About the Ulithi ROV

The Ulithi ROV belongs to a class of remotely operated underwater vehicles sometimes nicknamed “flying eyeballs.” It is essentially a steerable underwater closed-circuit video camera that allows a pilot on the surface to see on TV monitors what the ROV’s cameras are “seeing” under water and to “fly” the vehicle around by remote control to look at different things. 

The Ulithi ROV system

The ROV isn’t just one object, but a complete system of interacting objects. The Ulithi ROV system includes these four major components:

  • The ROV itself goes under water and consists of a pair of GoPro Hero2 cameras in custom-machined aluminum pressure-proof housings mounted to a plastic frame along with four SeaBotix thrusters for propulsion. There are high-powered LED video lights to bring out true colors in the dim blue light found at great depths. They also allow the ROV to operate at night. A separate waterproof pressure canister houses the electronics, including aParallax Propeller microcontroller (essentially a tiny computer that serves as the ROV’s brain), Pololu TReX motor controllers, assorted sensors, and other electrical components.
  • The Pilot’s Control Console remains on the surface with the human pilot. It features two TV monitors (one for each of the ROV’s cameras). It also has joysticks and buttons used to control the ROV’s movements and some of its accessories, like the cameras and video lights.
  • The Tether is basically a communication cable that carries the pilot’s remote-control commands from the surface down to the ROV and relays live video from the ROV’s cameras back to TV monitors sitting in front of the pilot on the surface. The tether is 170 meters (about 560 feet) long and is stored on a big spool with a hand crank to reel it back in.
  • The battery box contains two 12-volt SLA batteries and is filled with vegetable oil for pressure compensation. These batteries supply power to the ROV through a 10 meter long cable. This gives the ROV some flexibilty to move around independent of the heavy batteries, but is still close enough to receive most of the battery power without excessive power loss through long wires. The battery box dangles near the end of the tether, where it is attached 10 meters from the ROV.

You can see footage of the ROV’s dives here

Ulithi ROV Project

In October of 2012,  Steve Moore and undergraduates Josh Ambrose and James McClure from Cal SUMB’s Ecosystem Electronics lab were invited to join One People One Reef. Their unique contribution to this collaborative effort was to develop an ROV that could extend the accessible depth range beyond where the scientists had previously been able to collect data.

Over the next several months, Josh, James, and Steve, worked in the CSUMB Ecosystem Electronics lab at a feverish pace to develop a workable prototype of an ROV capable of being transported by air to Ulithi and, once there, diving to a depth of 150 meters to record high-defintion videos of that previously unseen deep-reef world.

James and Josh work on the design of the camera pressure housings.

James and Josh work on the design of the camera pressure housings.

Josh desigs a circuit board that will become the "brains" of the Ulithi ROV.

Josh desigs a circuit board that will become the “brains” of the Ulithi ROV.

Wires enter the pressure housing through a custom-machined end-cap made by James.

Wires enter the pressure housing through a custom-machined end-cap made by James.

James, Steve, and Josh struggle to finish sealing the wire holes before the black, messy, potting compound hardens. (Photo by Lauren Boye).

James, Steve, and Josh struggle to finish sealing the wire holes before the black, messy, potting compound hardens. (Photo by Lauren Boye).

In late June of 2013, all their hard work payed off: Josh, James, and Steve flew to Ulithi with their “Ulithi ROV.” They arrived on the Ulithi island of Falalop on 1 July 2013, where they spent 12 days meeting the local community and their fellow scientists, visiting a few of the other islands around the atoll, scrambling to finish some not-quite-finished parts of the Ulithi ROV, and finally doing a few dives with it to begin the work of understanding Ulithi’s deep reefs and their connection to Ulithi’s fish populations.


The Ulithi ROV system

Over the next few weeks we will be posting the record of their journey. 

Blue Coral: Helioporacea


Blue Coral is known for its unique blue colour which it maintains even after death. Blue Coral, from the order Helioporacea, is actually an octocoral (polyps with 8 tentacles) and not a scleractinian coral (‘true’ coral with 6 tentacles). In fact, its not even that closely related to ‘true’ corals.  

Blue Coral is very unique because most (all but 2) octocorals are soft corals – like sea pens and sea fans, but heliopora is one of the two that secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton, so look (and feel) like hard corals. They grow well in a variety of conditions, and are used in the aquarium trade because of hardiness but also for their beautiful blue color.

Blue Coral are on the IUCN ‘vulnerable’ list – which means they are close to endangered, but not quite there yet. This species is particularly susceptible to bleaching, harvesting for aquarium and curio trade. Let’s keep them off that endangered species list!


This photo was taken off the island of Ifaluk, a remote Outer Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. See more photos of our dive here.

“One Day” Music Video!

One People One Reef’s own local science team member, Mario Dohmai, wrote and recorded an original song about our work in his Micronesian Outer Island home.

Save this beautiful reef and the people who call it their home. This music video is for them. Hofagie Laamle!

Click here to learn how you can help Micronesian Outer Islanders find sustainable ways to keep their reefs healthy amidst dramatic changes in climate and traditional culture. Healthy Reefs Healthy People!


Kelsey Doyle: Video Journalist

Kelsey’s work can be found here.

Jon Jr. Rulmal.: Community Liaison, Local Project Management.

Jon Jr. Rulmal, Ulithi Falalop Community Action Program, Ulithi Atoll, FSM – community liaison, local project management, community activator!

Jon Jr. Rulmal lives on Falalop, Ulithi.

He is a project leader, community leader, and organizer from Ulithi Atoll (Yap outer islands).  He is helping to make this project a success in the outer islands – uniting communities around tradition and management.  He engages Chiefs, Leaders and community members to come together around this central issue – maintaining sustainable food supplies by ensuring healthy reefs and fish populations.  Hofag!

Jon is  moving this effort forward in the region, and works closely with the Chiefs, leaders and community members to inform the larger community about the need for management, improved diet and health, and youth engagement.  He can be reached at


691-952-1198 (cell)


Nicole Crane at Cafe Scientifique!

Nicole was invited to speak on March 11, 2014 at SRI International’s renown Cafe Scientifique. In her talk: “Forgotten Reefs, Forgotten People: How Conservation in Micronesia May Be Key to Sustainable Oceans” she discussed how we are empowering communities to sustainably manage their reef ecosystems.

It is a journey through a history of why fisheries declined, why management was forgotten, and how the communities themselves are reviving them. Starting with fishing practices, the team reaches into the very fabric that holds (and brings) these communities together and from which their cultural foundations were built.


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

You can read more about this event here and Cafe Scientifique’s other fascinating speakers at http://www.cafescisv.org.

Saving Paradise: October 2013

Our project was featured as the cover article October 2013’s Good Times (a Santa Cruz based weekly newspaper).

The article was called “Saving Paradise” and the full text can be found here.



Sara Cannon: Graduate Student

Sara Cannon is a recent graduate from the Marine Biology program at the University of California Santa Cruz, and graduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia. Sara’s research interests involve attempting to understand the relationships between marine resource use and coral reef health. She has worked in Ulithi with the One People One Reef team since 2012.

She has also worked in the Coastal Conservation Action Lab at UC Santa Cruz to research anthropogenic threats on islands around the world (particularly invasive species). Her work there work contributed to the Threatened Island Biodiversity Database, which helps prioritize the global distribution of mitigation dollars for the conservation of vulnerable seabird species. She currently works closely with a researcher from California Sea Grant’s Extension Program to explore the human aspects of the California halibut fisheries. This information will be used to create a comprehensive fishery management plan.