We approached Lamotrek in the early hours of May 28. It is one main island with two smaller islands (mostly uninhabited except the main island – which has about 330 people on it). The Atoll here is pretty big to support the relatively small population, way bigger icebox (metaphorically) than Satawal has. No wonder the people here say that although their fish sizes are decreasing a bit, food security is not a major concern…quite different from Satawal.
JR was a little nervous coming here…not sure all would be ready, and if the community was 100% on board. Turns out he was wrong…they were ready with beautiful Leis, and plenty of food to send out to our boat. SO generous…these people are beyond welcoming. Lambert (from Lamotrek) came with us to show us the reefs and talk a bit about fishing and management. Meanwhile a separate crew went to land to talk with the community about fishing and management and other concerns they had.
One of the questions we ask each community goes something like this (borrowed from Dr. Eleanor Sterling): if one of your ancestors came to visit today, what would they notice about a) the community, b) the environment and reefs, and c) if they stayed for dinner, what would they notice about the meal. They answered it with these thoughts: we use plates now more than the palm frond plates, we use motor boats more, we have lights and power. Dinner would include soy sauce, and we have happy-time cookies and some ramen. Our ancestors would also notice we have new kinds of flowers. Smaller fish didn’t come up in their answer for awhile (interesting and a testament to their stronger resource base). Some of their self identified strengths: they cooperate as a community, and their boys are unified (they have a strong youth program).
A sunken plane in the lagoon: The Captain, an avid wreck diver, had heard there was a sunken Japanese Zero in the lagoon here, so went looking for it….he DID find a plane, but it wasn’t a Zero…it was pretty cool, an exciting find.
The people of Lamotrek kept giving us food. More and more Taro, breadfruit and bananas kept coming from the village out to us. They asked us to please stay until the end of the day (third day) so we could come to a celebration on the island in the evening. They prepared for the whole day for us. The plan was to have a community meeting/wrap up in the morning, go do our diving, then come back for the celebration.
We started our meeting. About 100 people. ~50 women and ~50 men. Lots of younger women too – slides, handouts, and ready to discuss our finds.
Got to a discussion about fishing methods on Ulithi, and the tone suddenly changed. People got up and ran outside, we had to stop abruptly.
During our meeting, the unthinkable happened. A young man from the island, Johannes, who had greeted us the first day, and was a helper on one of the small boats, passed away suddenly.
Johannes is remembered as always helpful, assisting whenever he saw the need, kind, and beloved by his community. He will be honored and missed. Tonight there will be one more star in the sky as he shines his spirit back down on us, from the other side. Thank you for your light in life and in the afterlife Johannes. Johannes was 23.
We pay our deep respects and send our condolences to the community and the family.