We are about to embark on an epic expedition to visit the Yap Outer Islands who have invited us to work with them on fisheries and reef management issues. Follow our Blog as we cover these beautiful islands and their wonderful communities with whom we work in partnership.
We enthusiastically announce our third year of partnering with Bluecology to bring a dynamic team of students, educators, and researchers with us to Ulithi in 2017. The team will work together with community leaders, local students and the OPOR science team to assist with the second stage of developing an action plan for youth leadership. This year, we are thrilled to have Eva Salas, Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Santa Cruz. Eva’s PhD is in coral reef ecology and fish population structure, and she worked collaboratively with the OPOR science team on Ulithi 2016. She is a wealth of information and an enthusiastic scientist and educator. We will also have local leadership from Justine, a teacher on Ulithi, who will be facilitating the local youth team. The Youth Program in Micronesia will take place June 9-28, with a tentative second program June 23 – July 12.
The Youth Action Plan project was created in response to community’s view that an education focus on sustainable ocean management should include their youth. The Youth Action Plan project will be sponsored annually and will include topics of concern and interest particular to young people in Ulithi as well as globally.
Our 2016 CORAL Conservation Prize Winner
John B Rulmal Jr is passionate, driven and dedicated. He is one of the inspirational visionaries making remarkable advancements in reef conservation and management along with his community on the Ulithi Atoll in the Federated States of Micronesia. CORAL is pleased to honor Mr. Rulmal and his community and will present the $20,000 award later this month. We will share stories and photos from his visit to the Bay Area in the October E-Current.
The local team for Ulithi Atoll will be visiting California to talk about their award winning work along with the Santa Cruz Science team! come hear how they are changing the way coral reef conservation is achieved…
Thursday 22 September 2016
Cabrillo Horticulture Rm 5005
Jan 5, 2016: OneNOAA Science Seminar Series
Coral Reefs in a Changing Climate: Combining Indigenous Traditions and Western Science for Sustainable Coral Reef Management in the Micronesian Outer Islands
Remote access (webinar) or live 12:00-1:00 EST NOAA Headquarters SSMC4 – Large Conference Room – 8150
Remote Access: Mymeeting webinars. For Audio dial toll-free (U.S.) 1-877-708-1667. Enter code 7028688# For Webcast: go to www.mymeetings.com. Under “Participant Join”, click “Join an Event”, then add conf.no: 744925156. No code for web.
January 14: California Academy of Sciences 3:00-4:00 pm, Boardroom.
Combining tradition and modern science for sustainable ocean management in the Micronesian Outer Islands: A collaboration
We will be conducting a session at the ICRS meetings in Hawaii,2016:
We are collaborating to conduct Session 66 (https://www.sgmeet.com/icrs2016/sessionschedule.asp?SessionID=66)
Session 66: HUMAN-NATURAL COUPLED REEF SYSTEMS: INTEGRATING INDIGENOUS AND WESTERN SCIENCES FOR SUSTAINABLE MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS
We are currently accepting abstracts for this session, so please spread the word to colleagues!
A recently published article highlights One People One Reef’s accomplishments and highlights the important work ahead to bridge modern science with the traditional culture. It illustrates the work being done towards a conservation strategy shaped by local islanders to protect the marine resources that support their way of life.
“All we were doing was reviving tradition,” Crane says. “These people have been managing these reefs for thousands of years. It was the recent changes that had caused problems: changes in fishing technique, cultural changes, loss of traditional leadership, and the advent of money…All we did was reconnect them to traditional management which had always been very effective.”
Read the whole article here.
We recently shared some reflections from Samantha, who joined us for our 2015 trip to Ulithi as a part of our Youth Expedition with BluEcology. Here, Deena shares her experience from camping out at the Turtle Islands on June 24 with the youth team. Read the rest of her notes from this year’s trip and see more of her photos at her blog!
June 24th, 11pm
Spent last night on Turtle Island (Geilob)! We had been aiming to travel there our whole time in Ulithi so far, but weather has so far prevented us. The island is a little ways outside of the main atoll lagoon. There were strong currents headed out there yesterday morning.
We arrived at the uninhabited island, which was relatively unmarred by the typhoon. Still damaged, but somewhat less so than the other islands. We set up camp, a tarps stretched over the sand between trees, and then out for coral size frequency transects. The water was rough here and I didn’t last too long. For dinner, we wove our coconut frond plates, and the Ulithi guys caught fish and coconut crab for dinner. The coconut crabs are huge and purple blue – gorgeous animals. There are highly endangered, redlisted, but they try to take the older ones, and not too many. I feel that old conflict rising up, but remind myself that these are sustenance fishers and this is how it is. You don’t blame sustenance fishers who have been surviving here for centuries for the shortcomings of modern overharvesting. But still, though.
Also it’s delicious. Despite everything, I am extremely grateful for this meal. In addition, in the mix of fresh fish is the sweet lips that Cole has managed to successfully spear!
Hanging from a tree we spot a fruit bat! Just chilling, eating some fruit, spitting out the untasty parts. Fruit bat things. Also saw a pair of green sea turtles mating in the surf, not a super common thing.
Night falls on Turtle Island and we sit on the beach as the sun goes down. Sam plays the uke and we are all excitedly still, waiting for instructions from Junior and the commencing of the sea turtle data collection that we are here to do tonight. The females are coming up to lay these nights, hauling their hard, heavy bodies up onto the sand, up further and further until they are satisfied with their nesting location. While they lay, the turtle team (three Ulithi men, part of the Ulithi Marine Turtle Project, which Junior supervises) will measure them, count their eggs as they come out, and either tag her or check her preexisting tag. At around 10 or 11pm, we mobilize, walking in small quiet groups, listening for the scraping sound of sand being thrown from a hole. I come to where most people are observing – there is a female green laying. She is huge and beautiful and her eggs are perfect little orbs. The team works quickly, taking measurements and recording data. Then she needs to leave. The typhoon has left a good deal of debris on the beach, fallen branches and logs. Sometimes the females, exhausted after their nesting expedition and confronted with the obstacle-ridden return, can’t make it back to sea. Their bodies lay under thick twisted branches here and there, spent for the sake of their offspring. This female is in a similar position, so the team must manhandle the heavy creature towards the right path. She drags herself to the waves, each stroke of her flippers taking every ounce of strength and determination she can muster. Each one makes me hold my breath, watching her labor back home. The water comes up to meet her and she is gone.
Down on the sand, we see it – the sea turtle hatchlings! They are coming up! The laying season has every female mating and laying a few times each, so there is an overlap of laying and hatching. They are tiny little big-headed discs, flipping their comical fins on instinct, flinging themselves towards the water, leaping almost. Life is so cool.
At around 4am, heaving beating rain starts, drumming on our tarp. I like it.
Breakfast is eggs and pumpkin and octopus and coffee. I pack up my tent, and give it to Carolyn, the Peace Corps girl who joined us for Turtle Island. She could use it more than me. It is hot, very hot. Even for Ulithi. I lie under some coconut trees and stare at the birds flying overhead. The black ones are frigates, but what are the small white ones? There were boobies earlier, too! Super cool birds. Two green lizards chase each other around a coco tree trunk, the type I caught yesterday. There are hermit crabs everywhere – Turtle Island has more hermit crabs than any of the other islands I’ve seen. Huge ones! The sand moves with them. They come out of their shells if you whistle!
We pack up our campsite and it’s back on the boat. The science team hits another site while junior takes us to Lizard Island, aka Losiep. No one lives here and no one will. It is known by the Ulithi as a dark place, dangerous, and full of monitor lizards. Locals do not like the monitor lizards, not at all. They are invasive, anyways, but they don’t like them for reasons far beyond that. But we think they’re still cool (to a degree, we all know what invasives do). The most painfully obvious thing on Losiep is actually the pigs. Huge pigs, destructive pigs. They weren’t here the last time Junior was here (I think he said two years ago – this is not a frequented island, even by Ulithians). He is very clearly distressed. The pigs ransack, they eat, they destroy the underbrush and the seabird nests and, basically, everything. They go insane over the coconut husks we discard – a large (so large!) female gets a running start and flips a smaller pig up into the air with her head. Their presence here is a job for Island Conservation and I hope their effect can be mitigated one day.
As we leave, Carolyn has an armful of coconuts. There aren’t too many coconuts back on any of the other islands. “Leave those here!” Junior instructs. Like I said, the Ulithi don’t like Lizard Island. You don’t bring back the coconuts from Lizard Island.
We rendezvous with the science team at the nearby Bird Island and all three boats turn towards Falalop.
Then tonight at the lodge, at dinner, Peter breaks out a tub of Nutella and the crowd goes wild.
After dinner, as the Ulithi kids come over and everyone settles in to project Jurassic Park III on the wall, Sam and I get to do something we’ve been pining to do. Avigdore lets us use the (expensive, expensive) equipment that he and Peter have been using to see the coral larvae recruitments at night. The UV lights and the amber filters that fit over our snorkel masks! He gives us (slightly foreboding) instructions and tells us to be back in 30 minutes. Cole joins us (we’ll share equipment) and we walk the short walk to the water in the starlight. The Ocean is cool, the first time it has felt kind of cool. Or maybe that’s the nervous anticipation. First we dive just with the regular flashlights. It is beyond amazing. The nocturnal fish are out, saucer-eyed schools. Crinoids bloom and undulate in the current. A crown of thorn bristles from a rocky reef outcropping. And up near the surface, the opal moonlit surface above us, seven tiny bioluminescent reef squid are facing us. Just facing us, and they let us put our palms underneath their bodies and they are but little handfuls but they seem giant in our eyes. Then, as if one of them gives the signal, they raise their two longer arms up, ink, and are gone.
With the UV lights and filters, another world is exposed. Blacks become blacker, kind of red, and coral planula are highlighted in neon green.
I never thought I would ever see something like this. We all grin huge, happy grins, even underwater. We finally swim back to shore, and Sam and I sit in the breaking waves, laughing and shining the UV lights towards the water and it lights the waves up bright turquoise. By the time we walk back into the lodge, Jurassic Park III is over. We carefully clean the instruments, and return them to Avigdore along with our deepest thanks.
Tomorrow is our last full day here.
It took some time for me to reflect and fully articulate all of the feelings that came out of being in Ulithi. Making sense of the experience from a distance has aroused more questions in some areas and brought clarity to my own ambitions in other ways. Working along side this community was an absolute privilege and shifted some of my perspectives forever. I’d like to share a bit of what this trip stirred up inside of me. Perhaps this very personal account will shake you in some way too.
Arriving on a disaster torn atoll – far more damaged than I could’ve imagined – with roughly a hundred attentive Ulithians at the tiny airport smiling and waving with anticipation or our arrival, evoked a sublime heartache in me, which I fought to stifle in order to walk off the plane with some appearance of dignified excitement. Taking our first steps on Falalop was just as humbling. My mind wandered back to the clothing drive Cabrillo students had put together months before in Santa Cruz in the wake of Typhoon Maysak. The t-shirts and used board shorts we sent felt insignificant as we wandered between thrashed, highly unlivable homes and obliterated fishing boats. The conditions were absolutely tragic. I hadn’t realized that picking up the pieces to return to a usual life would take years for this community. Still, one could note the beautiful pioneer flowers sprouting from dismembered branches as a sort of symbol of regrowth.
Despite the destruction and seemingly endless work on the horizon, the Ulithian people had a sincerely graceful way about them. Confined by the scarce living spaces and resources left behind by the storm, the communities were pulling together with remarkable positivity and making it work. Genuine in tone and intention, Falalop’s community welcomed us for the following few weeks with open arms.
Our first few days on their island were full of introductions and community meetings. There was a formality about this process that I hadn’t anticipated, but came to understand later. Aside from being in no place to entertain visitors, this community, among others in the Atoll, has a rich culture that they work very intentionally to keep alive. As visitors, we were vigilant to be sensitive to cultural differences. Our team had quite a bit of oral and literary preparation on Ulithi culture before arriving, in order to relate and be sure we wouldn’t step on any taboos. For all I’m concerned, you can do all the research in the world on another culture, but until you sit with it and feel its vibrant pulse, you’ll only be aware of it through your own lens.
Prior to arriving, my own lens was an awareness of the separation of sexes on this Atoll. I had traveled to Fiji years before and remembered feeling unsettled with a clear inequality between genders. Obviously, Fiji is culturally different than Ulithi, but I had mentally prepared myself to bite my lip and look past the context of differences I wouldn’t agree with through a western mindset.
The separation of men and women in both division of labor and physical realm at any given time was apparent. What took more time for me to gauge was how much power the women held in their communities. The separation didn’t seem to be a disadvantage for anyone and is more in place to accommodate a complicated cultural perception of sex and relationships. Ulithi women hold an extensive knowledge of plants and fish and an incredibly impressive set of skills, ranging anywhere from collecting and keeping medicinal herbs to propagation gardening to weaving intricate lava lavas on a loom. These women are soft-spoken but wildly empowered in themselves and in their culture. As this truth revealed itself to me, my western lens began to dissipate and I came to understand the separation in cultural context for practicality.
I recall our first informal meeting with the Ulithi students on our team. I brought over my Ukulele as a sort of icebreaker and we plopped down on the grass one late afternoon on Falalop. I sang a couple of songs, joyfully strumming the Uke as our Ulithi team watched and tapped their knees in percussion. Their ages ranged from sixteen to twenty or so. Austin, a Ulithi boy, asked me if he could play a bit. I handed him the Uke and we all watched as the most beautiful songs began pouring out of him. His cousins on either side of him were singing in profound harmonies as he played. I exchanged glances with some of the American team in amazement. We learned later that most of the island’s instruments were lost in the Typhoon and Austin and his cousins had been aching to make music ever since. After that day, the Ukulele became not just a thing that bonded us, but for me, an important avenue on which I could relate to our Ulithi team. Naturally, music transcends culture and language barriers, and I am grateful that it connected us so deeply and effortlessly.
Another memory for the ol’ bank: hopping out of our boat at Piig Leilei to conduct a couple size frequency surveys. I paired up with Miles that day – another Ulithi boy who totally had the surveying methods down and was a better free-diver than anyone on the American team. We laid down our 10-meter transect line underwater while charcoal colored clouds rolled in quicker than I’d ever seen. When I I surfaced to call out a couple of coral measurements to Miles, it was dumping rain. The horizon was white with mist and wet chaos but the ocean beneath us was a warm enveloping cradle – completely calm and unstirred. Miles came up for a breath and asked if I was okay. “This is amazing!” I howled. He looked confused and asked, “Really?”
Later, the tide dropped and the waves picked up. We were all getting a bit scuffed up by corals as we persisted through our surveys. Meanwhile the water was surging with amplified power and waves were breaking right onto our site. It was awkward diving a mere two or three feet to measure lengths of corals in between white water intervals, all while trying not to accidentally kick any of them. We would just let our bodies go limp when the waves rolled through, letting them float us over the coral wonderland just inches beneath us. Feeling the power and gentleness of the sea simultaneously is such a humbling experience. I felt like the ocean was looking out for us.
People from the outer islands working collaboratively with scientists to enhance management and knowledge of coral reefs and associated resources.
The science and youth teams are both back in the states after an incredibly productive visit to Ulithi this summer. Despite the extensive destruction from Typhoon Maysak (a category 5 that hit Easter weekend 2015), we were generously welcomed with food, cheer, and hard work. The collaborative nature of OPOR’s work has never been more evident than it was these past few weeks. Also, OPOR was honored this year to have been awarded Flag #112 from the Explorers Club, NYC. The flag accompanied us to all the islands, and a flag expedition report will be forthcoming!
We sampled 31 sites across Ulithi this summer. In addition to the work we do every summer (counting fish and collecting data to assess coral cover and algae cover), we also conducted a study on fragmentation of Montipora (the cabbage coral found near many islands) in an attempt to understand how this weedy species was impacted by Typhoon Maysak. We also tested a Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) design, which will help us count fish at deeper sites and sites without human presence.
We found that some of the reefs were clearly affected by Typhoon Maysak, although different parts of the atoll were impacted in different ways. The typhoon broke many big branching corals, which are important to the reefs because they provide habitat for fish and dissipate wave energy. It also destroyed relatively large areas of the brittle Montipora coral, although we see regrowth in most places. Here is a quick summary of what we found at each island:
- Asor. We found significant coral breakage at the sites within the lagoon. Matalyoch was the least affected, but the areas dominated by the Montipora cabbage coral (which is brittle and breaks easily) were heavily damaged. The area known of as Lamoor was heavily damaged – branching as well as massive corals were broken and whole colonies were removed. Lots of algal growth at this site.
- Mog Mog. We saw similar damages at the sites in front of the island, but with more algae and cyanobacteria, which is probably due to more nutrients from land, less water flow, higher temperatures, or some combination of these. The reefs at Laam, Piglelel, and Pig showed minimal damage to coral, and signs of recovery.
- Federai. The Montipora-dominated sites in the lagoon showed moderate damage, with some rubble fields, algae, and cyanobacteria, but it was not as severe as at Mog Mog and Asor. The western facing reefs at Yealil showed the least damage. These reefs show some of the highest coral cover and species diversity rates, both before and after the typhoon.
- Falalop. There was extensive damage to the reefs in front of the men’s house, though not as extensive as in Asor and Mog Mog. The Montipora-dominated reefs were heavily damaged, with significant algal and cyanobacterial mats growing. We did see evidence that the coral (mainly Montipora) was starting to regrow. The reefs that were farther to the east and west of the men’s house, which had less Montipora before the typhoon, also had less damage to the corals. But, we also saw extensive evidence of damage to the larger branching corals.
- Geelob and Loosiyep had little evidence of damage (except to some of the larger branching corals), and had a high percent cover of crustose coralline algae (which cements the reef together and provides places for coral recruits to settle and grow). This is a sign of a healthy reef!
Overall, there is clear evidence of damage when we compare many of the reefs to how they looked before the typhoon. Damage was particularly evident near villages, which are important fishing areas (in close proximity to where people live). We are in the process of analyzing all the data we collected, and will update you with a link to the full report when it’s ready.
The communities seem energized and encouraged by the management programs they’ve enacted, which everyone – women, men, fishermen, kids, and leaders – says is working. They also say the management programs have brought their leadership together, and our observations echo this.
In addition to helping us with the reef surveys, our student teams worked together on a number of projects and creative community building. They will be writing some posts for the blog to share their experiences with all of you.
We look forward to sharing our results with the communities and others who may use them to advance marine resource management in the Outer Islands. Thanks for helping make this an awesome experience and a very productive sampling period!
Hi, everyone – Sara here. I’m a former student of Nicole and Giacomo’s (now an incoming graduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver), and I’ve been working in Ulithi with the OPOR team for four years now. This year, I had to leave a week earlier than the rest of the visiting team. Since I’m back before them, I wanted to give a quick update to let you know how everything’s going.
It’s rough out there after the typhoon, but we were pretty comfortable. We stayed at the Ulithi Adventure Resort (where we usually stay). A few of the rooms have air conditioning, but none of them have running water. The hose was turned on during certain periods each day so we could shower and fill up the water buckets for flushing the toilets. The islands have desalination machines for drinking water, so we were okay there, and we had plenty of food. Many of the doors had plastic sheeting over where the windows used to be to keep the mosquitos out.
The effects of the typhoon are staggering. The majority of the homes on the islands were at least damaged, if not completely destroyed, so our accommodations were pretty luxurious compared to the current living conditions of the people in the communities. One of the most obvious differences was the shade we had at the resort, which kept us out of the sun – the loss of trees on most of the islands is making it harder for Ulithians to avoid getting sunburned and is making the overall temperature on the islands much hotter than normal. Some of the vegetation is just now starting to come back, but the trees will take longer.
With cleanup continuing and rebuilding just beginning, Ulithi still needs a lot of support. If you haven’t already, please consider making a contribution through this fundraising page set up by one of this year’s Youth Outreach Plan students, Cole Charlton. The funds go directly to the Ulithi Falalop Community Action Fund, so the communities have complete control over how they are spent.
The youth team is doing a really fantastic job, and it was a lot of fun working with them. The Ulithian and American students teamed up to collect data for the science team, and are having a lot of fun in the process. They’ve also spent some time on land to help with community cleanups, gardening and replanting, and even spent a day making a batch of coconut oil. (Check out this awesome video of a song they wrote and performed for me on my last night in Ulithi!) Next year, OPOR will continue our partnership with BluEcology to offer the program again, and there is already a waiting list for interested students. Check out the BluEcology webpage for more information.
This week, the science team will finish their data collection and meet with the communities to share some preliminary results. We’ll post more from this year’s work, including hopefully some posts from the students themselves and some updates from the science team’s work, once the visiting teams have returned.