OceansWatch Vanuatu

OceansWatch expedition in Vanuatu

28 September 2009 | Gaua
21 September 2009
14 September 2009
12 September 2009
12 September 2009
12 September 2009
12 September 2009
12 September 2009
12 September 2009 | Luganville, Santo
10 September 2009 | South Malekula
10 September 2009 | Port Sandwich, South Malekul
09 September 2009 | Ambrym Island
09 September 2009 | Port Sandwich, South Malekula
09 September 2009 | Pelonk, Maskylene Island, South Malekula
09 September 2009 | Maskylene Islands, South Malekula
02 September 2009 | Havanah Efate
05 July 2009
14 June 2009 | Opua

28 September 2009 | Gaua
As we write this we are falling asleep -tired after our first night passage from
Gaua to Santo aboard our new boat Ramprasad. We joined Sam Coles and his 37 ft' monhaul in Gaua, saying goodbye to David and Gayle who have since gone to Anuta in the Solomon's to deliver supplies and yachting material to the community there.

From our last entry, we sailed to north Gaua where we made surveys with the local reef check team, environment committee and the reef check co-ordinator for the island. We were impressed once again with the enthusiasm for conservation.

We left Fifth Season for Ramprasad determined to get fit after Gayles cooking and were not let down. The surveying proved very challenging...a 2 hour walk to the site then a battle against the current to stay on the transect line in the highly tidal area. We were exhausted but was definitely worth the challenging as I saw my first sea snake here yet. Gaua has some pretty amazing coral and new species which are not present further south Vanuatu. One of the highlights was the welcoming ceremony the community put on for us -great food and dancing to their string band.

The day was salvaged by the three of us knocking back a record number of kava shells with the local chief - we drank the bar dry!

In the next few days Frank Dille will be joining us aboard his yacht Menja. This
will be a great help, having an extra team member on board. From here we will be heading to maewo and then down south to revisit oceanswatch sites from last year.

All the best

Nat and Lyndsey

21 September 2009
21 September 2009

It was with a sad heart that we leave Lakona Bay, West Gaua. We have spent the past 4 days working with the local Reef Check Team. Together we conducted 2 surveys and re-supplied the team with the materials they would need to conduct surveys on their own. More than that we got to know the people and it was evident how much they appreciated us coming by the farewell party they threw us. Gayle and Chief Bruce toke turns entertaining us with songs; Gayle with her harp and beautiful voice (which
really impressed the locals) while Chief Bruce led the village with songs on his guitar. At the end, after a great meal of chicken, lap lap and corn pudding they presented us with flowers and sung a special reef check farewell song.

Meanwhile, David and Heather Churchill, on their yacht 'SV Courtesan' were welcomed to the village. They have spent the past months in Vanuatu,visiting isolated communities with project MARC conducting dentistry work. They will most likely have their work cut out for them here as the villages of West Gauo have no road access to the air port and supply ships are rare and infrequent, hence limited access to medical support.

We also met Sherryl and Jeff from the yacht 'Sub Zero' who brought medical supplies for the clinic and were fixing the drinking water pipes. Yachties are highly valued in this community as they are able to trade fresh produce for clothing, batteries and school supplies.

Prior to coming to Gaua we also completed a survey at Lolowai on the
northern tip of Ambae where we were impressed by the diversity of fish and coral. As we write this we are heading north to Losalava at the top of Gaua to meet with another Reef Check Team.

Should be great!

14 September 2009
Co-written by Lindsey Deignan and Natalie Riddler
2nd September to 11th September

With our newly formed reef check team consisting of Lindsey, Natalie and our hosts David and Gayle Funk on the 44 ft catamaran 'Fifth Season', we started off the week well with our first Reef Check survey completed at Devil's Rock, West Ambae.

The community there was very interested in conserving their reef and were
excited to help us with the survey. This is the first survey that Green
Snails (now very rare in Vanuatu due to exploitation) were found ON the transect line and we had our first girl (Jessica) volunteer to help find
the invertebrates! Rex, a community leader was very concerned to gain our help in making his reef an official protected area.

A snorkel around Devil's Rock proved to be interesting with some exciting
wildlife interactions, man versus barracuda.

Upon approaching a cave we discovered it was passionately guarded by a barracuda (at least 1.5 meters long). We practiced our backward snorkeling
techniques all the while hiding behind Rex and his spear gun..until we
almost backed into another barracuda. Now unable to move in circles we
worked but Rex was still shaking at the end of it.

We also saw a turtle, stingrays, garden eels and wide range of fish diversity.

We learnt a few things to take into consideration when visiting a community:

1. It takes at least an hour to say goodbye.
2. We are able to successfully tandem in a single person kayak without
flipping it
3. The 'fruit factor' will most likely take effect. We are able to load
the kayak with not only ourselves but multiples of papayas, grapefruits,
lemons, bananas, nuts, and coconuts that we are given.


Next we headed farther up the coast of Ambae to the village Loone. Despite the limited coral environment we were still able to conduct a Reef Check survey. Due to the proximity of the volcano on Ambae the area consisted of mostly volcanic rock with a lot of silt.
Though neither of us will admit to it, one of us decided it would be a good idea to climb the volcano. Thirteen hours of hiking later, we know we will never make that mistake again.

We also learned many things while hiking:
1. Lindsey is a fish and will drink all the water
2. When your guides say that it takes 3 hours to get to the top they mean
it takes them 3 hours, but it will take you 6 hours.
3. Sulfurous lakes are not ideal swimming locations, though it will cool
you down initially you walk out with stinging eyes and never smell quite
right again.
4. The skin on the back of your heels actually is very important, and it
is quite painful to be without it.
5. If you are going to pull a leg muscle it is probably best to wait until
the end of the hike (Natalie was still using a walking stick the next
6. You will make lots of friends in town because everyone knows that you
were the ones who climbed the volcano.
7. You can never have too much antibacterial cream or plasters.

We have still not decided whether it was worth it or not.

Despite all the harsh conditions we face on land, things on the boat have been very comfortable. David and Gail have been taking excellent care of
us, in the form of cinnamon rolls, chocolate muffins, and salads (all luxuries here in Vanuatu). They have both participated in the Reef Check
surveys. David has excellent maneuvering skills when navigating the dingy
in pounding waves just to see us safely arrive on shore.

With intentions of doing a Reef Check training we stayed an extra two days
in Loone waiting on island time for an opportunity to speak with the
community about Reef Check. Waiting involved being spectators at the province's football tournament, eating local food and maintaining our uttermost professionalism when meeting the men's football teams.

We were able to give two talks on surveying and the community is now keen
to have their own RC team and go through full training. Many were concerned about their individual effects on the reef and what they could
do to improve it.

We ended our stay with a celebration night dancing to the local string

Fifth Season 3/9/2009

12 September 2009
I am finally aboard my new hosting boat - a catamaran Fifth Season owned by David and Gayle Funk, who previously participated in Reef Check projects with OceansWatch last year 2008. Also exciting is that Lindsey Deignan a marine biologist from Florida, USA has also joined us here in Santo. So it's all on again! We are headed to Ambae today, to make some surveys....might have to spend a little time out of the water though as got a nasty coral infection! Should clear up though! However, at least on this boat the skippers are reef check trained so we should be able to achieve a lot. Looking forward to it! After Ambae, we are heading to south Maewoe to repeat some of OceansWatch surveys from last year. Then after, the plan is to head up to Anuata in the Solomon's to deliver some sailing equipment to a community and then back down to meet with two other boats - Sam Coles of Ramprasad and Frank Dille of Menja.

Am I Moving? 1/9/009

12 September 2009
As I am writing this I'm headed to Santo on a copra boat (the local ferries) laden with people and supplies...the boat's full, the sea is high and my leg's going numb as there's an old lady sleeping with her head on my lap! I haven't really the heart to move her though. It's dark and cold, and there's repetitive sound track playing wailing music but at least I'm on the move!

The day was spent sitting at the wharf waiting....and waiting....and... anyway finally at 1400 hours we departed from the port at the north end of Malekula and what is usually a four hour journey between the two islands is taking eight, as we stop along at various islands swapping supplies along the way. Out the window I can see a fire on shore, with children dancing around it and sparks flying - reminding me of the different life kids have here...3 year olds playing with fire and each carrying knives. These kids have got it sorted in terms of survival skills!


12 September 2009
Left Tisvel the previous night, after going to church on Sunday wear the women gave me a local Vanuatu missionary type dress to wear. They loved seeing me in the dress and on the night I left I was given 3 dresses - one from the mother of a young man who apparently took a liking to me as he serenaded me with his home-made string guitar - whilst his mother held a solar panel light on my face so he could take a picture of on his cell phone wearing it.

In the morning it appeared that the whole village was there to see us off and we took the boat back north on the day's mission to the east coast of Malekula. Really enjoyed my time there and didn't want to leave. Was great to experience living their village ways, customary resource use, playing games of volleyball with the kids who eventually warmed to me after first crying in fright -not having seen a white person before! Sad to leave and hope to some day return!
Vessel Name: OceansWatch Vanuatu
Vessel Make/Model: Sweden 65
Hailing Port: Whangarei
Crew: Natalie Riddler
Natalie Riddler is a recent graduate in marine and environmental studies. Born in Tauranga, New Zealand, her travels have extended to Brazil where she volunteered with Project Boto, studying fresh water dolphins. [...]
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OceansWatch Vanuatu's Photos -

Who: Natalie Riddler
Port: Whangarei