MESCAL Technical Officer, Viliame Waqalevu was part of the team that conducted a fish and mangrove survey of Crab Bay in Vanuatu. Read about his experience.
After a 3 hour flight from Honiara to Brisbane and another 3 hour wait in transit before embarking on yet another 3 hour flight to Port Vila, I arrived in Port Vila early Sunday morning the 2nd day of September, 2012. My body was still complaining from the 7 hour boat ride I endured the day before from Malaita to Honiara. And here I was in Port Vila, where I would be sleeping just 6 hours before I have to check in for my 50 minute flight to Norsup, Malekula. Some very nice and friendly locals gave me a free ride from the airport to Hotel Olympic in the heart of Port Vila, where I was booked.
The next day after a brief tour of the Fisheries Office in Port Vila we rushed over to the airport to board our domestic flight. It was a beautiful day as we flew into Norsup and we were promptly transported to the nearest township of Lakatoro. Some last minute supplies were bought and we met up with the rest of the team at the Lakatoro Fisheries Department Office.
We left for the demonstration site, Crab Bay, quite late into the evening and the drive proved to be a bumpy one that lasted about 45 minutes. Crab Bay,is a shallow sheltered bay located on central eastern Malekula in the Malampa province of Vanuatu. The general physical configuration of Crab Bay is that it has two headlands (Crab Bay and Amal Area) and associated large fringing reefs backed by extensive mangal forests. The central portion of the bay is open to fishing and resource harvesting whilst the surrounding headlands are under taboo. There are 16 communities that surround the two headlands and who initiated the taboo. The camp site at Crab Bay was picturesque, behind us was the extensive mangrove forest and in front a white sandy spit. If you visit the demo site at dusk, you will notice that there are land crabs everywhere, crawling in the shrubs, on the road, on the tidal flats even around our tents, thus the name, Crab Bay.
The team that was to carry out the work consisted of three Fisheries Officers, three Forestry Officers, three Environment Department Officers, one Water Resource Department Officer and nine village assistants. Compared to what I experienced in the Solomon Islands, the Vanuatu Coordinator, Rolenas Baereleo had decided to bring everybody to work at the site: a nightmare for logistics but a good technique for the effective completion of the field work.
There were no poisonous snakes, spiders or crocodiles in the southern islands of Vanuatu, a stark and welcome contrast to the nerve wracking work conducted the previous week in Malaita (Solomon Islands). The Fisheries and Forestry teams were camped at Crab Bay whilst the Socio economic team slept in the communities that they were surveying. The teams conducted net surveys and long plots every day that I was at Crab Bay. A the end of each long day the teams always had enough energy to drink a few rounds of kava and socialize with the local assistants. We were fortunate to have good weather during the surveys and were well fed by our hired local cook at the end of each day.
On my final day with the team, Rolenas organized a trip for the whole team to Uri village, located on Uri Island. I was treated to a traditional welcome and lunch by the family of one of the hired local assistants. I felt truly honored and departing Vanuatu was going to be difficult. They had prepared the renown traditional lap lap, known as sorsorin Malekula. What a great way to conclude my visit of Vanuatu and Solomon Islands!
Upon the completion of my stay at Crab Bay, the MESCAL Vanuatu teams had managed to complete its long plot surveys, half of its net surveys and were waiting to complete the mapping and S-VAM surveys the week following my departure.
The highlight for this trip was observing the eagerness of the locals to help in the surveys and also to learn of the scientific names of various mangrove trees outside of their local “totong” name generally reserved for mangroves. This trip to Vanuatu has certainly been a memorable one.