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.

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!


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

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.



One People, One Reef: Summer Outer Islands Workshop

Interest for our project is growing among the Outer Islanders and these remote communities have asked for our help. We are planning a sustainable ocean management workshop that would bring together representatives from across the outer islands to help develop management plans and share knowledge about reef ecology and fish life histories. We need funds to be able to move the project forward. We want to take advantage of the momentum in the region. In order to attain our goals we have started a crowd-funding campaign. Please help us make a difference!