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Protecting Land and Sea – Conservation on Ulithi Atoll

Restoration efforts on Ulithi Atoll aim to protect sea turtle nesting habitat and revive traditional community practices.

On Ulithi Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia, the local community, the Ulithi Falalop Community Action Program (UFCAP), Island Conservation, and One People One Reef (OPOR) are coming together to remove invasive monitor lizard and rat populations. The Atoll is an important green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting site, as well as home to nesting boobies, frigate birds, terns, a unique species of blind snake and a rich and diverse coral reef fauna.

In the early twentieth century, monitor lizards were introduced to Ulithi as a food source and as a means of controlling invasive rodent populations. Now, both invasive monitor lizards and rats have decimated native wildlife populations and reduced resource availability for the local community. Landowners have attempted to control and remove these populations in the past, but with little success.

Sea Turtles of Ulithi Atoll. Credit: One People One Reef

In recent years, OPOR has led a revival of community-directed traditional resource management, informed by modern science, on the Atoll. This work has benefited the health of the reefs and the green sea turtle populations, but the remaining threat of invasive monitor lizards and rats undermines these efforts. A study in 2009 found that on Loosiep Island predation by invasive monitor lizards destroyed 82% of marked nests. Island Conservation is now bringing its expertise in island invasive species removal to address this challenge.

Although removal of invasive mammals from islands is a well-established practice and has been successful on more than 1200 islands around the world, the removal of invasive monitor lizards will be a first. UFCAP, Island Conservation, and OPOR are working closely with the community to ensure the success of the project and the continued implementation of biosecurity practices on the islands.

Seabird eggs. Credit: Emma Lassiter

We expect that the long-term benefits of this work will include not only healthier turtle and bird rookeries, but a healthier reef environment also. Island Conservation will monitor the impact of the work on the terrestrial ecosystem including nesting birds, coconut crabs, and native reptiles. A local team led by UFCAP will monitor the nesting sea turtle population while OPOR will monitor the impacts on the overall marine environment. Another goal for the Islanders is to reestablish traditional gardening on Loosiep, which will contribute to their food security and help reduce pressure on fisheries. Island Conservation and OPOR are excited to support UFCAP and to watch the restoration of the island unfold.

This project is supported by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Office of Insular Affairs, and the Darwin Initiative.

Featured photo: A Green Sea Turtle hatchling heading out to sea. Credit: Banco de Imagem – Projeto Tamar/Oregon State University

About Island Conservation

Island Conservation prevents extinctions by removing invasive species from islands. To date, we have successfully restored 63 islands worldwide, benefiting 1173 populations of 468 species and subspecies. Working together with local communities, government management agencies, and conservation organizations, we select islands that have the greatest potential for preventing the extinction of globally threatened species.

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