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Monday, June 4, 2012

Coral Reefs of Ulithi Atoll - Yap, Micronesia

BulBul Island and the "Blue Hole"
Just back from another week spent in part snorkeling the vibrant coral reefs of Ulithi Atoll. Ulithi is located about 90 miles East of the island of Yap located in the Federated States of Micronesia. The crystal clear waters around Ulithi make it a snorkelers ( and divers ) paradise. Healthy coral reefs provide excellent habitat for a variety of creatures and unlike many other places we still encounter reef sharks here on a regular basis.

I have been coming to this area for about 8 years now with Oceanic Society groups and this is still one of my most favorite places to explore with ecotourists. The island that we stay on, Falalop, is populated by about 400 persons. In 2005 after securing permission from the island Chief Oceanic was given the go-ahead to start bringing in small groups of ecotourists. With only about 100 visitors per year Ulithi is a location few others get the chance to explore. Below are just a few pictures from our most recent trip.

Cleaner wrasse go to work on a tilefish, the Blue Blanquillo.

A more adventurous cleaner wrasse in the mouth of a moray eel.

Here an octopus gets friendly with a lurking grouper.

Healthy reefs never fail to disappoint.

Some Fourspot Butterflyfish in search of food.

A Guineafowl puffer apparently whistling away the day.

A Peacock Razorfish moments before he disappears into the sand. Click this link to see his quick escape.

Our groups days were spent snorkeling, but this was really a trip about sea turtles. These four participants are part of a growing number of ecotourists that are taking part in what is being referred to as "voluntourism" where individuals pay to participate in conservation projects. In this case we were in Ulithi specifically to work alongside the 16 local sea turtle monitors employed by the Ulithi Marine Turtle Project. So while our days were spent searching the reefs for cool critters our nights were devoted to tagging and measuring the green sea turtles that nest on the islands of Ulithi Atoll. In the next few days I will share more about that effort.

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