It’s a long way from Monterey to Ulithi. And there’s a lot of water between here and there. Flying over 7000 miles of open water really helps you develop a new appreciation for the enormity of the Pacific Ocean. It also leaves you in awe of the incredible skill of the original island navigators who used hand-carved canoes to travel between tiny specs of land scattered in the middle of this incredible vastness! Some of the finest traditional navigators in the world are known to have come from Micronesia. Fortunately for us, planes travel much faster than canoes and have GPS navigation. Our particular route from Monterey passed through airports in Los Angeles, Hawaii, Guam, Palau, and Yap, before finally reaching Ulithi. There was no additional air fare to get off for a few days in the Republic of Palau, so we had planned a little side adventure and spent four days kayaking and snorkeling our way among Palau’s beautiful Rock Islands and its unique coral reefs before continuing on our journey via Yap to Ulithi. United Airlines could take us only as far as Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia, roughly 7,000 miles from CSUMB, but still 100 miles from Ulithi. The final leg to the island of Falalop on Ulithi Atoll required travel on a small propeller plane operated by Pacific Mission Aviation. Our pilot, Amos, was amazing. He managed to squeeze all of his passengers, their luggage, and all their science equipment (including 2 ROVs) into the tiny plane and make a picture-perfect landing on the short Ultithi airstrip, the two ends of which meet the ocean on opposite sides of Falalop island. Insert a description of the image here. The PMA plane that carried us and our ROVs to and from Ulithi.
Day 1: We are greeted at the “airport” by Jon (“Junior”) Rulmal, Director of Ulithi’s Conservation Program and our host and guide. Junior is a native of Ulithi, but also lived on the US mainland for a while, so he serves as our cultural liason. He helps us understand local customs and interact respectfully with the local villagers on Falalop and the other Ulithi islands we visit. From the airport we walk all the way across the island (7 minutes) to our base of operations, the Ulithi Adventure Lodge, where we meet the other members of our visiting team, including several marine ecologists (Nicole, Giacomo, Avigdor, Michelle, and Peter) and a San Francisco based physician (Ricardo). After the meet and greet, we move ourselves and our ROV equipment into our room and set up the room as a mineature electronics workshop to complete a few remaining details on the ROV.