Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Reef

I got up at dawn and went for a walk with Scott and Endar on the reef from Nukutoa towards Takuu. We picked up Endar at her church where apparently she had been awake since 2am. She sleeps a lot during the day because of the heat.

The top of the reef is like concrete. At low tide you can walk across it with water only ankle deep. It feels like walking across an old tennis court upon which somebody has randomly scattered large rocks. On the reef various plants and animals break up the old coral limestone into sand which is carried by the currents and deposited on the island and into the lagoon.

Halfway between Nukutoa and Takuu is the wreck of the Koko Maru, a fishing boat that was wrecked here in 1994. The bow section sits at the edge of the reef, other parts are scattered behind towards Takuu. One major section, a part of the side of the ship painted with the registration number in large black letters, sits like an outdoor stage on the beach at Takuu.

Also behind the bow is the remains of a large oil slick. For hundreds of meters behind the rocks and reef are covered with a slippery black tar. Algae has just begun to gain a hold here and reclaim the rocks.

Small holes in the reef are the home of baby moray eels which can be quite aggressive, they will attack a jandal waved at them but once they realize your size they will flee to the safety of the nearest rock.

Upon reaching the beach at Takuu we were bombarded by waves of mosquitoes forcing us to make a hasty retreat back across the lagoon to Nukutoa. On the way we carefully avoided an area of water that was a cemetery back in the far past. Bodies were buried here for a while before the heads were removed, placed in clam shells and buried upon the land. On Takuu if you find a giant clam shell in the forest you know you are standing in the wrong place.

Back on Nukutoa the first task of the morning was to film Talo and his family having breakfast and talking about the meeting last year.

Talo had some interesting information. Originally the village on Nukutoa consisted of two rows of houses on the main street (the widest, straightest street you can see on Google Earth). There were rules about what you could build, where and how. At the back of these houses were the kitchens. The kitchens were the only buildings allowed on the foreshore.

When the old chief died in 1983 the building restrictions were relaxed (some say these restrictions were relaxed in the 70's). People replaced the kitchens on the foreshore with houses. These houses are the ones on the edge of the seawall today and are the ones that sometimes get flooded in westerly winds.

At some point the government dropped off wire baskets to build a seawall but there were no instructions with these baskets on how to use them so the villagers used the baskets to build the seawall that exists today.

Also at some point possibly in the 70's the swampy area on Nukutoa that used to contain the gardens were filled in with rubbish and sand to create new areas for housing.

Also today I went swimming on Nukuafare – the next island north of Nukutoa. This island is only used for camping, it has beautiful clear water and white beaches. It is only permanently inhabited by two pigs called Homer and Hutura.

The solar power system is working well. We have had it running 24 hours a day charging our equipment. There are three batteries. At any given time I have one on the solar panel charging and the other two supplying 24.5volts to the inverter.

Barbarian is currently anchored off one of the small islands north of Nukutoa where the crew are getting a much needed rest.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


We have been filming the seawall. This wall runs along the edge of the western side of the island - almost along its entire length. In the Google Earth image you can just make out the canoes anchored a few meters offshore. There is almost no current here - the water is very still (In this season the wind blows from the east sheltering this side. Soon the season will change, the wind will blow from the north west reversing the current past Nukutoa). In the photo the darkness in the water is seagrass, underwater this stuff looks a lot like long AstroTurf. If you look carefully at the image you will see blotches of coral further out. At this point the water becomes deep enough never to dry out at low tide.

The seawall was first built many years ago but needs constant attention and maintenance. The nets that hold the stones wear out and need to be replaced frequently. The wall was built because apparently when the north west winds came they would whip up the waves pushing the water into the houses on the foreshore during the high tide. Building a wall keeps the waves off the land but the sand of the beach gets pulled out into the lagoon by the reflected wave where it gets trapped in the seagrass.

Rubbish on the island is buried behind the seawall to build up the level of the backyards of the houses on the foreshore and further prevent incursions by the sea.

The result in the western shore of the island is that what once was a beach is now slippery rocks and what once was deep water off the beach is now shallow sandy water covered with seagrass with the occasional bit of rubbish washed from broken sections of seawall.

There is also a seawall along the north shore of the island. This wall doesn't look as bad possibly because new sand made on the reef is deposited here by the strong current. Sometimes, however, it seems that the current pulls sand off the shore faster than it can be deposited. This sand ends up in the seagrass and doesn't come back.

Scott and John have begun surveying the island and surrounding reef and are learning more daily about how erosion affects this island. Soon we should start building up a clearer picture of what is going on here.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Understanding what is appropriate can be a challenge in itself.

After making it through the phone/shower ordeal I met geomorphologist Scott Smithers in John's room. They chatted science and I wondered what was going to happen next. What did happen was the arrival of Briar, Jeffrey, Endar and Rose, still reasonably fresh from a day of shooting in Moresby. After meeting Peter Mildner, Briar and Zane's main contact in Moresby during the last shoot, we managed to organise everyone into a room, and then met the redoubtable Jim Robins in the restaurant next to the pool for dinner. This is the second time that Jim has managed the vaguaries of PNG bureaucracy to get everyone a visa into Moresby in time to make a film. I, for, one, was very pleased to be able to put a face to the name, although my mental picture of him is so different to the reality it's like there are two Jims in my head.

Our next port of call was Buka. People there are wonderfully friendly and the town is putting up new buildings everywhere in a most industrious way but infrastructure is limited compared to what we're used to and mechanical issues, getting basic types of supplies and making sure we communicate with the appropriate local authorities have all required negotiation. Understanding what is appropriate can be a challenge in itself. Buka seems to be a developers dream but a place that gives the impression of being very much the last outpost. Despite the new building projects there are still people crapping and washing in the strait.

The shops are fascinating - each one sells the exact same stuff as every other one and we must have been into about nine of them to get appropriate supplies during our two days in the town. Of interest in the smell department - perfumed toilet tissue reminiscent of cat piss, available in more than one place. That and the fact that the shops all smell really interesting and not necessarily in a good way. We stayed at the Kuri Resort, which had a couple of bamboo bands through in the time we were there and that was interesting - a sort of fifties style of music played on bamboo and pvc piping with jandals. Briar caused quite a stir on the first night by taking a chomp on Rose's betel nut and suffering all the usual effects including blurred vision - and a very red mouth. Jeffrey, for his trouble, was accosted on the second day by a drunk guy from a political rally who made declarations of love until he was finally pulled off - by a girl no less.

We had a few dramas waiting in Buka for the MV Barbarian which didn't show up on the day we anticipated - but hey, this is PNG - what's new? We spent a night on board waiting for the weather to clear so we could head off. This first night some drunk guys came out to us in a banana boat but Scott (the geomorphologist) struck a blow for the earth scientists by appearing in his boxers and standing on the deck until they went away.

As of November 15 we are in still in the boat which will remain broken but usable. Jeffery bought a part to repair the malfunctioning autopilot but it didn't fit the current arrangement and this makes all travel harder, particularly for the skipper. We're still waiting for the weather out at sea to clear sufficiently for us to begin the journey to Takuu. Because conditions are rough outside of the shelter around Buka we will have the first leg via the Carteret Islands. This Atoll is also sinking fast and is closer to the mainland than Takuu, making it perfect for laying over if the weather turns to crap.

Our skipper is Rod Pearce - when I first took a banana boat from the Kuri Resort to meet him he hadn't slept for more than two days as he had been piloting the Barbarian off the compass through rough weather and through the night. However after a day unconscious he emerged from his cocoon of incoherence as a very curmudgeonly butterfly. He is so careful about the weather on the open ocean that he actually suggested we shoot the doco on the Carterets, which are closer to Buka. And Briar actually started shouting. We managed to detach him from this idea but it had already become obvious at that Rod is as crusty a seadog as ever rode the waves - and he is extremely cautious about going out in unsuitable conditions, so we know that we're as safe as the situation allows.

There have been more developments since but you'll have to wait to get those.....

It's amazing how many men with grey hair, beards and glasses there are in airports.

I've always been accident-prone, especially in new situations, so the fact that my new sneakers had already chewed a hole through the back of my heel by the time I reached Brisbane airport was no surprise.

The problem started in Auckland and I actually went and purchased a packet of sticking plaster to patch myself up, but optimistically only put on one and then lost the rest of the packet somewhere in my luggage. The lack of sleep didn't help my decision-making - I didn't get to bed the night before, having marked exams until 3am, then raced home to shower, give my partner instructions on dealing with the mountains of laundry left in piles in the flat, collect a last few things from the production office, pay the phone bill and bust a move to the airport. Briar and Jeffrey left a day before me so I had to make it as far as Brisbane on my own. Then I would be meeting Oceanographer John Hunter.

On arrival at Auckland International I managed to check in without much incident (although the check-in chick wanted to prevent me taking the big solar panel on the grounds that it was like an energy efficient light bulb - ?). However when I made it as far as customs the scary woman there took one look at my carry-on bag as I staggered in and asked to weight it. Next thing I was back downstairs at check-in arranging to pay excess baggage with a woman who clearly believed I was evil incarnate and a scam artist from way back. I managed to get away with paying significantly less than the $382 she wanted to sting me for, on the grounds that no one could figure out how to charge for the domestic leg of the journey, so I gave the person concerned a bag of lollies we were hoarding for the trip. I didn't want to pay excess on them anyway.

After bleeding my tired way through arrivals at Brisbane airport I found a place to buy a very nice set of superior Australian band aids with which I swathed my heel and the offending shoe which was merrily grating its way towards my achilles tendon. I then spent the next hour watching middle-aged men with beards and glasses and wondering if they were John Hunter. I actually approached one but got it wrong, and decided that I wasn't going to ask every likely guy. It's amazing how many men with grey hair, beards and glasses there are in airports. Maybe they're the only ones with enough money to travel. Eventually John located me - a much better proposition - and we made it on to the flight to Port Moresby - which was surprisingly on time, given previous experiences with Air Nuigini.

My first impression of a new place is always the smell and the relative temperature. Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea's capital, rewarded us with the hot, sticky sort of weather you find in Tahiti. The smell part of things didn't, however, kick in until we reached our accommodation. Everything about the Airways Hotel was amazing - except for an odor issue that, having tantalised you with, I won't go into detail about. However, one thing I can tell you is that the tiles on the floors of their rooms are more slippery than glass. Running from the shower to grab the phone I slipped, rolled like a sausage and bounced twice. The bruise was quite impressive. It currently looks like an atoll map - a red ring with yellow on the inner part of the circle where the lagoon would be.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bodies with pale, grim faces littered the deck...


Our first day sailing. We were all woken at 4am with the crew preparing the engines. The plan was to break our voyage to Takuu into two sections by overnighting at the Carteret Islands. Autopilot steering on the Barbarian is currently broken so this means the boat has to be steered all the way by hand, which isn't easy on this boat.

The anchor was pulled up at 5am and we stood on the aft deck watching with great excitment, sipping tea as Buka slipped past. We saw a pod of dolphins, fishermen in dugout canoes, and a banana boat of people also headed out across the ocean to the Carterets. It wasn't a rough day but as soon as we hit the open ocean sea-sickness hit our group. Briar, Lyn, John, Rose and Endar were all struck down with it to a greater or lesser extent.

Bodies with pale, grim faces littered the aft deck. It's with a certain smugness that I can report that I wasn't one of them. Scott had a go steering, I attempted to fix the electronic chart display, and did my washing. We saw flying fish and hit a heavy squall before reaching the outer reef of the Carterets around 3pm. After carefully navigating the passage to the lagoon, we are now anchored in the shelter of the reef.

Now far away sits a wreck of a small ship, a reminder that things can quickly go wrong out here.

- Jeffrey

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

First Blog - by Jeffrey

Only 7:43 and I'm tired! Perhaps it is that my body is still in NZ time, Perhaps it was the 4am start this morning, Perhaps it's that I'm in a new place.
We caught an early plane out of Port Moresby this morning, a 6:30am flight on a Fokker 100 jet reaching Buka just after 8pm.

Our group finally met all in one place last night over dinner at the Airways Hotel eating with a view over the blue and yellow lights of the taxiways of Port Moresby Airport.

I'll let the others describe themselves properly but our group on this expedition consists of Briar - our veteran director, Lyn - our NZ production manager, Scott and John - the scientists (Scott is here to to look at coral, John will look at the water table on Takuu). Rose and Endar are actually from Takuu. Endar is in front of the camera, Rose is our production assistant and one of our translators.

My name is Jeffrey. I am the sound recordist and technician for the solar power system.

Briar and I had already been in Port Moresby for a couple of nights. We arrived on Monday briefly seeing Scott at the airport (he arrived on the same plane). We stayed with Peter, an architect, in his high rise apartment with a great view overlooking the sea. At night the trade winds howled around his building while the voices in the street below filtered through the window.

On Tuesday we met with Rose and Endar. We held a careful conference on how to travel to film Endar as Port Moresby is famous for it's security problems. Unemployed young men gather on the streets, with nothing to do they spend all day drinking and causing trouble. People are drawn to the big city from the provinces but there is often nothing for them there. The results are predictable.

Briar and I cut our gear to the bare minimum. Just a mic for me and a camera for Briar. We hid our equipment in shopping bags, Rose roped in her friend Luke who is a taxi driver to drive us around. We filmed Endar packing and leaving her house, we sheltered in a pineapple stall from a rainstorm before travelling to film a sequence in a supermarket.


14/11/08 - Buka Harbour -

Briar, Endar and I have been wandering around the town for the past few days filming interviews with local politicians and various street scenes. There are none of the security problems here that Port Moresby has. Buka is very busy, there is a lot of construction, it seems that people are trying madly to catch up and rebuild after the crisis feels like a river town. People move constantly between the two banks of the Buka Passage (Gaelen are you able to find a link on Google Earth for this?) using fiberglass banana boats Sohano. The current is swift. Last night we watched the Rabaul Queen (quite a large ferry) leave port. It pulled out into the current listing heavily to one side. It raced past us at high speed before swinging around again to collect a couple of late passengers from a banana boat. It was quite a performance.
Today while filming interviews with the scientists our boat, the Barbarian, finally entered harbour searching for an anchorage away from the current. Finally it found a spot behind Sohano Island out of sight of the town. While we kept filming, the others loaded out equipment on a banana boat and joined the ship. The Barabarian was late because its skipper Rod Pearce had been battling day and night, hand steering through increasingly higher seas to reach us. It is now too rough in the open ocean to leave and we now have to wait for we don't know how long to leave harbour. If the rough weather continues the wait will seriously eat into out tight shooting schedule.


15/11/08 11am

Last night we were visited by pirates! Ok - its not as dramatic as that. Some very drunk guys pulled up to the side of the Barbarian in a banana boat about midnight to be stared at my our crew. We don't know if they were looking for drinking buddies or were up to no good. Eventually they sped away. Today we are sitting behind Sohano Island waiting for the weather to subside. While Briar and Lyn stay on the boat translating tapes and doing paperwork the rest of us will go to Buka where I hope to send theses blogs. Perhaps we sail tonight or tomorrow morning on a 3 day trip that promises to be very rough. We will be out of contact for cellphone and Internet and we are unlikely to get any sleep. The banana boat has arrived so I must go.


Sunday, November 09, 2008


I'm Gaelen and I'm helping out There Once Was An Island team.  I'm going to be posting blogs on behalf of the team.  Briar, Lyn and Jeffrey's internet connection from Takuu Island is extremely slow, slower than dial up and so they will email me what they want to post - and I shall post it up.

I joined Lyn and Briar in September from Wellington to do a spot of Production Assistant work - and now, here we are, on the eve of the long awaited trip, running around looking for lost lap laps and smaller batteries.  

I'm looking forward to hearing from the troops on the Island and relaying all I can through the blogger.  In the meantime, check out the website www.thereoncewasan .

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A quick update

Ok - last time I posted we didn't have enough funding to return to Takuu to shoot the final part of the documentary, but thanks to Pacific Islanders in Communications we're cashed up and actually about to leave (Monday next week!). And when I say we I mean the drew - myself (Lyn Collie), Briar March and Jeffrey Holdaway, technician, boatee and sound-guy extraordinaire.

Sponsors Panasonic, Sony and Rocket Rentals have come to the party again, as has the Airways Hotel, Port Moresby.

This time we're also taking an oceanographer John Hunter with us, and geomorphologist Scott Smithers is coming along for the ride.

While on Takuu we're going to catch up with our main characters Satty, Telo and Endar and find out what's happened in the two years since we last saw them. The John and Scott will explore the island and attempt an explanation of what's happening and a prognosis for Takuu's future. They will share this with the people on the island. We'll follow this process with our cameras and also observe the personal journeys of our island characters as they decide whether to leave Takuu or stay with the island and fight to keep their culture alive.

We'll update the blog via a slow satellite link while we're away so stop in to follow our progress.

For more about the project please visit our website:

If you want to donate to the island they're currently running a fundraising drive. Please email takuu(at), introduce yourself and say that you would like to make a contribution. Someone will get back to you with details on how to do so.

If you would like to make a contribution to the film please email us at takuufilm and we'll send you through details of where to deposit the money.