By Lee Webber
The surrounding, breath-taking waters and beautiful jungles of our island beckon the curious resident and visitor alike.
At first glance our lands and waters look inviting, warm and friendly.
In many ways the waters and terrestrial areas that surround our island are just that; beautiful, warm, and friendly places. However, they can lure the unprepared and unsuspecting into some dangerous and potentially fatal circumstances.
However, even the best trained residents can run into difficulty, what more those who are less skilled.
Having spent the vast majority of my adult life diving, hiking, and fishing in these areas it has been my experience that they are survival neutral.
Venturing into the waters and jungles can be places that, if properly respected, can be enjoyable and educational experiences.
We can, if properly trained, educated and reminded of the dangers that exist, thoroughly enjoy these surroundings.
That said, I have had my share of close calls on and under the water as well as on land.
Many years ago while working as a volunteer conservation officer at Andersen Air Force Base, we would periodically be tasked with finding experienced hunters who were, for whatever reason, disoriented and lost within their hunting areas on base.
More recently many of us can recall instances when hikers were lost or injured while on a routine hike in our hills and valleys.
On the water, one early morning some friends and I departed the Agat marina in the darkness on our way to Galvez and Santa Rosa banks for a day of fishing.
The plan was to fish there for a while and then head out to white tuna (some 50+miles off-shore) if the fishing and weather warranted it.
Unfortunately, what began as a nice day of fishing turned sour and we ended up 20+miles from shore caught in some very nasty weather.
Fortunately, we were in a good vessel and had the maturity and experience to begin heading back to shore.
However that journey took us nearly five hours and the wind and current swept us substantially off course (as we were working off a compass and dead reckoning).
At the time we were not fortunate enough to have a GPS system but we did have proper radios, Eperbs, cell phones and other safety gear.
We made it back to Guam albeit on the eastern shore and had to make our way around the southern end of Guam and back to the Agat marina.
We were tired, wet, hungry and VERY happy to be in safe harbor and heading home to our families.
We were very fortunate, we had filed a float plan and were not overdue so none of our family members were worried – that is until we told them of our adventure.
We all learned a very important lesson that day. The water was inviting, we were experienced fishermen but another reality hit home as well: it is also very dangerous and potentially deadly.
That last fact hit home with the three of us who were together on my boat that day. We now held a much healthier respect for the power of the seas.
On another occasion while diving in the waters off of Peleliu corner in Palau we were dropped off at Yellow Wall and drifted peacefully along the coast heading toward a wall called Express.
Unexpectedly the currents became much stronger and we were being swept faster and faster along the wall and toward the point of the island.
I looked up at the surface from about 60 feet below and noticed that the once semi-calm waves had turned into breaking waves.
As we made our way to the surface we found ourselves being separated more and more. We worked to stay in pairs and once on the surface realized that the weather had changed dramatically.
With safety sausages inflated and whistles blaring at a high pitch we all – substantially separated at this point – worked to maintain the attention of our boat crew.
Fortunately, after quite a bit of time in the water we all made it safely – albeit a bit bruised – onboard our vessel for the long and bumpy ride back to Koror.
It was another time when being an experienced diver with an experienced boat crew, proper equipment and a calm spirit on the part of all concerned that made the difference between making it home for dinner.
We all breathed a sigh of relief and were fortunate to have had the ability to learn from our experience. It could just as easily have been a disaster for one or more of us. We are blessed to have been with other experienced and prepared individuals.
These episodes bring me to my point.
During the past year our tiny island home has grieved the loss of a number of our friends and family.
While it pains us all when these tragic events occur, what is even more painful is that, in many cases, they were preventable.
We, the collective we, owe it to ourselves, our families and our guests to better educate everyone on the beauty and dangers of our surroundings.
Our lands and waters are beautiful but they are also powerful, potentially dangerous, and survival neutral. Therefore we must better prepare the community to deal with these realities.
I certainly do not have all the answers but the collective wisdom of this community must come together to better prepare and remind our residents of what beckons beyond our shores and in our backyards.
We owe that to ourselves, our children, and our visitors.
Lee P. Webber is a businessman and civic advocate, the former publisher of the Pacific Daily News, a former president and publisher of the Honolulu Advertiser, and a former director of operations for USA Today International/Asia