by Raquel Rodriguez
Today is the second full day we have on this beautiful island of Guam. Being the daughter of a flight attendant, you’d think I’ve seen it all. But I’ve never had the opportunity to travel this far west in my entire life. And it’s everything I’ve ever imagined and more. Despite the crazy time change (17 hours ahead of Los Angeles to be exact), we’ve all been too excited to sleep away our time here.
Yesterday were my first steps in the Philippine Sea for our afternoon snorkel here in Tumon Bay. Our hotel is located right on the shore and has the most spectacular view of the bay and Guamanian cliff sides. The water temperature was bath-like, and I felt like I was in a real-life version of Finding Nemo. After a one-hour lecture on the marine species we’d find here on the reefs of Guam, the photographic slides came to life the second we entered the water. With the low tide conditions, we consequently had to carefully maneuver ourselves in order to not hurt any animals or damage the reefs.
Despite the challenge, what I experienced was pure amazement. I’ve never witnessed so much biodiversity in one place. It’s a whole different world — from the countless juvenile convict tangs hiding in the staghorn coral to the biggest sea cucumbers I’ve ever witnessed. What is humbling however, is the fact that this is an area that was once unaffected and damaged by anthropogenic effects. The bay was once dredged by the growing tourism industry so the beaches would be pristine for the numerous hotels along its shoreline. Fortunately, progress towards long-term sustainability has been addressed as the bay is now a protected reserve. According to one of my professors, Dr. David Ginsburg, the bay has made its way towards recovery and is much better than what it once was. But only time and continued efforts to protect these vital reef ecosystems will save them from being lost forever.
In the LAX airport I spoke to a man who was telling me about his experiences in both Guam and Palau. He described the comparison between the two, in terms of marine ecosystem beauty and health, as that of heaven and hell. If this paradise is hell, I can’t even begin to imagine how unbelievably beautiful Palau is going to be.
Raquel Rodriguez is a senior in environmental studies in USC Dornsife.