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Reef Management and Conservation in Ulithi Atoll

By Brian Hutchinson

Since 2004, we have been assisting the community on Falalop at Ulithi Atoll in Micronesia in their effort to sustainably manage local marine resources. Initially, our focus was solely on a sea turtle research and conservation program led by Jennifer Cruce, as well as a small ecotourism program to provide supplemental income to the community. More recently, the community has asked us to expand our role in Ulithi, and we are excited to share with you some of the latest developments.

An aerial view of Ulithi Atoll, Micronesia. © Wayne Sentman

Community-driven Conservation

Our Senior Conservation Scientist Nicole Crane led a team of volunteers to Ulithi in the summer of 2011 to help the community on Falalop Island assess the feasibility of expanding conservation efforts to include locally managed marine areas. The community subsequently signed a Declaration of Intent to support the development of a marine resource management plan, and asked Oceanic Society to lead that effort on their behalf.

"As a result of the summer 2012 work, the community has taken a bold step and established a large no-take Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA), and a small LMMA on the island of Falalop."

In that context, Nicole returned to Ulithi in the summer of 2012, joined by a team of scientists from the University of California at Santa Cruz and other institutions, as well as Oceanic Society Senior Conservation Scientist Michelle Paddack. Their objective was to work closely with the community to understand their concerns and their observations, and to conduct reef surveys to assess ecological indicators of reef "health." Nicole and her team have presented their work at several scientific meetings and conferences since their return.

Hope for Ulithi's Reefs

Analysis is ongoing, but their observations suggest that, though some problems were visible, the reefs can continue to provide for the community with good management plans. As a result of the work this summer, the community has taken a bold step and established a large no-take Locally-Managed Marine Area (LMMA), and a smaller limited-take LMMA on the island of Falalop. This was one of several recommendations the team discussed with the community, and it was one of the most comprehensive. This step by the community is a testament to their dedication to achieving sustainable management.

Falalop Island © Wayne Sentman

In conversations and interviews with many community members, the team was extremely encouraged by the community's overall interest and motivation to work toward improved marine management. Key to the success of the project is the leadership of project coordinator John Rulmal Jr., who facilitates community communication for both sea turtle and reef work. Born in Ulithi, and educated in Hawaii, John Jr. has returned to Ulithi full time to lead efforts for local resource sustainable management.

Nicole and her team are now analyzing their data, and John will work with the communities in Ulithi to develop next steps, which may include such efforts as reef habitat restoration, development of community gardening and aquaculture to alleviate natural resource pressures, and waste management planning. We are committed to helping the people and marine environment of Ulithi toward a sustainable future, and are excited about the progress and prospects ahead.

These efforts have grown over the years, and we are pleased to play a supporting role by providing technical advice, helping secure funding, and bringing travelers to participate in the unique ecotourism program. Now is a good time to begin working toward improved management, and it is wonderful that the community is pursuing such efforts proactively.


Brian Hutchinson is Oceanic Society's vice president of outreach, co-founder of the State of the World's Sea Turtles Program, and program officer of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group. Brian holds a B.A. in zoology from Connecticut College, and has been working to advance global marine conservation for more than a decade.


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