John Rulmal conducts fish data collection workshop on Saliap island. Photo by Scott Davis
Colonia, Yap-- It all began with the green sea turtles. Home to one of the giant creatures’ largest nesting areas in Micronesia, Ulithi has been the site of some of the region’s most important research into turtle conservation since 1991. But the work was sporadic.
Beginning in 2004, the Oceanic Society began supporting the effort and trained a crew of local men in tagging, data collection and tissue sampling. Since then, these “local scientists” have tagged and released thousands of these ocean-going reptiles that arrive on the uninhabited island groupings of Gielop and Iar from April to August every year to lay their eggs. The data has been published by such organizations as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to increase the scientific community’s understanding of migration patterns, feeding grounds and other important insights into the life of turtles.
Asked how he first got involved in the project, John Rulmal, Jr. says, “I inherited the work. I did it just for fun when I returned to my home island of Falalop after going to school and working in Hawaii for several years.” His father was the one who first envisioned the need for management of this important natural resource that provides needed protein to the local diet, as well as the opportunity for community involvement and “a few jobs.”
“I didn’t have that level of awareness at first,” Rulmal says. But the more he got involved in the project by comparing, for example, the time of the nesting to when the traditional leaders allowed “takes” by the island’s residents and how it impacted survival rates, other aspects began to come into focus and eventually became his passion and vocation.