One People One Reef: Ulithi in Micronesia’s Outer Islands
May 30, 2014
By Nicole Crane
We are a team of dedicated scientists and community leaders, combining science and tradition who are coming together with people from the Outer Islands of Micronesia, Federated States of Yap, to achieve sustainable ocean management — their way.
And you can be a part of efforts to help Mission Blue’s Micronesia Hope Spot!
The effort is a collaboration between a team of scientists and teams of local community members to sustainably manage over 100,000 square miles of ocean (learn more about our science team.) We are working with outer island communities to bring traditions and modern science together in a revolutionary approach to sustainable ocean management. And we are seeing unprecedented success!
Learn more about this work below, and help support it through our Indiegogo campaign!
The ‘problem’ and a solution
We are a diverse team of university and college faculty, students, researchers, and Yap outer island community members, working together with the people of Yap State Outer Islands, including Ulithi Atoll (Federated States of Micronesia) to help understand the challenges facing the coral reefs and the communities that rely on them. This is a positive story, making positive changes in a revolutionary way — combining tradition with science.
As many of us know, coral reefs around the world are suffering declines. But what many of us don’t think about is that traditional cultures, which have been stewards of many of these systems for centuries, are also in peril. And that’s part of the problem. People and their environment are intimately linked, especially in places where people depend on their immediate environment everyday — for everything from building materials to daily sustenance.
In the Micronesian outer islands, climate change, overfishing (not commercial fishing, we are really dealing with subsistence fishing,) and cultural change (much of it initiated during and following World War II,) are having negative effects. Yet the reefs we have looked at in Yap state are relatively healthy, which gives us all an excellent starting place. So what’s going on? In a nutshell:
1. Reefs are beginning to stress due to climate change as well as local impacts such as overfishing certain areas and certain fish.
2. People are still only subsistence fishing, and overall population has not increased significantly. Historically there were over 70 different kinds of fishing methods used, while now there are only a handful, including some new ones, such as night spearfishing, newer nets, motor boats etc. Loss of diverse methods is leading to loss of diversity and abundance of fish. On already stressed reefs, this leads to problems.
3. Overfishing of key species, such as parrotfish (e.g.. from night spearfishing,) is leading to negative ecological impacts. Parrotfish eat algae, too much of which can lead to problems on the reef. With fewer parrotfish, algae growth can cover the reefs, damaging, or even destroying the coral.
4. Some traditional methods of management, proved effective for years, has either been lost, or is not being enforced, or has not been adapted to the changing times.
5. The people of the outer islands have a tremendous amount of knowledge about their reefs and how to manage them, and they just need assistance with how to adapt that to these rapidly changing times. We help provide knowledge about the reefs, and the impacts of fishing and other problems, so that they can develop the management plans. And they are. And it is working – this is the solution.
The solution – one approach
Combining science and tradition: Our project has components of reef ecology as well as a social science. We talk extensively with people from all demographics and roles in the community to better assess the nature of fish and reef declines (including changes in fishing practices,) historical context, and the role that traditions — and the loss of them — may play. We also conduct extensive ecological surveys of the reefs, and share what we find with the communities. We discuss specific findings, such as the link between parrotfish declines, night spearfishing, and algal overgrowth on reefs and how traditional management could address this.
We are encouraging both a reconnection to traditional ways, as well as an embracing of modern techniques — such as motor boats (rather than abandoning them which is not practical) to address problems in resource abundance and reef health. This project is achieving rapid success and support.
Our task is to listen to, learn from, and provide information to the islanders so they can make their own decisions, not to push any outside agenda or to represent external interests. Funds donated to our Indiegogo campaign will go to expand this project across the Caroline archipelago to additional outer islands in Yap state — at their request. Word of the project is spreading fast, and more and more people are requesting assistance.
Outer islanders have been managing their oceans sustainably for centuries, probably millennia. Part of their success lies in the unique governance structure they still have today — they are autonomously (self) governed. They make their own decisions, community by community with their own councils. They can implement management immediately if they need to, and each community can adopt a plan that is unique to their needs and environmental context. In addition, they have a deep historical knowledge of management and traditions that have protected their ocean resources over time.
Currently, a loss of tradition combined with introduction of new and more impactful fishing methods, plus the effects of climate change, are creating an imbalance leading to declines. The key is the knowledge held by the islanders, which can be revived, new knowledge that we can help provide, and their governance.
There are many ways to approach conservation and management. Yet the vast majority of efforts focus on only a few methods. We are doing it differently — letting communities lead, and focusing on combining tradition with modern science. In 2010, recognizing a decline in reef health and fish populations, islanders from the remote Micronesian outer islands of Ulithi Atoll, Yap State realized that their health, their communities, and their future were being threatened by rapid environmental and cultural change. They asked for help to learn how to manage a sustainable food supply from their ocean, a critical issue for their present and future well being. We are a team of scientists who came together to respond to the islanders’ call for assistance. This project is realizing unprecedented success. You can learn more about us and read our reports at: onepeopleonereef.ucsc.edu
Other organizations that have been instrumental include the Oceanic Society (also organizes natural history and research expeditions to Ulithi and other places) and Bluecology (works with Pacific Islanders,) and CFR-West (organizes collaborative fisheries programs.) And thanks Kelsey Doyle, who produced our video! Hawks Peak Productions.
We are a team of dedicated scientists and community leaders, coming together with outer island people to effect positive change in how their marine systems are managed, their way.
“We need to sacrifice and plan today to ensure a healthy food source and healthy reefs for the future. ” Juan Uwel, Falalop reef owner and manager, Chief, Falalop Island, Ulithi Atoll.
“We started setting aside temporary protected areas and limiting night spearfishing, and we saw changes in 3 months–more fish!” – Ignathio Waithog, reef owner and manager, Mog Mog Island, Ulithi Atoll
“We need to have a common understanding around management, so that everyone agrees and supports it. Understanding the old ways, and the impacts of the new ways, can help us protect the ocean for our children, and their children. We need to do this, its making a difference.” – Isaac Langal, Chief on Asor Island, Ulithi Atoll
“I am really supporting this project because it addresses health of the reefs but also health of the people and it means food security for our people. I am happy we are doing this as a community “ Dr. Arthur Yolwa – Mog Mog Island, Ulithi
“Our Island of Satawal is very much in need of information to help us adapt our management, we need this! “ Sabino Sauchomal, Yap State Legislature Floor Leader, citizen of Satawal Island.
By funding this project, you will help us advance our program throughout the region — something the people want, and are ready for. We don’t need to ‘sell it’, we just need funds to do it!