t be neglected for more than a short heartbeat or two.

Blowing Glass to From in a Mold

Blowing Glass to From in a Mold

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-drinking-glass-moldjodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-molten-glass-to-become-a-glassNext it’s off to blow the glass into a mold.  A heavy-duty, thick-sided iron mold is placed on a sheet of steel on the floor, squarely behind a heat shield designed to protect lower bodies of craftsmen.  We are directed to finally stop spinning the pipe, and place it carefully vertically straight down into the open mold.  The mold is then closed, and you blow through the pipe until the molten glass entirely fills the confines of the cast.  Things happen quickly now because the design must be completed before the glass starts to chemically fuse and cool back into a solid – a process which is already happening.  From what I understand, glass is an unforgiving medium, and re-firing cannot be used to fix many mistakes.

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jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-with-his-finished-bottlejodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-kevin-blowing-his-bottleMy piece has a crackle design near its base.  Taking the formed glass from the mold, still on the end of the blowing tube and glowing red-hot now instead of white, I dipped (with guidance) my piece into cold water just for an instant or two.  The sharp temperature difference produces cracks only on the surface of the glass, which remain only as a subtle design element not interfering with the glass’ functionality.

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jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-jody-necking-her-bottle-2jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-cutting-kevins-bottle-at-the-neckNow we sit in the finishing chair.  We were both involved in flaring our bottle’s lips, a technique that involves placing outward pressure with metal tongs on quickly cooling glass, now barely glowing, while the piece is rotated horizontally on guides.  After the flare is finished, we score the specimen’s water cool water is applied, creating a natural fracture point in the crystalline structure.  Lifting the bar slighting, we bring it down with some force and the bottle gentle is released from his metallic captor.  The area, on the bottom of the glass, is quickly re-fired and smoothed by the shop’s staff.

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Cooling Kiln

Cooling Kiln

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-forming-a-drinking-glass-2Now that the pieces are done, they are placed into another larger not-so-hot-but-still-freakin’-hot kiln for controlled cooling.  Jody’s bottle actually fell over, which initially I thought was a mistake, but something the craftsman who placed it that way wasn’t overly concerned about.  In hindsight, this is probably how the additional asymmetry of that particular design is introduced because Jody and I both noted its equal proportions when molded.

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-jody-shaping-the-neck-of-her-bottle

jodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-masterpieces-the-bottle-we-coundt-make-but-still-scoredjodys-birthday-2016-glass-blowing-masterpieces-kevins-crackled-bottleReturning the next day to pick up our masterpieces, we were amazed to see our completed works!  Jody, however, noticed a sharp spike of glass on the very top of the rim of her bottle’s neck.  When we asked if there was anything that could be done about it, a woman working the showroom took sandpaper and attempted to “erase” the issue.  As you might guess, this did blunt the defect, but more so scratched the glass….  Realizing we were unhappy with that result, she tried to just give us the model we had initially selected from the floor to show the craftsman what we wanted to create.  “No, no, no we don’t want that, we want the one we made!”  Jody, being coyly smart and fast on her brainstem, went and got the blue bottle that I had wanted to make, which the ladies working there were only too happy to part with.  They couldn’t make it anyway.  So, we walked away with our two hand-made pieces, AND with the fabulous sapphire decanter.  SCORE!

Our Bottles!

Our Bottles!

Reservation is not required at either location.  Neither was very crowded.  We waited behind a group of three at the first location, and had no wait at all at the Glass Studio.  Once your piece is selected and the factory floor is ready for you, the process takes roughly 15-20 minutes, but you are required to leave your masterpiece overnight for proper cooling, so make sure you allow for pick-up the next day.  And be forewarned that these pieces are NOT commercially produced and therefore should not be exposed to heat or hot foods or drinks, and cannot be used in the oven, microwave, or dishwasher.

Our Glasses!

Our Glasses!

Go and experience this corner of our Far East Fling.  Rebirthing these glass creatures anew provides a spiritual connection to Okinawa, her history and her people which will last through time.  But their emotional essence – the soul of Ryūkyūan Glass, just might help you overcome an adversity or two of your own in the future.

 

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Okinawa Glass Studio

Hours:  Daily from 0800-2200

Phone: 098-965-3090

Sorry, Yen Only, but Cards Accepted

Address: 85 Fuchaku, Onna Village, Okinawa 904-0413, Coordinates: 26.4590571, 127.81162829999994

Directions:  From Kadena Gate 1, go north on 58 (right) past Kadena and Yomitan.  Pass the Renaissance Resort, and then the Kafuu Resort further up the road.  Onna Glass Studio is on the right hand side, almost directly across from the Sun Marina Beach and Hotel

Water Safety Stand-Down, or Punitive Stand Around??


“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation.  We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.  We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”  ~Aristotle

Okinawa, as well as the wider Pacific basin (Korea, Japan and Hawaii, in terms of the Marine Corps at least), is going through a temporary ban/prohibition on recreational water activities.  Due in part to the drowning deaths of two Marines this past weekend, but certainly exacerbated by other deaths and numerous serious permanent injuries from earlier in the year.  The Commanding General here in Okinawa says it isn’t punitive – but it is.  And the stand-down is supposed to be about “resetting” the force to help improve water safety so that we all can better and more safely enjoy the water sports for which Okinawa is famous…which it doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong:  these deaths are tragic, and tragically preventable.  I am not belittling any person’s life, nor calling into question that something needs to be done to help keep similar mishaps like these from happening in the future.  But hey Navy-Marine Corps Team:  you’re doing it wrong.

Here’s what happens when the military powers-that-be on Okinawa ban or prohibit some activity because there is an issue.  First, the literally tens of thousands of people that enjoy the waters around Okinawa on a weekly, and for some, almost daily basis, are marginalized, ignored, and otherwise lumped en mass with the few who are cause for concern.  There is NO DOUBT that preventable deaths are a sad, unnecessary and tragic occurrence.  But for the common Marine, Airman, Soldier or Airman, to take away their access to the water though no fault of their own is, well, punitive.  All it takes is a scan of the Facebook comments to see evidence of this conclusion firsthand.  In fact, the people that actually are doing everything RIGHT – the vast number of people affected by this order I argue -are lumped into the masses, and made to suffer some attempt at remediation.  We will get to how badly that remediation is being implemented in this case down below.

Second, subordinate commands can jerk the chain even further.  For instance, for MCCS Scuba Programs, even pool events/training were placed off-limits during this stand-down, with the explicit threat of immediate termination if a student was allowed to enter the water, any water, for any reason.  Are pools really the issue?  Are people getting hurt in the pools?  Are we worried about the safety of pools or the events that take place there?  Some people on this island have to make special arrangements to take a scuba diving class.  Some take leave.  Others have to clear duty schedules.  Still others have to coordinate work releases and/or baby-sitting.  Canceling the ability to train, specifically in a setting where a real difference can/could be made considering the subject and intent of the stand-down, is, well, punitive to some and counterproductive to most.

Further, MCCS Scuba was required to do an immediate 100% accountability recall of rental gear, a requirement expressed to staff and contractors with some sense of urgency.  The fact was made very clear that the shops were required to account for every single regulator and buoyancy control device.  Was this the Commander’s intent?  Whose “good idea” was this?  I’ve read the Commander’s intent, and nowhere is this type of reaction warranted, or required by any sort of evidence-based practice.  Are we really that worried about people sneaking off to go scuba diving?  If so, what about all those people with their own tanks and gear….

Then there’s the stand-down “training.”  It is, of course, a PowerPoint.  And of course it was created in mere hours, based on existing (and lame) water safety products already readily available.  If you haven’t reviewed this training brief, please do so now.  Actually, although I have the brief, it is classified “For Official Use Only,” and while not a “real” classification, it would be in very bad form to place it in this public domain.  So, my apologies, but you won’t be able to see what all of Okinawa will be forced to view.  This particular briefing is one which is being promulgated on the “Green Side” (US Marine Corps), and it simply and completely misses the mark.  In retrospect, I’m actually happy you the reader won’t view the training – saves me the embarrassment.

So, let’s cut to the chase…and get right to the point.

Preventing these fatalities and other water-related mishaps are NOT a matter of sitting through yet another poorly conceived and even more poorly constructed PowerPoint briefing, delivered poorly by someone lacking the requisite knowledge and expertise to speak intelligently about the very real and very serious issues at hand.  IT IS A MATTER OF CHANGING THE CULTURE OF WATER RECREATION SAFETY ON OKINAWA.

I’m not saying that a safety stand-down is unwarranted or inappropriate.  Quite the opposite; we used them effectively in Naval Aviation when I was a flier.  What I am saying is that in the modern age of intrusive military leadership, documented training in a CYA-mode along with additional layers of micromanagement and oversight, such unfocused and irrelevant “training” is counterproductive.  Judgment is an exceedingly hard thing to just “train” into people.  Paradigm and cultural shifts take a level of effort orders of magnitude beyond more GMT (general military training).

The training provided, from an examination of its content, focuses primarily on THREE things:  Okinawa “Sea Conditions,” dangerous marine life, and rip currents.  That’s right – little about experience, almost nothing about wearing of personal flotation, no push for training and certification (not just for divers, but snorkelers as well), and finally, almost nothing on how to mitigate and handle growing anxiety and near-panic in the water….

Having been a diver on Okinawa now for over seven years, and being a PADI Professional for about six of those years (and a diver for 25), I can tell you that I have only heard of (but cannot confirm) one American fatality from dangerous marine life, and that was due to anaphylactic shock from a sea wasp sting, and not from drowning (I believed this occurred on/about 1999).  This brief would have you believe that Moray eels and even Barracuda are out for blood.  Fully seven of the brief’s 30 slides – ¼ of the brief when you take out the intro and ending slides – are dedicated to marine life, which to my knowledge, have absolutely nothing to do with serious water-related injuries or fatalities this year…or in the last three.  Talk about detractors???  Again, what is causing the water-related deaths and injuries on Okinawa?  What are the chains in these mishaps that we can keep from being broken??  MOST CERTAINLY NOT DANGEROUS MARINE LIFE.  Oh, and marine life is only potentially  dangerous, mind you….

Second, there seems to be a concentration of content on rip currents (8 of 30 slides).  I’m not sure the genesis of this focus.  If there was/were rip currents involved in recent fatalities, THEN SAY SO.  I, for one, find this hard to believe, although it cannot be ruled out.  Again, being an experienced diver on Okinawa, with something like 1,000 dives throughout the island, I have found VERY FEW true rip currents here.  And even those, like ones at the “old” Onna Point, Sunny’s Sunabe, Water Treatment, and Hedo Point are dependent on tide phase and change, along with various aspects of sea state (wave height, direction and period).  Training people on what to do if caught in a rip current is not a bad thing, and in Southern California or parts of Florida, a necessary thing.  However, are the photos of the purported rips in the brief even from Okinawa???  Remember, undertow and surge are NORMAL aspects of increased surf, and should not be confused with rip currents….

Finally, the long, verbatim discussion on Sea Conditions (4 of 30 slides, extremely wordy) begs people to yawn and check Facebook on their cell phones.  Let’s be honest:  there is a rampant lack of respect for Okinawa’s Sea Condition, the people who set it, and the criteria that it’s based on.  I cannot even begin to numerate how many times the meteorologists have jumped the shark when it comes to actual water conditions versus published condition.  It is a common joke across the island.  Sometimes they under-report how bad things really are; other and maybe more often, they over-restrict access to the water when completely unwarranted.  I feel so strongly about how ineffectual Sea Condition is that it has its own dedicated blog; see Surf Nazis Must Die!  Keep in mind that most mishaps happen when in “all clear” or “caution,” sea conditions that do not preclude any in-water activity.

Where is this discussion in this training on the absolute necessity of personal flotation, not just when scuba diving, but when snorkeling, especially in water too deep to stand, REGARDLESS OF SEA CONDITION?  Where is the emphasis on gaining proper experience?  But that in and of itself still isn’t enough:  where is the much needed discussion on MAINTAINING PROFICIENCY??  Having insider information on recent events on Okinawa, I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that lack of PFDs combined with inexperience and lack of proficiency were direct contributors to very unfavorable outcomes….

Where is the discussion in this training on whether the mishap persons in question inflated their flotation or not (if they were even wearing any)?  Was gear in place – mask and snorkel?  Where regulators used during questionable surf entries/exits?  Did the mishap scuba diver inflate their BCDs?  Did the mishap scuba diver drop weights?  Did those attempting a rescue ensure positive buoyancy for the victim and themselves?  Did rescuers drop the mishap scuba-diver’s weights?  Was emergency oxygen available and utilized?  These are all critical elements which could (but not necessarily so), improve the chances for a more favorable outcome.

Where is the discussion in this training that it’s not enough to have the appropriate gear, but to wear and use that gear?  When encountering any questionable surf on entry or exit, mask must be on and reserve air in the scuba cylinder should be utilized by using the kit’s regulator.  Further, how many divers really understand that in moderate-to-heavy surf on scuba that at times it is much better to DEFLATE completely to keep surge from throwing divers about?

Where is the discussion in this training on how important it is to calm yourself the moment you begin to feel anxiety in the water?  About being familiar and experienced enough with your gear (assuming you are wearing it) to utilize it when it is absolutely necessary?  Panic is a killer in the water, even at the surface, and as far as I can tell, these last three fatalities all happened at the surface, and were almost certainly preceded by full-blown panic.

Then there are the training’s misguided “Takeaways.”  From the brief one would assume that rip currents and dangerous marine life would be highlighted.  But they aren’t.  Instead, one takeaway incorrectly says to “go with your instincts”!  Instinctively people will go into water which they are not prepared for!!!  Only training and experience can overcome “instinct.”  Another points out that alcohol and water activities don’t mix:  IS THERE SOMETHING WE SHOULD KNOW HERE??  Or, is this just yet another plug to “not drink and [fill in the blank]….”  Yet another take-away is adherence to the buddy rule, always a great idea, but did a loose interpretation of the buddy team concept result in or contribute to one of these mishaps???  These are the things that we all need to know.  In the brief’s defense, it does on the final slide talk about training and equipment, but only in summary.

What are my takeaways, and what would I tell people if I had an audience, or were even invited to have input in water-safety training?  I would say this:

  • There is absolutely no substitute for comprehensive, quality training, for boating, personal watercraft, snorkel, scuba, and swim.
  • Training & Experience win over instinct every time.
  • There is absolutely no reason to disregard required equipment.
  • There is absolutely a need to build personal first-hand experience, both in numbers (repeated exposure) and over time (exposure to a wide variety of environments/conditions).
  • There is absolutely a need to maintain proficiency; swim, snorkel and scuba skills are perishable, especially for novices experiencing a long lay-off.
  • Emergency Procedures must be practiced in order for them to be effective, especially with new and/or unfamiliar dive buddies.
  • The “10 Second Rule” is not enough: waves come in trains, and ten second is not long enough to properly assess a situation.  A decision NOT TO DIVE can be concluded within 10 seconds.  However, if after 10 seconds the conditions seem okay, continue to monitor the site for a FULL MINUTE.  Only then can wave trains be properly accounted for, along with wave period and extent of surge.
  • Utilize all gear when in moderate-to-high surf, which includes keeping masks on, and having a mouthpiece in mouths (preferably a regulator/air source).
  • The moment increased anxiety is felt, STOP & BREATH; focus and get control of your breathing before thinking about necessary actions. Loss of breath control contributes quickly to panic and water aspiration, a combination that is deadly.
  • There is absolutely a need to change the culture of assumed personal invincibility over the oceans to one of exercised personal responsibility for your own safety – your safety is your responsibility, yours and yours alone.

Finally, in order to change the culture of water safety in Okinawa, it’s going to take engagement with all those that have the most impact and the most visibility:  swim coaches and instructors, snorkel and scuba instructors and store staffs, and even boat/watercraft renters and operators.  From my standpoint, and here I believe I may speak for many, there is almost zero engagement with the wider community of professionals, who all stand willing, able and ready to help make a change.  Outside of a few select individuals from a couple of the military dive shops, the community of professional divers is largely unleveraged in this regard.

What can be systemically done?  Push for additional training.  One way would be subsidies to bring the cost of relevant training down, training which could/may include snorkel/skin diver certifications through the dive shops, Advanced Open Water dive training, and even Rescue dive training.  Another business model could use additional revenue generated from a price increase for entry-level dive programs that would be used to offset these other courses.  Currently, only 7% of my annual certifications are for Rescue.

For me, personally, the best I can do at this point is through each and every class that I instruct, and each and every dive that I lead or attend.  I have, in the last year, added buoyancy and mask skills to every single class, and in the last months, have added an increased emphasis on sea state/ dive site evaluation and entry & exit safety.  Because, based on my own root cause analysis of mishaps (albeit based on very little and all unofficial information since little is shared with the wider community), these elements are exactly that critical.

Until there is a more reasonable, grounded and holistic approach to improving water safety, by engaging all stakeholders and customers alike, we will seldom make progress given the status quo of punitive restrictions and yet another ineffectual PowerPoint briefing.  “Are we done yet,” I hear you say as you yawn and put down your cell.  Yes, yes we are.  Now hopefully you can be done standing around and finally go back in the water.

An Ignominious End:  T-33s on Okinawa


“History is full of ignominious getaways by the great and famous.” ~ George Orwell

I still don't know how I feel about this....

I still don’t know how I feel about this….

haulinga6s-1a6bargeThe A-6E Intruder, the Navy’s premier attack aircraft for 30 years and my initial fleet aircraft I few for four years from 1990-1994, was rather suddenly “retired” in the mid-1990s.  At that time, since the Intruder’s “sundown” came so unexpectedly, several airframes were waiting re-winging at the Northrop Grumman facility at St. Augustine Airport, Florida.  Unserviceable and not worthy of long-term storage, some 44 aircraft were later sunk off the coast of St. Johns County, Florida, starting on June 16, 1995 to form an artificial reef and fish haven named “Intruder Reef” or perhaps even “Naval Air Station Atlantis.”  Burial at sea:  a fitting end, or an ignominious one?

Composite JASDF T-33A Serial 81-5349

Composite JASDF T-33A Serial 81-5349 at Ordnance Tactical, Nago, Okinawa

okinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5349-in-the-weeds-2okinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5349-tail-and-engine-in-the-weedsIt has always amazed me at how such iconic aircraft, built in sometimes massive numbers, reach their final, often times ignominious end.  During a visit to Okinawa’s Pineapple Park last year, I noticed a derelict aircraft I recognized sitting in the weeds of a field across the street.  Upon further examination, this was indeed a T-33 of the Japanese Self Defense Force (JASDF), rotting away under the harsh skies of this sub-tropical island….

Oddly, the aircraft wears USAF markings.

Oddly, the aircraft wears USAF markings.

t-33a-enginet-33-349-better-times-in-2009JASDF received a total of 68 T-33A Shooting Stars, better known as “T-Birds,” from the United States Air Force in 1955, serialized between 51-5601 and 51-5668.  Later, Kawasaki was licensed to first assemble aircraft from components built in America, and then build aircraft from scratch.  They went on to build 210 airframes between 1956-1959, with JASDF serials between 61-5201 and 91-5410.  In Japan, the aircraft were known as “Wakataka” (“Young Hawk”), a name reflecting their primary role as a pilot trainer.  Initially the Japanese used a natural metal color scheme, but began painting them silver in the 1960’s, while those in Okinawa (Naha airbase) were painted differently in an effort to avoid corrosion from the harsh environment found there.

JASDF T-33A 81-5345 nose and cockpit on display in the shop's loft.

JASDF T-33A 81-5345 nose and cockpit on display in the shop’s loft.

cl-t33a-5349-301-1977-10-02hayaku-kupanbacl-t33a-5345-302-1976-07-30komatsu-kupanbaInto the 1980s Japan maintained two jet training squadrons flying T-33As, the 33rd and the 35th.  But other aircraft were operated by other operational squadrons in a proficiency and general support role.  As amazing as it might sound the last of the JASDF T-33As were withdrawn only in 2000 after 40 years of continuous service; in the United States, the last NT-33 was retired only in 1997.  A total of 6,557 Shooting Stars were produced, 5,691 by Lockheed, 210 by Kawasaki and 656 by Canadair.

a8805-1-ordnance-20100217-mav-5

okinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5345-kevin-checking-out-the-cockpitokinawa-2015-ordnance-tactical-t-33a-81-5345-copilot-stationIn Nago, Okinawa, there used to be a military surplus store called “Ordnance Tactical“.  It was a popular place for Marines based at Camp Schwab to have their combat gear customized or modified.  For whatever reasons, two JASDF T-33s were purchased by the store’s owner.  One, sitting out front and wearing very faded USAF markings, is a composite aircraft based on the former Japanese Air Defense Force fuselage from 81-5349, combined with the tail of 81-5382.  Inside the shop, on a second story loft, was the cockpit of airframe 81-5345, which amazingly enough had most of the equipment, controls and instruments openly displayed for visitors to enjoy!

One of the T-33s in better times, 1982.

One of the T-33s in better times, 1982.

t-33-chitose-1973cl-t33a-5345-19940825-yThese aircraft were assigned to the 201st and 203rd Fighter Interceptor Squadron (2nd Air Wing) when they were outfitted with F-104Js at Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido, Japan.  During the Cold War, the interceptors based there, being in such close proximity to the USSR, were tasked with keeping the “Soviet Menace” at bay.

Aircraft #349 in 1985.

Aircraft #349 in 1985.

a88ordnance2010mav-30img_6328a88ordnance2010mav-29img_6327But Hokkaido is a long way from Okinawa, and how these aircraft came to neglect under rather obscure private ownership is forgotten to time, as are probably most of the amazing stories these airframes could tell, if only they had a voice.  From what I understand, the store in Nago has been razed and moved.  It seems that 81-5349 and its associated engine have been sold, but this is hard to confirm, and one source says it has been sold for scrap.  On the other hand, the cockpit display for 81-5345 found its way safely into storage in the shop’s warehouse, its final disposition unknown.  For me, such ignominy seems not so far removed from burial at sea….