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Ulithi Atoll Locally Managed Marine Area

A grassroots program to help Micronesian communities protect marine resources for future generations.

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Overview

As in many small island communities, the people of Ulithi Atoll rely on the ocean for sustenance. With little connection to the outside world and minimal land space, Ulithians subsist almost entirely off of ocean resources. Fortunately, Ulithi's waters are among the most diverse and pristine in the world and have been traditionally managed for generations through deeply-rooted cultural practices.

But today's world presents new challenges. Widespread threats to ocean health such as global warming, pollution, and invasive species are now impacting even remote locations such as Ulithi. Changes to traditional ways of life, brought on by new technologies such as fishing gears, motorboats, and freezers, are also making traditional management systems inadequate to manage ocean resources. As a result, fish catch and coral reef health in Ulithi have already started to decline.

Recognizing the need to take action, in 2011 the Chiefs and Leaders of Falalop, the largest of four inhabited islands in Ulithi, formally invited Oceanic Society to collaborate with them in an effort to improve local management of marine resources.

Threats

Because of its remote location, Ulithi Atoll's marine environment has been relatively well protected. But global ocean threats, such as global warming, pollution, and invasive species, are beginning to have an impact in Ulithi that is likely to increase over time. The biggest threat to Ulithi's marine resources, however, is the erosion of traditional management practices. Many of the taboos and traditions that have effectively governed the reefs for generations are not being enforced, and changes in fishing methods and the new technologies such as motorboats and freezers bring new impacts.

How We Are Helping

Researchers collect coral reef data. © Nicole Crane

At the invitation of local Chiefs and Leaders, Oceanic Society and partners have been collecting key data on Ulithi's marine resources to inform the development of a new management plan. In the summers of 2012 and 2013, our senior conservation scientist Nicole Crane led a team of researchers and volunteers to Ulithi to evaluate coral reef health, diversity, and productivity. They also conducted interviews and held community meetings to engage local residents in identifying the problems and developing solutions.

The results from those surveys show that while fish catches and reef health have declined in some areas, in other areas (principally the Yap outer islands) reefs are still quite healthy. The research also helped to identify sites of particular biological importance as well as issues to address through management. Encouragingly, we also found that most people are aware of the local declines in ocean health and are eager to address them. We shared our findings with the local Chiefs and Leaders of Falalop, along with specific recommendations for ways to improve management of reef resources through a locally-managed marine area. For full details, download the 2013 project report.

In summer 2014, at the request of the Yap outer island communities and with generous support garnered through a crowdfunding campaign, our senior conservation scientists Nicole Crane and Michelle Paddack returned to Ulithi to lead a sustainable ocean management workshop that is now helping to take the project beyond Falalop. The communities of the Federated States of Micronesia autonomously govern more than a million square miles of ocean in the western Pacific; their role in global ocean conservation is substantial. Through this project, we hope to support and empower those communities to successfully manage their marine resources. This program is operated today by the One People One Reef project, which is fiscally-sponsored by Oceanic Society. Learn more about this program on the One People One Reef project website.

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