Interview: Can community-based science save a way of life in Micronesia?

I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Science, about the work I’ve been a part of in Micronesia. An excerpt of the interview is below (check out the full text here).

More than 600 islands dot the Western Pacific Ocean and form the Federated States of Micronesia. In total, they extend more than 1700 miles from west to east across one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. UBC graduate student and marine biologist Sara Cannon has spent the last three years working with scientists and communities in one of Micronesia’s remote atolls, trying to help locals protect marine resources within the islands’ traditions. On March 31, 2015, super typhoon Maysak slammed Ulithi Atoll, potentially threatening a way of life and complicating conservation efforts for the past year.

Micronesia’s Ulithi Atoll has been hard hit. What’s the most critical conservation issue facing the islands?

Even though the islands’ population has decreased, the loss of traditional fishing methods has been a major factor in overfishing. New innovations like motor boats, spear guns, and throw nets have changed the way reefs are managed. When people depended on canoes to reach offshore reefs, the reefs would be inaccessible during certain parts of the year, which would give the fish populations a chance to rebound. Now that motor boats have replaced canoes, the cost of gas makes it expensive for people to go out to distant reefs, so there’s a lot more pressure on the reefs that are near inhabited islands. Refrigeration has allowed people to take more fish. New fishing methods are mainly targeting herbivorous fish, which help keep the reefs healthy.

How can marine resources be better managed?

The people of Ulithi have been successfully managing their reefs for centuries and they hold the key to managing them successfully in the future. The communities in Ulithi have been working hard to revive traditional management methods. They’ve closed parts of the inhabited islands to certain types of fishing, and are rotating fishing access to some of the farther reefs. I worked with One People One Reef to communicate scientific findings to the community, and to help train community members to collect their own data, specifically data on landed fish. This will help the Ulithians inform their future management decisions, particularly since things are changing faster than they ever have before. Before the typhoon, it appeared that the management techniques were working — One People One Reef’s data showed that fish were beginning to come back to some of the overfished areas. The typhoon caused significant damage to the reefs, so it remains to be seen how they’ll recover.

Read the rest of the interview on the UBC Faculty of Science website here.

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