This is the first of a two-part series about my time in Ebon Atoll. The second part can be accessed here.
Last Thursday, I hopped in a terrifyingly tiny airplane and joined staff from the Marshall Islands Marine Resource Authority (MIMRA) on a visit to Ebon, the most southern atoll in the Marshall Islands. We were there for a week of meetings to facilitate the creation of a locally managed atoll-wide management plan, in accordance with the Reimaanlok Process. Ebon is remote, about an hour and a half flight from Majuro. It was a rare opportunity to get to visit, much less to participate and observe the important work these communities are doing.
When we arrived, we were shuttled by boat across the lagoon to the community meeting house, where our meetings were held during the day and we slept each night. In addition to our clothes, we brought food and gifts from Majuro. The boat that ferried us across the lagoon was small, and it sank lower and lower in the water as it was loaded. I was convinced that we wouldn’t be able to fit everyone, but somehow, we made it on board with all of our belongings. The ride to the meeting house, where we stayed, took a long time because the boat was so heavy, but eventually, we made it without losing anything or anyone.
We were greeted with food and hospitality, and we were treated as honored guests for the duration of our stay. You would think that eating healthy, preservative and gluten-free local foods three times a day for a week would help to shed a few pounds, but the portion sizes were often so big that I think I ate three times more than I do at home. A typical meal consisted of fish, slices of breadfruit, some sort of taro dish, preserved breadfruit, rice, and sometimes more breadfruit (our visit was right at the beginning of breadfruit season). Often, the women who served us sang and danced as they handed us our plates.
The visit was a lot of fun, but we also worked hard. We were in meetings all day every day, with the exception of Sunday (church day) and Tuesday (the first Tuesday of every month is also a church day). There were a number of activities and exercises to complete in order to come up with ideas for the management plan. Now that we’re back, Alicia (our fearless leader) is working on writing everything into a formalized document, which she’ll deliver and review with the participants in early fall. Once it’s been approved, Ebon’s mayer will call a meeting to announce it, and the management plan will officially go into effect.
Because I have some experience working with communities on monitoring from my time working in Yap, I was asked to give a presentation on ecological monitoring and do a brief training session. The goal is for MIMRA to be able to step back and have Ebon’s communities eventually take over the monitoring themselves. I gave a presentation on a few different monitoring techniques and what they could tell us about the reefs and their protected areas, and I think it was well-received. I also got to take a small group of people out snorkeling to practice doing some surveys, which was my favorite part.
When we left, we were showered (almost literally) with gifts of food, coconut oil, and flowers. I brought home eight bottles of coconut oil, two bottles of coconut syrup, a bottle of lime juice, a bottle of coconut vinegar, bananas, salt fish, two coconut crabs, a lobster, and preserved breadfruit – and that’s all I could fit in the box I had (we had to leave more behind). I was overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness we were shown each day, and by the time we left, it felt like I was saying goodbye to people I had known forever. Kommol tata for your hospitality, Ebon!