Editor’s Note: The focus of Neptune 911 is about our oceans’ cry for help. While the following story is a pitch to raise funds by a group of researchers, it is also a response to that cry for help. The following is from indigogo.com
We are a diverse team of university and college faculty, students, researchers, and Yap outer island community members, working together with the people of Yap State Outer Islands, including Ulithi Atoll (Federated States of Micronesia) to help understand the challenges facing the coral reefs and the communities that rely on them. This is a positive story, making positive change in a revolutionary way — combining tradition with science. Learn more about us and our affiliations below, and read on to learn about and support this effort!
As many of us know, coral reefs around the world are suffering declines. But what many of us don’t often think about is that traditional cultures, which have been stewards of many of these systems for centuries, are also in peril. And that’s part of the problem. People and their environment are intimately linked, especially in places where people depend on their immediate environment everyday — for everything from building materials to daily sustenance. In the Micronesian outer islands, climate change, overfishing (not commercial fishing, we are really dealing with subsistence fishing), and cultural change (much of it initiated during and following World War II, are having negative effects. Yet the reefs we have looked at in this region are relatively healthy (Yap state), which gives us all an excellent starting place. So what’s going on? In a nutshell:
1. Reefs are beginning to stress due to climate change as well as local impacts.
2. People are still only subsistence fishing, and overall population has not increased much, but what used to be over 70 different kinds of fishing has been reduced to far fewer methods, including some new ones, such as night spearfishing, newer nets, motor boats etc. This is increasing impact on fewer fish types. Loss of diverse methods is leading to loss of diversity (and abundance) of fish. On stressed reefs, this leads to problems.
3. Overfishing of some fish, such as parrotfish (e.g.. from night spearfishing), is leading to negative ecological impacts — parrotfish eat algae (a good thing for reefs), and with fewer parrotfish, algae starts to overgrow reefs, leading to larger declines. A sort of downward spiral.
4. Some traditional management, which has been effective for years, has either been lost, or is not being enforced, or has not been adapted to the changing times.
5. The people of the outer islands have a tremendous amount of knowledge about their reefs and how to manage them, they just need assistance with how to adapt that to these rapidly changing times. We help provide knowledge about the reefs, and the impacts of fishing and other problems, and they can develop the management plans. And they are. And it is working.
Outer islanders have been sustainably managing their oceans for centuries, probably millennia. Part of their success lies in the unique governance structure they still have today — they are autonomously (self) governed. They make their own decisions, community by community with their own councils. They can implement management immediately if they need to, and each community can adopt a plan that is unique to their needs and environmental context. In addition, they have a deep historical knowledge of management and traditions that have protected their ocean resources over time. Currently, a loss of tradition combined with introduction of new and more impactful fishing methods, and the effects of climate change, are creating an imbalance leading to declines. The key is their knowledge, which can be revived, new knowledge which we can help provide, and their governance, which allows them to implement adaptive management NOW.
There are many ways to approach conservation and management. Yet the vast majority of efforts focus on only a few methods. We are doing it differently — letting communities lead, and focusing on combining tradition with modern science. In 2010, recognizing a decline in reef health and fish populations, islanders from the remote Micronesian outer islands of Ulithi Atoll, Yap State realized that their health, their communities, and their future were being threatened by rapid environmental and cultural change. They asked for help to learn how to manage a sustainable food supply from their oceans, a critical issue for their present and future wellbeing. We are a team of scientists who came together to respond to the islanders’ call for assistance. This project is realizing unprecedented success. You can learn more about us and read our reports at: onepeopleonereef.ucsc.edu
Other organizations that have been instrumental include the Oceanic Society (also organizes natural history and research expeditions to Ulithi and other places) and Bluecology (works with Pacific Islanders with a special interest in students), and CFR-West (organizes collaborative fisheries programs). Our program follows another successful conservation effort on Ulithi, the Ulithi Marine Turtle Project (learn about this on our website).
A unique approach
We are doing things differently. Our project has both a reef ecology as well as a social science component. We talk extensively with people from all demographics and roles in the community to better assess the nature of fish and reef declines (including changes in fishing practices), historical context, and the role that traditions — and the loss of them — may play. We also conduct extensive ecological surveys of the reefs, and share what we find with the communities. We discuss specific findings, such as the link between parrotfish declines, night spearfishing, and algal overgrowth on reefs and how traditional management could address this. We are encouraging both a reconnection to traditional ways, as well as an embracing of modern techniques — such as motor boats (rather than abandoning them which is not practical) to address problems in resource abundance and reef health. This project is achieving rapid success and support. Our task is to listen to, learn from, and provide information to the islanders so they can make their own decisions, not to push any outside agenda or to represent external interests. We need funds to expand this project across the Caroline archipelago to additional outer islands in Yap state — at their request. Word of the project is spreading fast, and the people are requesting assistance.
Who we are
We are a team of dedicated scientists and community leaders, coming together with outer island people to effect positive change in how their marine systems are managed, their way.
I am Nicole Crane, one of the project leaders. My own childhood growing up overseas in developing countries (my parents were with USAID and world hunger), and on sailboats, gave me a love of the sea, and also an appreciation of the importance of cultural diversity and traditional knowledge. My science background has given me the tools to better understand our Planet’s marine systems, and the impacts that are altering them today. My background has also helped me understand the critical link between traditional knowledge and environmental sustainability — a key to effective management for many communities.
John Rulmal Jr. is also a project leader, community leader, and organizer from Ulithi Atoll (Yap outer islands). He is helping to make this project a success in the outer islands — uniting communities around tradition and management. He engages Chiefs, Leaders and community members to come together around this central issue — maintaining sustainable food supplies by ensuring healthy reefs and fish populations. Hofag (Unity)!
Our team of scientists and organizers consists of Nicole Crane, Oceanic Society and Cabrillo College – reef ecology and community engagement; Dr. Giacomo Bernardi, University of California Santa Cruz – fish genetics and diversity; Dr. Peter Nelson, Collaborative Fisheries Research West – community-based fisheries management and fish ecology;Dr. Michelle Paddack, Oceanic Society and Santa Barbara City College – reef ecology and herbivorous fish dynamics; Dr. Avigdor Abelson, Tel Aviv University – coral reef ecology and restoration
What your support will help achieve
We have successfully worked with communities on Ulithi Atoll (the 4th largest atoll in the world). Your support will help move this project out across the other outer islands. It will help us conduct a workshop this summer where we will bring together representatives from across the outer islands to help develop management plans and share knowledge about reef ecology and fish life histories. They are asking for this.
Your funds will contribute to an effort that will enhance conservation, sustainability, and livelihoods across a vast area of the Western Pacific ocean — these islands autonomously govern over 100,000 square miles of ocean in one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. This is an unprecedented ocean sustainability opportunity: working together to protect oceans, people, and culture. You can help make a difference.
We need funds to be able to move this project forward quickly. We want to take advantage of the momentum in the region. Grant funds (see our supporters below) have enabled us to work on Ulithi for the past 3 years, and to establish the method and get the word out. Now we are ready to move forward at the request of outer islanders. We plan to hold a sustainable ocean management workshop for outer islanders in the summer 2014 on Ulithi Atoll. Examples of what your donation would cover:
$30 will pay for informational materials for 2 people, or will buy one ship passage for one person to the summer 2014 workshop on Ulithi Atoll.
$50 will pay for food for one week for one person during the 2014 workshop.
$200 will buy a digital camera for one island community so they can photograph their fish catch and send it us as data so we can inform them of fishing pressures and management success.
$500 will fund one local science team from an island community to participate in training to learn how to collect data to inform themselves of management success.
$1,000 will support four local high school and college students to join the project and help develop the plans, encouraging youth participation.
$2,000 will send one science team member to Ulithi to meet with communities, participate in the workshop, and conduct surveys.
$25,000 will fund a summer field expedition for both local and US/Israel based science teams to conduct surveys, and work with specific communities (up to 3 islands) to develop management plans.
**Funds will be used where they are most needed. The more funds we raise, the more we can do and the more islands we can include.
This project has already achieved unprecedented success in the region. These outer island communities have not been involved directly in a program like this — designed to assist them to better understand and manage their reefs. We have been able to involve more communities, more quickly, and with concrete plans, than any other program in the region — and it will serve as a model beyond the region.
“We need to sacrifice and plan today to ensure a healthy food source and healthy reefs for the future. ” Juan Uwel, Falalop reef owner and manager, Chief, Falalop Island, Ulithi Atoll.
“We started setting aside temporary protected areas and limiting night spearfishing, and we saw changes in 3 months–more fish!” – Ignathio Waithog, reef owner and manager, Mog Mog Island, Ulithi Atoll
“We need to have a common understanding around management, so that everyone agrees and supports it. Understanding the old ways, and the impacts of the new ways, can help us protect the ocean for our children, and their children. We need to do this, its making a difference.” – Isaac Langal, Chief on Asor Island, Ulithi Atoll
“I am really supporting this project because it addresses health of the reefs but also health of the people and it means food security for our people. I am happy we are doing this as a community ” Dr. Arthur Yolwa – Mog Mog Island, Ulithi
“Our Island of Satawal is very much in need of information to help us adapt our management, we need this! ” Sabino Sauchomal, Yap State Legislature Floor Leader, citizen of Satawal Island.
By funding this project, you will help us advance this program throughout the region — something the people want, and are ready for. We don’t need to ‘sell it’, we just need funds to do it!
Other Ways You Can Help
You can help in other ways too! We need help with report preparation, website development, and even people who want to support themselves to come to the islands with us to help collect data (see the website for Oceanic Society and go to their volunteer vacation link to see research expeditions that support this work).
We also need the word spread! Share this campaign with as many people as you can, and let them know about this work and the unique way we are achieving results with sustainable ocean management. You can use the Indiegogo share tools to help!