Science Expedition: June 1st.

Lamotrek Island!

We approached Lamotrek in the early hours of May 28.  It is one main island with two smaller islands (mostly uninhabited except the main island – which has about 330 people on it).  The Atoll here is pretty big to support the relatively small population, way bigger icebox (metaphorically) than Satawal has.  No wonder the people here say that although their fish sizes are decreasing a bit, food security is not a major concern…quite different from Satawal.

JR was a little nervous coming here…not sure all would be ready, and if the community was 100% on board.  Turns out he was wrong…they were ready with beautiful Leis, and plenty of food to send out to our boat.  SO generous…these people are beyond welcoming.  Lambert (from Lamotrek) came with us to show us the reefs and talk a bit about fishing and management.  Meanwhile a separate crew went to land to talk with the community about fishing and management and other concerns they had.

One of the questions we ask each community goes something like this (borrowed from Dr. Eleanor Sterling): if one of your ancestors came to visit today, what would they notice about a) the community, b) the environment and reefs, and c) if they stayed for dinner, what would they notice about the meal.  They answered it with these thoughts: we use plates now more than the palm frond plates, we use motor boats more, we have lights and power.  Dinner would include soy sauce, and we have happy-time cookies and some ramen.  Our ancestors would also notice we have new kinds of flowers.  Smaller fish didn’t come up in their answer for awhile (interesting and a testament to their stronger resource base).  Some of their self identified strengths:  they cooperate as a community, and their boys are unified (they have a strong youth program).

A sunken plane in the lagoon: The Captain, an avid wreck diver, had heard there was a sunken Japanese Zero in the lagoon here, so went looking for it….he DID find a plane, but it wasn’t a Zero…it was pretty cool, an exciting find.

The people of Lamotrek kept giving us food.  More and more Taro, breadfruit and bananas kept coming from the village out to us.  They asked us to please stay until the end of the day (third day) so we could come to a celebration on the island in the evening.  They prepared for the whole day for us.  The plan was to have a community meeting/wrap up in the morning, go do our diving, then come back for the celebration.

We started our meeting.  About 100 people.  ~50 women and ~50 men.  Lots of younger women too – slides, handouts, and ready to discuss our finds.

Got to a discussion about fishing methods on Ulithi, and the tone suddenly changed.  People got up and ran outside, we had to stop abruptly.

During our meeting, the unthinkable happened.  A young man from the island, Johannes, who had greeted us the first day, and was a helper on one of the small boats, passed away suddenly.
Johannes is remembered as always helpful, assisting whenever he saw the need, kind, and beloved by his community.  He will be honored and missed.  Tonight there will be one more star in the sky as he shines his spirit back down on us, from the other side.  Thank you for your light in life and in the afterlife Johannes.  Johannes was 23.
We pay our deep respects and send our condolences to the community and the family.


Message from Jon Rumal Jr. (June 1st)

June 1st 2017

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.

It’s June 1.  It’s the first of a normal June 1 for most, but here I am on a small boat thinking this is a first.   A first of a dream science team coming together for a journey through time to our outer islands.  A first of reaching back to our past and understanding, a bit of history and culture of our Outer island chain as whole. And a first of tying all that together and trying to learn how to move forward sustainably in an ever-changing time.


It’s about 6:30am, and I am looking over multiple shades of a turquoise blue lagoon towards the sunrise.  Completing this circular reef and right below the sunrise is Elato Island.  It’s exactly day 10 of this pioneering journey to the neighboring islands of Yap.  “Hofagie Laamle”, I thought.  I wonder what this means? I wonder what the impacts of this trip will be? I still can’t believe that this is happening. The logistical challenge of getting a private boat now turned into a university laboratory and a dream team of scientists was only a vision exactly this time last year.   History will dictate what this all means, but I am very encouraged by the hope that we can do this. We all can do this, the outer island community together can help themselves drive even in the phase of climate change.

-John Rulmal Jr.



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.

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.

Science Expedition: May 23rd


Thanks to Ashley Thorington-Shippey for this great photo taken in Truk Lagoon, Weno, Chuuk.

May 23 1:55 pm. 

We pushed off from the Chuuk Municipal Dock – Weno. We are on our way and so excited to be embarking on this epic journey – in the making for 5 years now.  I couldn’t believe it was finally happening!

Our plan was to leave Chuuk, then travel to the island of Satawal (in Yap state), then up the outer island chain to Yap.

Like all the best laid plans, ours quickly changed to accommodate a very special request!

The science team had to endure what seemed like hours of briefings while the lovely lagoon of Chuuk slipped under our hull. We wanted to stop and do a wreck dive, but Captain Martin thought we should push out to save time.  It turned out to be a very good idea.

Truk Master is a beautiful boat, with a great crew.  We moved into our cabins which were way too nice for a bunch of scientists like us.  We met the chef- THE most important person on a boat, especially when you’ll be on it a few days shy of a month.  The food I have to say is awesome – spicy curry (my personal favorite), chicken in a variety of delicious forms, spam (obviously), and white rice (duh).

As soon as we exited the Chuuk lagoon, we hit the inevitable Pacific swells that came at us on our beam (broadside to the boat).  This kind of wave action produces the most uncomfortable sensation as the boat rolls from side to side in the big troughs and crests of the swell.  We quickly discovered that this lovely boat – recently refurbished, had clearly spent a lot of time in the relatively sheltered lagoon, and was not totally prepared for these swells. The furniture was not secured so we all had some good rides as it slipped back and forth across the room.  The drawers were not secured either so soda bottles, gear and forks started flying around.  Computers too.  At that point we all motivated to jury rig bungees to secure the drawers and cabinets.

As we were scrambling to secure gear and furniture, deep in the fuel tanks, the (inevitable) water that had come with the (inevitable) poor quality fuel (but generally sits below it because its heavier than oil), started to mix with the fuel by the action of the waves. Only a few miles outside the lagoon the lights flickered a few times, then died as the engine sighed and shut down.  So we rolled and rolled in the waves, because boats with no forward power will almost always sit broadside to the waves. Even the best of us began to get sleepy and seasick and retired to our bunks to wait out the swells.

We were dead on the water for about 2 hours. The waves still rocked the ship but at least we were moving! During the night we lost power again, signaled by the bright emergency lights flashing in our cabins. We wallowed more while the fuel filters were cleaned.  We were assured that we would likely have to that almost every night due to the fuel issue…so we have a team of dedicated scientists trying to find a way to deactivate those lights!

Science Expedition: Setting Sail!

We are about to embark on an epic expedition to visit the Yap Outer Islands who have invited us to work with them on fisheries and reef management issues. Follow our Blog as we cover these beautiful islands and their wonderful communities with whom we work in partnership.