Preparing for departure

Time is flying, and the One People One Reef team is working hard to prepare for the science and Youth Action Plan teams’ visits to Ulithi. Countdown: Just under two weeks to go!

Here in California, the members of the Youth Action Plan team met last week to get to know each other and start discussing ideas for this summer. The team plans to work with local students in Ulithi to help them create an action plan for youth leadership. It’s the first trip of its kind (being led in conjunction with Bluecology), and we’re so excited to work with such an awesome group of participants! Take a few moments to meet them here.


Photo courtesy of David Decher

(Check out the t-shirts Sam and Rick are rocking! We’re bringing a bunch with us to Ulithi to share.)

Meanwhile, in Ulithi, everyone is super busy with recovery efforts from the devastation caused by Super-Typhoon Maysak, which hit Ulithi on March 31 and destroyed most of the buildings on the island. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but unfortunately, Ulithi has been in the path of a couple other storms since, which have delayed the cleanup’s progress and blew away some of the community’s limited supplies. Junior says that the 75-mph winds from recent Typhoon Dolphin was nothing compared to the 130-mph winds they endured during Maysak. Still, Ulithi is hoping for some calm weather soon.

Speaking of the typhoon, if you’re wondering how you can contribute to recovery efforts, please visit this GoFundMe page set up by Youth Action Plan team member Cole Charlton. You may have seen a number of other ways to donate online, and there are certainly a bunch of great organizations out there doing valuable work to support Ulithi communities — but most of those efforts are raising money to buy specific items which are then donated to fill immediate needs, rather than giving the funds straight to the communities. The funds raised by Cole’s efforts will go directly to the Ulithi Falalop Community Action Program (UFCAP), so the communities will have complete control over how to spend them. We hope that this way, the combined fundraising efforts from various sources will mean that all the needs of Ulithi communities are being met.

We’ll continue to post updates on our work this summer here, so stay tuned!


One People One Reef’s exciting summer 2015 plans

One People One Reef will be working in Yap and Ulithi June 8 through June 28. We have some exciting plans in the works, and we’re delighted to share them with you!

The science team will be continuing to work with communities in Ulithi. They will be meeting with the local science teams to review the data they’ve collected and help to interpret it, as well as collecting some data of their own through surveys, and meeting with the communities to share what they’ve found and answer any questions. If you haven’t already, take a few moments to get to know the members of the science team: Nicole Crane, Project Leader and Professor of Biology at Cabrillo College; Jon Jr. Rulmal, Local Project Manager and Community Liaison; Giacomo Bernardi, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Professor at the University of California Santa Cruz; Avigdor Abelson, Professor of Marine Biology in the Department of Zoology at Tel-Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel; Peter Nelson, fisheries biologist; and, Michelle Paddock, Assistant Professor of Marine Sciences at Santa Barbara City College, and Senior Conservation Scientist at the Oceanic Society. The One People One Reef team will also be joined by rockstar statistician, Kristin Precoda. And don’t forget to read about the local science team of Ulithi community members! The work these guys are doing is really incredible.

This year you have two chances to join the One People One Reef team. We are working with two fantastic organizations to support unique volunteer and community service opportunities in Ulithi. They are both wonderful opportunities to support our work, while contributing to the efforts of the community.

First, BluEcology is organizing a trip for high school and college students to work with the youth in Ulithi (June 8 – 20). This is an incredibly unique opportunity, and the first of its kind! The trip is being led by Sara Cannon, who has worked with the One People One Reef team for the past four years, with the support of Nicole Crane and Jon Jr. Rulmal. For more information and to sign up, check out the BluEcology website.

Also, the Oceanic Society has been leading volunteer vacations to the Ulithi Atoll for many years. Join them June 16 – 28, and you could work with the One People One Reef team to help them in their data collection efforts.

For more information, visit the Oceanic Society and BluEcology websites, or you can contact Nicole by sending an e-mail to

Thank you for your support, and we hope to see you in Ulithi this summer!

Upcoming events!

We have a lot of exciting events coming up for those in the Santa Cruz, California and around the Bay Area.
Jan 28th

Project Leader, Nicole Crane, is January’s special speaker at the UC Santa Cruz Science on Tap series.

It is at 7 pm Jan 28 at the Crepe Place in Santa Cruz, California.More information can be found at the UC Santa Cruz Science on Tap website: From the Science on Tap series website:

Nicole Crane will discuss her team’s unique approach to supporting ocean management in one of the most bio-diverse coral reef systems in the world-–the outer islands of Yap State, Federated States of Micronesia.   They are working closely with outer islanders to better understand traditional management and fishing, and using that knowledge to inform ecological data collection efforts.  What is learned from the reefs is integrated with what is learned from the people to better understand the problems, and help frame solutions.  Ultimately the management planning is up to the people of the outer islands – the science team helps inform them, and can assess the management impacts. Nicole will discuss the culture and traditions of the Outer Islanders, and present the results of the research they have been conducting there.  This unique Project has sparked a movement across the outer islands for people to take action for cultural and ecological stability.  Visit their website at

Project Leader, Nicole Crane will be giving a seminar at Moss Landing Marine Labs. It is open to all. More details will follow!
One People One Reef will be presenting at two conferences in the Bay area this spring:
Feb 12th in San Jose at the Citizen Science Association meetings, in association with AAAS.  here is a link:
March 29th in Oakland at the 2015 George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites

Marshallese poet, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner addresses the UN Climate Summit

Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner addressed the United Nations Climate Summit yesterday!
She tells the assembly a story about a canoe race. A mother with a heavy bundle begs each of her 10 sons for a ride in their canoe. None of them want to take her because, they say “you will slow us down”.  Only her youngest accepts not knowing that the heavy bundle is the first sail! With the new sail he is able to speed ahead and claim victory.
Kathy calls for the developed world to support those most impacted by climate change. She asks the world leaders to take the millions of indigenous people along on their ride. “We won’t slow you down… we will help you win the most important race: the race to save humanity.”
It’s true, indigenous people on the forefront of climate change carry a heavy bundle full of important tools and lessons for the world. Traditional management is one of those important tools. Together, we can teach people how to sustainably manage their resources! Thank you, Kathy!
Check out her moving statement and poem!

Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

All the hard work pays off!

Day 8: We had high hopes of a second deep dive today, but we’ve discovered more problems with the ROV circuitry and/or software. Voltages in several places aren’t what they should be.  While diagnosing and fixing those problems, we’re also trying to complete some unfinished features. For example, the ROV has a depth sensor, compass, and battery voltage sensor already built into the ROV hardware, but we have not yet finished writing the software to read and display the sensor values. Those “upgrade” attempts didn’t work very well, so we eventually gave up and focused on getting the essentials ready, to make sure we’re ready for a dive tomorrow. The rest of the group headed out to some far away islands to survey reefs there, while we worked on the ROV. By evening, we thought we were close to having everything working again, but then one of the cameras started acting silly about 10:00 pm. Hope began to fade. Three hours later (1:00 am), we still had not resolved the problem. This certainly did not bode well for a deep dive the next day, but we were completely exhausted and figured we might make matters worse by working on the ROV while half-conscious, so we went to sleep.

Day 9: This morning all the boats are out taking other members of the team to present preliminary results to villagers on other islands, but one is supposed to come back for us this afternoon to take us out for what will likely be our last chance for a deep dive. We work frantically to get the ROV prepared. By 1:30 pm, we think it’s ready.  At least it seems to be working. Fingers crossed. That afternoon, the winds are good, so we take Ulithi ROV to the Asor dropoff with the goal of diving to our maximum rated depth of 150 meters (500 feet).  All systems check out, so we begin our descent a little after 3pm. Eighty-five meters down we encounter a vertical wall full of huge pink and yellow sea fans. At 95 meters, we get 4 full minutes of good video of a large Silvertip Shark circling the ROV. At 4:00 pm, we reach 100 meters (330 feet), and all systems are still working fine. Whew!!! Lots of colorful sponges, sea fans, and whip corals.  Then, at about 130 meters depth, James reports a problem. One of the thrusters seems to be acting funny. Not good. Gradually over the next several minutes we lose control of more thrusters. Before long, the ROV is immobile in the water, drifting somewhere over 400 feet below us.  Then we lose the video lights. Then we loose camera control. We’re all thinking the same thing, but nobody wants to say it.  Do we have a leak? Fortunately, we lost camera control while both cameras were still running, and we can see the live video images on the pilot’s TV monitors, so it can’t be a total disaster down there.  Hoping the problem might be something simple on the surface, like a loose wire or a glitch in the topside control circuits, we try troubleshooting the topside circuit in a rocking boat.  No luck. The ROV is still completely unresponsive, and yet both cameras are still rolling and transmitting live video to our TV monitors. Something is definitely wrong, and it doesn’t seem to be the topside. Gulp. Do we do the sensible, conservative thing and abort the dive to recover the cameras (and their SD cards on which the dive’s video is stored) while we still can, even though we’re just shy of our 150 m goal? Or do we risk it all, and hope the cameras will survive long enough to record video at our maximum depth and bring it back intact? Steve gambles that the cameras and camera housings are intact and makes the executive decision to let out more tether and lower the ROV to its full rated depth of 150 meters. We can’t control it, but if the camera housings hold, and if there’s enough light for the cameras to see down there, we’ll at least be able to record something of what’s down there.  After a few minutes at 150 m, we begin reeling in the 150 meters of tether as quickly as we can. Everyone on the boat is nervous.  We get the ROV on board, and the cameras are still running. The camera housing are dry. But there’s no way to turn off the cameras without opening the housings. We don’t want to do that in a rocking boat sloshing with seawater, so we cruise back to our “workshop” as quickly as we can. Long-story short, the cameras and SD cards survived.  The electronics can had developed a tiny, slow leak, and some salt water had dripped on the circuit boards, shorting them out and eating way some of the wires.


One of thousands of sea fans we found growing on the Asor wall.

A 2-meter silvertip shark comes in for closer look at our ROV at a depth of 95 m (300 feet).

A 2-meter silvertip shark comes in for closer look at our ROV at a depth of 95 m (300 feet).

Sponges, corals, tunicates, and other invertebrate animals create a kaleidoscope of color on Asor wall.

Sponges, corals, tunicates, and other invertebrate animals create a kaleidoscope of color on Asor wall.

The Asor wall as seen from a distance more than 150 meters (500 feet) below the surface.

The Asor wall as seen from a distance more than 150 meters (500 feet) below the surface.

Day 10: The power has failed on the island. No lights. No ROV battery charging. No air conditioning. We can’t even flush the toilets, because the water pumps don’t work. And, of course, the Ulithi ROV is dead, or nearly so. James is bummed and playing his Ukelele to console himself. The one remaining thing James really wanted to do while we were here was take the (working) ROV down to investigate the wreck of the USS Mississinewa, a US Navy refueling ship that was sunk in the lagoon by a Japanese manned torpedo (called a kaiten) during WWII. Plus, we’re supposed to check some pinnacles near the wreck to get fish population estimates. It’s our last day on Ulithi before we need to start packing everything, and there’s no time to repair the ROV, even if we had some power for the soldering iron. Never a group to give up easily, we develop a last-ditch plan. Using the tether and a 100 m transect tape in combination, we decide to turn the Ulithi ROV into a big underwater puppet. We may not have working thrusters or lights, but we do have working cameras, and with these two lines attached, we can raise, lower, and steer the ROV. At least in theory.  In the afternoon, we hop in the boat with our disabled ROV and head out to the pinnacles and then to the site of the wreck. The pinnacles turn out to be too shallow to bother with the ROV. Snorkeling suffices to gather the fish observations. Then we move and after a bit of searching, we locate the stern of the wreck upside down in 130 feet of water. It’s a big ship (over 500 feet long), and its upturned belly is barely visible 70 feet below us. It’s impossible to anchor the boat directly over the wreck, so we use an Action Packer tote as a float and a carabiner as a pully to swim the battery box from the boat over to the wreck site and lower it right next to the wreck. While James holds the ROV near the wreck, Steve swims around with the tether tied to the front of the ROV to control the direction it’s pointing. It’s not elegant, particularly since neither James nor Steve can actually see the ROV that far down, but it works. Josh is watching the ROV video live on the TV and is able to guide James and Steve by voice commands. We experience a few delays, like the time the transect tape reel jams and the time the shark comes up out of the blue depths to eye James, but we get some reasonably good video of a sobering piece of WWII history.

The coral-encrusted starboard propeller of the USS Mississinewa wreck as recorded by the Ulithi ROV's camera. This propeller is 14 feet in diameter.

The coral-encrusted starboard propeller of the USS Mississinewa wreck as recorded by the Ulithi ROV’s camera. This propeller is 14 feet in diameter.

Day 11: This morning we started cleaning and drying all the gear in preparation for packing. In the afternoon, we gave a final presentation to the village summarizing our findings during our 12 days on Ulithi. They seemed especially interested in the ROV’s underwater videos, which Josh had edited together into a presentation for them. All day, the villagers were busy preparing a huge farewell feast for us. That night there is much eating, singing, and socializing.  Josh, James, and Steve, like many of the men in the village, wear their thus and the traditional headbands made of flowers and ferns. Quite the sight!  Josh and Steve spent a good part of the evening chatting with the Chief of Falalop, learning about some of the opportunities and challenges they face, while James plays ukelele and guitar with the local kids. We will miss the wonderful people of Ulithi and this incredible place, but it will also be good to get home and see friends and family again. It’s really weird spending 12 days in a place that has absolutely no contact with the outside world. No TV, no radio, no phones, no newspapers, no internet. We wish we had gotten more ROV data, but we got enough to start a detailed analysis and — hopefully — to prepare for another, more productive visit in a year or two.

Day 12: Departure day. In the morning, we reluctantly make our way back across the island to the airport, which happens to double as the post office. Half the village is there to watch the plane land and take off. It’s the big event of the week.  James is playing his Ukelele while some of the Ulithi kids sing along.  A tiny white dot appears on the horizon. Soon we can hear the propellers, and a few minutes later, Amos is parking his plane. He walks into the building and switches from pilot to airport ticketing agent. Then he heads back out to the plane as the baggage handler and loads our gear. Next, he’s the flight attendant giving us our safety briefing. A few minutes later, we are airborne and headed for Yap, the first stop on a long journey home.

 Modern Science: Rekindling ancient ways.

The success of modern science in many areas has spread the notion that ever-advancing technology will enable us to solve all of our most pressing problems.  And yet, on the remote outer islands of Micronesia, it is the rekindling of age-old traditional wisdom that could hold the key to sustainable ocean management.  The people of the outer islands depend on fish from their coral reefs for daily sustenance.  However, their present and future well-being is critically threatened by unprecedented environmental and cultural change.

In 2010, the people of 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.

DSCN0943Crane appreciated that the people who have called the islands home for thousands of years know far more about the problems they face than she and her team of biologists and ecologists could learn in a lifetime.  She also knew from her prior work that people who have been living sustainably in one area for such a long time will have developed indigenous methods of management that efficiently balance the complex systems that support them.  Over generations they have created sophisticated traditions, taboos, and myths around fishing and access to the reefs and their bounty.

The people of the Micronesian Outer Islands speak a patchwork of dialects, each with an oral rather than a written tradition.  Crane’s team gathered myths and legends from the islanders, seeking out the elders of the community to relate tales of the distant past.  Using conventional ethnographic techniques, they interviewed community members about how they used to fish, in contrast to how they mostly do it now.  From these collected narratives they were able to paint a vivid picture of ecological and cultural collapse that could be traced back to World War II.


During WWII every tree was cleared from Mog Mog to make room for R and R facilities for service men and women.

During the final year of the war, the tiny islands of Ulithi Atoll served as a major staging area for the U.S. Navy.  Local populations were moved to a single island while their former homes were flattened and defoliated beyond recognition, all in order to make room for huts to house the 8,000 service men and women belonging to the 720 ships occupying the lagoon.  Of course, such a profound alteration of the islands had unimaginable ecological impact.  After the war the United States entered into a compact agreement with the outer islands, bringing temporary prosperity to their inhabitants in the form of aid, food, and supplies.

For the local populace, the war represented a massive cultural and ecological upheaval.  Traditional food was replaced by a diet of Spam and other canned meats, along with white rice, and white sugar—a diet that impacts the health of islanders even today.  Large numbers of young people left the region to go to school, many never to return.  Elders stopped passing on age-old cultural knowledge because many young people who remained no longer valued such traditions.   Cultural breakdown in turn precipitated a breakdown of the traditional management techniques that had sustained the reefs for countless generations.  As the myths and traditions associated with local supervision of reef biology began to disappear, modern Western fishing technology permitted the exploitation of resources that had once been too difficult, distant, or taboo to access.  With U.S. federal aid, the islanders were able to purchase motorboats and a surplus of fuel to replace traditional fishing canoes, while spear guns and nets replaced over 78 diverse fishing methods.

As the compact agreement with the United States comes to a close, the initial prosperity is waning.  Because fuel is now scarce and expensive, areas closest to boat landings are over-exploited.  Neglecting the traditional fishing methods that targeted specific fish at specific depths, seasons, and sizes, native fishermen intensified the catching of only certain species of fish—until only a handful remained within the reef.


Coral is not just the substrate for a reef ecosystem but a vital participant with a major role in fish diversity and populations.

Another task of the science team was to re-educate the islanders about local reef ecology.  For example, herbivorous fish promote coral health, and a healthy reef means a habitat for many types of fish.  But when herbivorous fish are depleted by excessive spear fishing, the reef begins to degrade and other food fish disappear.  Crane and her colleagues explained this story of imbalance to the islanders—along with others that link cultural and technological changes to the ecological changes that now jeopardize their food supply.

Of course, as both scientists and communities realize, traditional eco-management methods cannot work precisely as they did in ancient times; they must be adapted to a modern context.  But the cultural renaissance that hit Hawaii a decade ago has migrated to the outer islands, whose people are now finding novel ways to reconnect to their roots and reinvigorate the customs of a by-gone era.

Today, island communities are formulating management strategies unthinkable only a few years ago.  They are instituting no-take areas and autonomously managing their own reefs using long-established traditions as a framework to guide them.  Data recently collected by Crane and her team indicate that these autonomously managed zones have indeed recovered significantly from previous years.  As of Spring 2014, three of the four islands of Ulithi Atoll have adopted new management planning, with the fourth beginning such planning this past summer. And in July of 2014, the islands of Ulithi hosted a historic gathering of outer island communities.


2014 Summer Workshop

This workshop brought together 75 community leaders from all fifteen islands to discuss the critical issues of food security, cultural integrity, and the effects of climate change.  They shared data concerning recent ecological changes, how the breakdown in traditional management played a role in reef deterioration, and how the introduction of more impactful fishing methods has had a drastic effect on the health of the reef system.  Participants left the workshop more informed about the threats to their communities and armed with some strategies to combat these threats—strategies not for the incorporation of “new technology” but for encouraging people to reach back into their history and rekindle ancient ways grounded in balance and sustainability.

Finally the ROV gets in the water!

Day 5: All three of us spent all day working on the ROV. At this point we’re getting pretty worried. Finishing up the few remaining steps to get the ROV operational is proving far more challenging and time consuming than we had hoped. When we got to Ulithi, we figured we’d have the Ulithi ROV in the water within a day or two.  Now it’s day 5, and we’re working late into the evening, and it’s still not functional, in fact, we’ve suffered some setbacks, because some things that were working earlier are no longer functioning properly. For example, modifications to the code needed to control the video lights seem to have rendered our thruster control non-functional.  At least we got the LED lights sealed in epoxy, so they’ll be waterproof.  That’s about the only concrete progress we can report today.  Our tiny room in the lodge, which is serving as a dormitory for the 3 of us as well as a machine shop and electronics workshop, has become a complete disaster area. Word has gotten out, and other members of the team are beginning to stop by with their cameras to document the incredible degree of chaos. Given that we have to allow at least two days at the end of the trip to get everything rinsed, thorougly dried, disassembled, and packed, we’ve now passed the half-way point on our diveable days and don’t have a working Ulithi ROV.  We are glad we brought a Catalina ROV as a backup.  It can’t go deep, but at least it can do some shallow work and serve as our “show and tell” ROV.

Day 6: Another day devoted entirely to ROV construction.  And again, everything is taking longer than anticipated. In the early morning, we were optimistic that we’d have it in the water by noon. By noon we were hoping for late afternoon. By late afternoon, we were hoping for a dive before nightfall.  Finally, as the sun is about to set, we are ready. But there’s no boat available.  Not a group that gives up after getting this close, we decide that a shallow test dive is better than no dive at all. Moreover, we notice that our tether might be just long enough to reach all the way from shore to a small canyon, about 30 feet deep, slicing through the reef crest near the lodge. In anticipation of having to work without a boat proper, we has brought along a bright orange kid’s inflatable rubber boat: The Explorer 200! We used it to float the heavy battery box out to the edge of the canyon and launched the Ulithi ROV.  To make a long story short, it worked! (Sort of.) We had a few minor issues, like a bug in the software, so it turned right when we told it to turn left, but hey, at least it didn’t flood and sink to the bottom!  And, as it turned out, doing our test drive during sunset enabled us to test how well the video lights worked in dim conditions.

Day 7: This morning, in anticipation of our first deep dive later in the day, we got to work fixing some of the problems that had shown up during the test dive yesterday. We also discovered that our oil-filled battery box had leaked a lot of oil during the night, so we had to deal with that. (Fortunately the mess was contained within a large plastic tub.)  We had run out of fresh vegetable oil to use, so we had to get some used oil from the kitchen. It had been used to fry fish for the previous night’s dinner. Kinda stinky and gross, but it was either that or go without any deep ROV dives — something unthinkable after so many months of hard work and anticipation.  Today is Sunday, so we took a brief break from our work to attend the village church service and see what that was all about. It was a Catholic service delivered in Ulithian.  People mostly sat on the concrete floor fanning themselves to stay cool. Altar decorations incuded an array of large artillery shells from WWII used as flower vases.  That afternoon, we put the Ulithi ROV on a boat and headed out to a steep dropoff near Asor Island. Some other members of the team had seen it the previous day during a reef survey and recommended it to us as a good deep dive site. Unfortunately, the wind conditions were not cooperative, so we had to abandon that location. Instead, we went to the reef dropoff near the lodge.  We had a pretty successful dive.  We worked our way down the wall to a depth of about 40-45 meters (roughly 150 feet). Along the way we saw (and recorded) amazing life, including corals, crinoids, sponges, and a variety of fish. We even got a recording of a pair of Silvertip Sharks, a species that inhabits deep reef dropoffs, but is rarely seen in shallower water. Unfortunately, before we could go any deeper than 45 m, our forward camera started acting flaky — spontaneously turning itself on and off at odd intervals.  With panicked visions of a leak destroying our ROV, we hastily pulled it up and brought it back to our room/workshop for a diagnosis. As it turns out, there was no leak. However, one of our leak detection circuits, which had been too-quickly slapped together in our rush to get in the water, came loose and shorted out against the inside of the metal pressure housing. That lowered the voltage to the camera control circuit board and caused the erratic camera behavior. Fortunately, it caused no serious or permanent damage.

The battery box dangling above a steep reef drop off (image from ROV's front camera)

The battery box dangling above a steep reef drop off (image from ROV’s front camera)

The battery box near a boulder covered in sea fans at a depth of 40 meters (130 feet).

The battery box near a boulder covered in sea fans at a depth of 40 meters (130 feet).

“Don’t let your thu fall off, especially in front of the chief…that would be bad!”

Day 2: We get a rare opportunity to visit a nearby uninhabited island (Gielap) where hundreds of sea turtles come ashore at night to nest and lay eggs. During the day, we snorkel on the coral reef there, watch zillions of hermit crabs scuttling underfoot, dine on a beach-cooked meal of coconut crab, fresh-caught fish, and breadfruit, and watch a gorgeous sunset while waiting quietly for the turtles to come ashore. About an hour after dark, Junior escorts us a green turtle that has begun to lay eggs in a sand pit it dug under a tree. The ride home is surreal. Three boats speeding invisibly across a dark sea. Stars glittering above against a jet black sky, bioluminscent plankton glittering like blue-green glowing embers in the spray kicked up by the boat.

A green turtle lays her eggs in the sand.

A green turtle lays her eggs in the sand.

Day 3: Josh and Steve spent the day working on the Ulithi ROV, while James took our Catalina ROV to the island of Asor to check out some of the shallow reefs and the old military wrecks there. Lawrence, one of our Ulithian boat drivers starts operating the ROV and masters it quickly!

Day 4: This day is a special treat and a great honor. We have been invited to the island of Mogmog, home of the high chief. Mogmog is the most traditional of all the Ulithi Islands. The ecologists will be meeting with the chief and villagers to share results from their research the previous year. We will be introducing the new research we’ll be doing for them with our ROV. Unfortunately, our Ulithi ROV isn’t ready yet, so we bring one of our smaller C-DEBI ROVs to pass around for “show and tell.” Junior is visibly nervous about this visit. Western culture and traditional Ulithian culture are different. He wants us to make a good impression. The three of us get dressed in “thus,” the traditional garmet worn by men.  A thu is a piece of long cloth wrapped between the legs and around the waist to form something resembling a hybrid between a skirt and a loincloth. It has to be tied and tightened just right, or it can fall off.  Junior warned: “Don’t let your thu fall off, especially in front of the chief…that would be bad!”

A friend pulls James aside during our meeting with the High Chief and tightens his thu to prevent an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.

A friend pulls James aside during our meeting with the High Chief and tightens his thu to prevent an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.

Josh and James show off the Catalia-style ROVs  on Mogmog.

Josh and James show off the Catalia-style ROVs on Mogmog.

Weathering a Typhoon on Falalop, Ulithi


We had a tight schedule- between the workshop and the sampling we needed to do.  Then we  got the news  that there was a storm state warning and it would be on top of us fast.

We were not to be stranded alone…The beautiful dive boat Damai (Indonesia) was in the area doing dives and surveying for manta rays. There is no safe anchorage in the area for a storm from the direction of the typhoon so the Damai needed to it’s offload passengers on Falalop. A handful of crew would stay with the boat to weather the storm   A large percentage of the population of Falalop formed a human chain out onto the reef to help passengers and supplies offload. It was an awesome sight!

Even though the storm was raging outside we had great company and some great food they offloaded too! We didn’t hesitate to enjoy it. We took shelter downstairs and shared with our new visitors and captive audience information about our One People One Reef Project, clownfish biology, and coral reef ecology. Our guest were an engaged audience, all of them experienced divers with great stories they offered in return. Among them were some excellent photographers who shared their pictures with us. It was a great way to spend 2.5 days hiding from a typhoon.  By the time the storm passed we had made some new friends!

Everyone forms a human chain to get people and supplies to shore

Everyone helps with the evacuation of the stranded dive boat!

Everyone helps with the evacuation of the stranded dive boat!

And there’s a lot of water between here and there.

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.