Category Archives: Ulithi

It’s official, I’ve fallen in love with Majuro

This week, I started my internship with the Marshall Islands Marine Resources Agency (MIMRA), rented a bike for the summer, and generally got settled into a day-to-day routine. Everyone here has been fantastic, and I’ve made some wonderful friends who have gone out of their way to make sure I feel at home, both inside and outside of work. I can already tell that I will miss Majuro when the time comes for me to say (a hopefully temporary) goodbye at the end of the summer.

Things are just warming up at my internship, but so far I’ve been working on updating some educational materials that I wrote for communities in Ulithi Atoll so they can be used in the Marshalls, and helping to analyze photo quadrats of benthic surveys using the software CPCe. Next week, I’ll help to prepare a report by analyzing some data that was collected from sites around Majuro and writing a summary of what was found.

It sounds like I’ll be joining MIMRA on a couple of outer islands trips in the coming weeks, which I’m thrilled about. The first is to Ebon, the southernmost atoll in the Marshall Islands, made famous by a castaway who arrived there from Mexico after 13 months at sea. We’ll be flying there on Marshall Islands Air, will stay for about a week, and I’ll help train community members in benthic monitoring techniques (using snorkel instead of scuba), again based on the work I did in Ulithi. The second trip is to Ailinglaplap, northwest of Majuro, where I’ll be assisting MIMRA with ciguatera monitoring. There’s been an awful outbreak there and a number of people have died. I don’t know much about ciguatera, but I appreciate the opportunity to participate and learn from the vital work MIMRA is doing (don’t worry, I won’t eat the fish, although that’s easier said than done on an outer island atoll).


Ebon Atoll, the southernmost atoll in the Marshall Islands. Image via Google Earth.

I’ve really fallen in love with life here. To give you a small glimpse of what that looks like, I strapped my GoPro to my bike (rented from College of the Marshall Islands for an extremely reasonable $2 per week), and made a tour of my commute to MIMRA. Town is much more congested than this – I live a bit on the outskirts – but I love commuting on my bike. The morning (when this video was filmed) is comparatively cool to the heat of the middle of the day (although I’m still a sweaty mess by the time I arrive). In the evenings, when people are awake and the weather has cooled a bit, it’s even more fun – there are basketball and volleyball games, people socializing, the smells of cooking, and just general evidence of contented living. Riding through town is a bit more harrowing, but still nothing compared to the hazards of city biking. I will be absolutely ruined when it comes time to go back to biking the hills of Vancouver, though.


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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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Yangdidi Highlights Experiences of Super Typhoon Maysak Survivors

I wrote this blog post for Mariboa blog about climate and global change maintained by Simon Donner,  my supervisor at UBC.

In June 2015, I visited the Ulithi Atoll in the outer islands of Yap, Micronesia for the third time while working with One People One Reef. Just a few months before, on March 31, 2015, the communities had survived Super Typhoon Maysak which slammed the islands with 265 km/hour winds. I remember the way my heart sunk as the familiar sight of Falalop, the largest island in the atoll, became visible in the window of the small twin-engine airplane (a sight that would have otherwise filled my heart with joy). The typhoon’s damage was obvious even from a distance.

The impacts of Maysak were devastating. Most of the trees were gone, and in the lack of shade, the sun was relentless. The majority of the islanders’ homes were destroyed, along with much of their infrastructure. Only homes made of concrete were still standing. Ulithi’s high school, one of only two high schools in all of Yap’s outer islands, was virtually flattened. In normal years, students from an approximately 250 km radius come to Ulithi for high school; the only other high school in the outer islands is located in Woleai, over 550 km away. There was no running water and a recently completed multi-million dollar solar panel project on Falalop was ruined. Water filters were provided by the International Organization for Migration and electricity was being provided sporadically via a diesel-power generator.


Outer Islands High School, Falalop, Ulithi (April 2015). Photo via Brad Holland

During my visit, people were still reeling from the damage, but were eager for the opportunity to talk about what they had been through. Because Ulithi has no phone or internet, it’s a challenge for community members to share their experiences with the outside world. With the blessing of Ulithi’s communities, we created Yangdidi, a website that highlights the stories of Super Typhoon Maysak survivors. I worked closely with Kelsey Doyle, a graduate student in Journalism at New York University, and John Rulmal, Jr., a community leader and organizer from the island of Falalop, to compile a series of audio, visual, and written interviews from a wide breadth of community members from all over Ulithi.

To the Ulithian people, yangdidi (or “wind force”) describes what has happened to their islands. The force of Maysak’s winds has drastically shaped the future of this remote atoll. With sea levels rising, and scientists predicting that cyclone intensities will continue to increase due to climate change (2015 set a new annual record for category 4 and 5 hurricanes and typhoons), wind and flood damage from storms may become all too common in the low-lying island nations in the Pacific.


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