2017 and 2018 Science Expeditions: Our Initiative Expands Across the Outer Islands

From one island, to one entire Atoll… now 8 atolls across the outer islands and beyond. We are all One People One Reef!

Our collective goal has always been to scale up the work on Ulithi Atoll, and share it with others in the outer islands.  We want to support as many communities as we collectively can who want to join this collaborative management initiative.  The past two summers (2017 and 2018) we organized expeditions to cover 8 atolls spanning more than 600 miles of ocean in the Western Pacific (Micronesia), in both Chuuk and Yap.

In 2010, the people of the island of Falalop on Ulithi Atoll recognized rapid decline in fish populations from the surrounding reefs.  They asked for help in understanding this threat to their survival.  Led by marine ecologist Nicole Crane of Santa Cruz, California, a team of scientists came together to respond to the outer islanders’ plea for assistance.  Crane’s previous work with communities around the globe to sustain, manage, and revive local fisheries provided a framework for the revolutionary approach they would develop in Micronesia—an approach that combines modern science with the outer islanders’ time-honored techniques of ecological management.

Today Falalop is experiencing a restoration of their fish stock due to their diligent local management of their reefs. Their hard work and dedication to conservation has allowed the island to weather two devastating tropical storms and serves as a beacon of hope in the region for what is possible!

Throughout the Micronesian Outer Islands communities are experiencing these same sharp declines in their subsistence fisheries and in overall health of the reefs that support them. These like Falalop, these communities depend on their ability to fish from the reefs and declines threaten both food security and livelihoods. Declines in abundance and size of fish have increased dependence on imported and canned foods contributing to human health problems. Spam and white rice fuel an obesity and diabetes epidemic that threatens these remote communities.

We recognize a lack of information and baseline data on the current ecological state of the reefs, resiliency of the system in the face of climate change, and the current impact of resource extraction activities (including associated fish and other food resources).  These data are critical for local communities to be able to develop and implement effective adaptive management planning and ensure food security while maintaining culturally and historically relevant methods and knowledge. The status of reef health and fish resources can be quantified, and this information is critical to local management.

To build capacity for adaptive management of reef resources in the Yap outer islands and beyond, we launched our Summer 2017 expedition with a crew of 15 researchers and participants and headed to the outer islands to share our approach! Our approach is to combine scientific assessments of reefs and fisheries, traditional management, and community education to provide support for development and refinement of management plans by each island community.

In 2018, we revisited these islands with a group of 4 US scientists, two from Ulithi and one from Satawal, to follow up on our work. In addition a team of 6 additional youth and leaders from Ulithi remained on Woleai Atoll to work there for 2 weeks.

2018 Science Expedition Accomplishments

1. Reef Surveys

Reef surveys were done to characterize reefs, assess resources and to inform management. We surveyed a total of 14 sites on 6 different atolls/islands in Yap State.

Fish Surveys: At each site, we conducted 2-4 fish transects (50 m x 5 m) on the shallow reef (3-20 ft.) Individual fish were identified to species, counted, and their size estimated following published protocols (Crane et al 2017). A total of 16 fish transects were conducted. We also used a new method to survey sites rapidly given our time constraints, weather and the fact that we were not able to use scuba gear. We conducted 4 of these surveys, on Lamotrek and Sorol.

Benthic Surveys: 7 Benthic surveys. Along each fish transect, 20 quadrats (0.25m2 ) were used to assess percent cover of reef-building corals, algae, and benthic invertebrates. Data were taken per coral colony on genus, relative size (% cover) and health (degree of paling, bleaching, disease). A total of 160 quadrats were conducted across all sites. Three benthic surveys were conducted using the new rapid assessment, on Lamotrek.

Sea cucumber surveys: We also conducted surveys for sea cucumbers to assess non-point source nitrogen based nutrient loads. These were conducted at two sites at each island.

2. Local knowledge & Traditional Management

At each island community, we conducted community interviews to gather information about community concerns, current management techniques and strategies, and observations of changes on reefs and land. To obtain perspectives from different viewpoints we conduced community interviews, individual interviews, and meetings specifically with leaders, women, and youth. We also obtained management plans from each community. We distributed a total of 13 best practices documents, 13 coral reef handbooks (revised since 2017 with community input), and 13 fisheries monitoring handbooks.

3. Education & Outreach

This year our youth education and outreach efforts were focused on Ulithi and Woleai Atoll.

Woleai Atoll: This year, we divided our team into two (one for Woleai and one for the additional outer islands) which allowed us to expand our training capacity on this large atoll and engage more people. This is critical because Woleai is a large atoll with one of the two high schools serving the outer islands. Engagement of each island on Woleai, as well as the youth, is important to the future of marine management on the Atoll. In 2018 our Woleai team accomplished the following:

  • One youth community meeting
  • Surveys: Survey training with approximately 40 Woleai youth, 3 Woleai community youth liaisons and 1 local scientist.
  • Sea cucumber surveys at 5 sites (4 islands) 1 Montipora coral survey and mapping (10 transects)
  • 1 Corallimorph mapping
  • 1 Fish survey
  • Training and surveys were led by the team from Ulithi, coordinated by John Rulmal Jr. The Ulithi youth galvanized the Woleai youth into a team that became proficient in survey techniques, as well as field safety. They worked on public speaking and presentation of survey results, challenges, and solutions.

Community meetings and interviews: We conducted meetings separately with women, men and with individuals to get as much feedback as possible on the following issues: changes over time in resources (reef and land), fishing techniques, management and technology, and leadership structure. We asked community members to articulate issues, challenges, potential solutions, and things they were proud of and positive about. We also shared the scientific results and distributed and explained reports on best practices and coral reef ecology

4. Fisheries workshops

We conducted follow-up fisheries workshops with the local science teams to address any questions or concerns they had. We have received data from 4 communities (Satawal, Lamotrek, Elato and Ifaluk) over the past year (both seafood consumption calendars and fish landings data).

5. Management plans

Each community we visited has now created their own management plan. These incorporate a mixture of traditional regulations including seasonal reef closures, community fishing rights, fishing method restrictions, and by-permission-only fishing.

2017 Science Expedition Accomplishments

1. Reef Surveys

Reef surveys were done to characterize reefs, assess resources and to inform management. We surveyed a total of 33 sites on 7 different atolls/islands in Yap State and 1 atoll in Chuuk State.

Fish Surveys: At each site, we conducted 2 fish transects (50 m x 5 m) on the shallow reef (3-20 ft.) and when present, 2 fish transects on deeper reef habitat (40 ft.). All individual fish were identified to species, counted, and their size estimated following published protocols (Crane et al 2017). A total of 111 fish transects were conducted across all sites, thus accounting for a total of 62,411 individual fish.

Benthic Surveys: Along each fish transect, 20 quadrats (0.25M2) were used to assess percent cover of reef-building corals, algae, and benthic invertebrates.  Data were taken per coral colony on relative size (% cover) and health (degree of paling, bleaching, disease). A total of 1,485 quadrats were conducted across all sites. Measures of rugosity (topographical complexity) were conducted at most of the sites.

Aerial surveys: Reefs were surveyed with a DJI Phantom 3 Drone to help characterize reef types.

2. Local knowledge & Traditional Management

At each island community, we conducted community interviews to gather information about community concerns, current management techniques and strategies, and observations of changes on reefs and land. To obtain perspectives from different view-points we conduced community interviews, individual interviews, and meetings specifically with leaders, women, and youth.

3. Education & Outreach

Distributed materials: Printed educational & informational materials created by One People One Reef were distributed to each community.  These included the following:

  1. Educational booklets on coral reef ecology tailored to Yap Outer Islands.
  2. Findings and summary from our 2014 Outer Islands reef management workshop on Ulithi (the genesis of this expedition)
  3. our assessment of Ulithi Atoll after Typhoon Maysak
  4. 2016 One People One Reef Project results from Ulithi Atoll
  5. Summary of scientific findings from each island (PowerPoints)
  6. Ulithi fisheries (landings data) summary (PowerPoint)
  7. Photographs of community members taken by a professional photographer.
  8. Underwater camera (1 per community) for photographing fisheries catches
  9. Fishes of Micronesia book for fish ID

Educational leadership meetings: We met with high school principals and teachers to discuss their needs and assist in providing ideas on integrating coral reef ecology and marine biology into curriculum.

Youth workshops: At each community (6), the Ulithi youth team conducted youth discussions and interviews to listen to the concerns and perspectives of youth.  They discussed drug-free lifestyles, leadership, reef management and compliance, among other issues.

Community meetings: At each community (6 populated atolls), we conducted a final community meeting to share our findings and assessments from each atoll/island.

Additional meetings and interviews: We conducted meetings separately with women, men and with individuals to get as much feedback as possible on the following issues: changes over time in resources (reef and land), fishing techniques, management and technology, and leadership structure.  We asked community members to articulate issues, challenges, potential solutions, and things they were proud of and positive about.

4. Fisheries workshops

At each community (6), we conducted a fishery landings training on data collection using local catches.  Each community identified at least 2 individuals to serve as local scientists in charge of data collection (a total of 21 local scientists have been identified with more being sought). Seafood consumption calendars (100 total) were distributed to households to track local vs. imported foods. We also conducted FAD (Fish Attracting Devices) workshops at 5 communities.

5. Genetics (connectivity) & Isotopes

Non-lethal genetic samples were taken from 170 different fish and 93 sea cucumbers to evaluate population connectivity within atolls and regionally. At 2 sites of each of 5 islands, samples of skin tissue from 10 sea cucumbers were taken and preserved for stable isotope analysis.  The analysis may allow us to see the degree of nutrient run-off coming from human waste.

6. Eauripik: Evaluation of the site of April 2017 ship ‘hit’ on the reef

Part way through the trip we were requested by the Lt Governor of Yap and the community of Eurapik to evaluate the site of the April 2017 ship strike on the western edge of Eauripik Atoll.  We were able to divert our trip, taking a day from our planned visit to Sorol to evaluate the site. We conducted the following:

  • The horizontal spatial extent of the ship strike scars were mapped using GPS
  • Fish were counted and biomass estimated inside and outside of scar areas (1 50×5 m transect in each area)
  • Photo quadrats to evaluate benthic cover were taken (twenty 0.25M2 quadrats randomly placed within two areas: scars and undamaged)
  • Drone flight to document total spatial extent aerially
  • Video transects in scarred and unscarred areas, both shallow and deep
  • Deep dives along debris falls to document total depth extent (note: safety constraints limited these to 95 ft.)
  • Photographs of debris from ship
  • Photographs of specific corals damaged
  • Collection of paint chips from ship

We accomplished what we had planned and more!

Initially we had hoped to visit 3 or 4 atolls (at their request).  We received requests from all populated islands, and were able to visit with 7 atolls in Yap State (one briefly in Chuuk State).  Given the time we had to work with, we were unable to visit other (although we visited the majority of outer islands in Yap state). With the collaboration of local communities, we surveyed reefs, conducted workshops and gathered vital information.  Our next step is to analyze the data. Once completed, we will provide a full report of the analyses and our assessment of it along with a summary of what we have learned about traditional management, changes in management and practices, and potential implications for reef resources.  These will also be combined with work from Ulithi Atoll, and ‘best practices’ learned there.  We will follow up with the fishery landings to support communities as they implement that aspect of the work.  In the coming year, we will be re-visiting the islands to follow up with educational plans, implementation of seafood calendars and landings data collection, and additional site assessments and surveys as needed.

2017 Expedition Participants:

US Participants:

Nicole Crane, MSc. One People One Reef, Cabrillo College.

Giacomo Bernardi, PhD. One People One Reef, University of California Santa Cruz

Peter Nelson, PhD. One People One Reef, HT Harvey

Michelle Paddack, PhD, One People One Reef, Santa Barbara City College

Eva Salas, PhD.  Cabrillo College

May Roberts, MSc.  University of California Santa Cruz

Andrew Brooks, PhD. University of California Santa Barbara

Jennifer Casselle, PhD. University of California Santa Barbara

Heidi Dewar, PhD.  National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Scott Davis, PhD. ScottDavis Images

Steve Ryan.  California State University Monterey Bay.

Ulithi Participants:

John Rumal Jr (Magul), Falalop Ulithi

Rancy Taigumal, MogMog Ulithi

Milo Tasopulu, Falalop Ulithi

Mario Dohmai, MogMog Ulithi

We visited 8 atolls/Islands at which we surveyed a total of 33 sites.

Atoll or Island # of reef sites surveyed
Piserach, (Namonuito Atoll, Chuuk State) 2
Satawal 5
Lamotrek 6
Elato 4
Ifaluk 7
Woleai (Falalop, Wotegai, Motohsow) 7
Eauripik (ship grounding survey) 1
Sorol 1
Total 33

We accomplished what we had planned and more… we had hoped to visit 3 or 4 atolls (at their request) but we received requests from all populated islands, and were able to visit with 7 atolls in Yap State (and even one briefly in Chuuk State).

Expedition Blog Posts

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Science Expedition: June 1st.

Lamotrek Island! We approached Lamotrek in the early hours…
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Message from Jon Rumal Jr. (June 1st)

I am humbled by how welcoming the communities are for our team. Even though I expected not to be turned away, it’s so moving to experience being received the outer island style. I am especially encouraged by the interest from these communities so far.
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Science Expedition: May 27th, 2017

Here, the sun has not quite broken the horizon, obscured at our exposed anchorage by the low green island. The place looks like a post card: a narrow strip of white coral sand topped by coconut palms, breadfruit, ironwood and other trees, fronted by slightly ruffled waters, pale green here, but extending to dark blue out over the depths. I've little doubt that we'd be surrounded by brightly painted wooden canoes filled with kids already if their parents hadn't forbade them from hassling us this early.
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Science Expedition: May 24th

After a rough night of rocking and rolling on our seagoing home for the next 3 weeks, we pulled up to Piserrach as the sun was rising. The excitement of the team was palpable! This island was added to our itinerary at the last minute after productive meetings in Chuuk and nobody knew what to expect.