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Visiting Micronesia's Best Kept Secret

By Wayne Sentman

One of the more exciting experiences on our upcoming Micronesia: Ulithi, Yap, and Palau Expedition (May 11-24, 2014) will be the five days we spend exploring Ulithi Atoll. Ulithi is undoubtedly Micronesia's best-kept secret, with stunning white sand beaches, miles of pristine coral reef, nesting sea turtles and sea birds, coconut crabs, and the wonderful Ulithian people who continue to practice their rich cultural traditions, including weaving beautiful lava-lavas.

Lava-lavas are still handwoven on traditional looms. © Wayne Sentman

Off the Beaten Path

Ulithi Atoll receives about 150 visitors (or less) a year. This is mostly due to how remote the atoll is, but also because if you try to go on your own, you must first get permission from the Chief. Fortunately, Oceanic Society has been working with the Chiefs of Falalop Island (where we stay) for many years now, and we are always welcomed warmly into the community on our arrival.

While we spend much of our time in Ulithi focused on exploring the local marine life, it is often the unexpected community activities that leave the most lasting impressions. A few years ago, we happened to be on Falalop while the Outer Island High School was holding its graduation ceremonies. Falalop, which itself has about 400 residents, hosts students from many of the even more remote islands in Yap State for nine months of the year while they attend high school. The graduation ceremony was unlike any that our travelers had ever attended and we all felt very fortunate to have been included.

Ulithian children giving a traditional dance performance. © Wayne Sentman

Ulithian children giving a traditional dance performance.Every time we go to Ulithi we are also treated to an evening of local dance that is hosted by either the women's or men's group on the island. These nights are very special. To see the whole community come out, covered in plumeria blooms, singing and dancing as the sun gently disappears into the pink sea is a magical experience.

During our days in Ulithi, we spend much of our time floating (snorkeling) above some of the healthiest coral communities I have seen in the entire Pacific. The bathtub clear water never fails to disappoint, and Ulithi gives you the intense feeling that you are somewhere truly removed from human exploitation. The curious sharks and abundant green sea turtles also remind you of just how lucky we are to be here now!

Ulithi's coral reefs are some of the most pristine I have seen in the entire Pacific. © Wayne Sentman

Ulithi's coral reefs are some of the most pristine I have seen in the entire Pacific.

Unlike so many places, Ulithi is not a place in which someone comes up to you after the day and says, “You should have seen it 20 years ago." Fortunately for us, it is still "20 years ago" in Ulithi. It is the perfect time capsule to remind us all why tropical coral reef ecosystems are so important to protect, and to inspire us to take action when we return home.


For more information on our upcoming Micronesia: Ulithi, Yap, and Palau Expedition, click here.

For more trip photos, visit our Facebook photo gallery.

Author

Wayne Sentman is our director of conservation travel programs and an Oceanic Society naturalist since 1998. He is an experienced guide with a diverse background in marine mammal, seabird, and marine debris research. Wayne also co-teaches undergraduate field programs in Kenya on human-wildlife conflict and on the use of social media and art to raise public participation in conservation. He recently received a Master's in Environmental Management from Harvard University.