October 2007 Archives

Island News in Fiji and Palau

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Fijimap.gifThis week we heard from Seacology's field representative in Fiji, Mr. Saula Vodonaivalu Jr. He has just visited Nukubalavu Village at Savusavu, Vanua Levu Island. In exchange for the village establishing a 25,600 acre marine reserve for twenty years, Seacology is providing funds to build a kindergarten building (below). Nukubalavu final bldng.JPGThe building is now almost complete with installation of fixtures and fencing still to be completed as soon as the building supervisor can return to the village.

Also, we received a brief report from our field representative for Micronesia, Mr. Simon Ellis. While Seacology's project with Palau Conservation Society (PCS) at

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Lake Ngardok (right) has experienced some delays due to the building permitting process, all permits were granted last month and PCS is ready to begin purchasing materials and finalizing plans to begin construction of a solar-powered eco-friendly visitor and education center at the lake. Seacology is providing the funds for this construction in support of the 1,236-acre Lake Ngardok Nature Reserve.

Indonesia Diving

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I just returned from 2 weeks in Indonesia and what a trip it was. I went there to visit five Seacology projects, check out the diving in Raja Ampat and sample the culture in Bali. The trip started on the island of Sulawesi.

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Once called the Celebes, this has got to be one of the oddest shaped large islands in the world (right). It looks as if you put a jigsaw puzzle piece in an electric outlet. As a result its coastline is enormous.

From the northern Sulawesi city of Manado the Seacology group took a short boat ride to the striking, cone shaped island of Manado Tua. One look at this island and there is no doubt that it is of volcanic origin. We got there at low tide and so we had to hike the last 30 yards to shore. The trip had barely begun when a new site presented itself. Several pigs were grazing in the water on the low growing sea grass. Yes, we really did see pigs grazing in the ocean, and no we were not drinking.

I ran across this tidbit while cleaning out my inbox; corals have been added to the IUCN Red List for the first time. The coral pictured in this news item from National Geographic is the Floreana coral - one of ten corals found near the Galapagos Islands that have been added to the list of threatened species. A startling fact also mentioned in the above item is that coral reefs in the Indian and Pacific Ocean are vanishing faster than rain forests.

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I was lucky enough to visit the Galapagos when I was 10, the summer between 5th and 6th grade - too young to fully appreciate where I was, but old enough to still think it was pretty cool. My aunt, my mother's youngest sister, lived on the Galapagos for 13 years and worked as a herpetologist for the Charles Darwin Research Center. Her love was, and is, tortoises - the giant tortoises of the Galapagos being the subject of her Ph.D. thesis. So not only did I get to visit these incredible islands, including a week long boat tour, I had a member of my family as an expert guide.

New Distinctive Event Featuring Bay Area Glass Blowers Slated for San Rafael
Sales to Benefit Falkirk Cultural Center and Seacology

Glass pumpkinsSeacology is pleased to announce the inaugural Marin's Glorious Glass Pumpkin Harvest, to be held Saturday and Sunday, October 27 & 28. Over 1,000 irresistible glass pumpkins hand crafted by artists from as far away as Ashland, Oregon will be displayed for sale on the stately grounds of historic Falkirk Mansion. This is a free event and proceeds from the sale of the pumpkins will benefit both Seacology and the Falkirk Cultural Center.

The Marin Glorious Glass Pumpkin Harvest will be a casual yet upscale event leading into Halloween, and is appropriate for families. This amazing assortment of one-of-a-kind glass pumpkins will include designs of all shapes, sizes and colors. Each is a unique work of art that requires at least two artists to complete. There will also be live on-site glass blowing demonstrations (weather permitting) and refreshments for sale. Each pumpkin will be priced for sale ranging from $35 to over $250.

World Island News Roundup

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When the Seacology staff decided to venture into the world of blogging, we each reflected upon what our specialties would be... As a generalist and news junkie who loves to scan headlines, I set up some Google News alerts with keywords such as "coral reef," "island environment," "island conservation" etc. I now receive an email each day with various headlines and links to news websites and blogs containing these terms.

I am hooked! There is the odd, random story that has nothing to do with Seacological matters, but I have followed several fascinating stories in the past few weeks. Here are a few...

Balinese dance captures one's attention immediately as the dancers move to tell ancient stories through physicality and props. The picture below shows a young Balinese dancer in her costume with a flower-covered headdress and expressive fan. This photograph hangs in the Seacology office, taken in 2002 during an expedition to visit a Seacology-funded wastewater garden at Tirtagangga Water Palace. Every time I walk past the picture, I am captivated by the young girl's seriousness, her eyes so intent, her motion captured like that in so many Indian sculptures.

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Balinese dance, music, and ceremonies are offerings to Hindu deities and tell the ancient epic stories of the Hindu religion. As a former hula dancer, I enjoy art forms that pass along stories, be they through oral history, art, music, or dance. The combination of message and movement is fascinating to me and so important to passing along traditions to future generations.

Utwe Walung Community Center.JPGSeacology receives updates from our island projects weekly. Here are a few from the last couple of weeks. In Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia, Seacology funded the installation of a solar power energy system for the Utwe Walung Marine Park community center in 2000. The solar system had not been working for some time due to the lack of current community member training on the system's maintenance and the harsh weather conditions on the system's batteries. A cement building has been built to house the batteries and Seacology is providing a second grant to repair the system and provide a training session. Work is scheduled to begin in late October.

Atiu Community Cook Islands.JPGOn Atiu Island, Cook Islands, an opening ceremony was held on September 21st for the brand new geriatric house for community members. This housing was built with Seacology funds in support of the community's decision to establish a 297-acre wildlife sanctuary and five mile restricted fishing zone on Takutea Island for twenty years. Two hundred members of the community attended the event as well as a member of Parliament, the Atiu Mayor and the Atiu Secretary. Field representative Allan Tuara spoke on behalf of Seacology and had the honor of turning the key to declare the building open.

New Guinea - these are odd words to begin an item about Fiji. But that is where i am as you read this; on a dive boat visiting Seacology projects in the Raja Ampat section of New Guinea. I'll be back in time for my next entry and fill you in on this trip. For now let's focus on Fiji, one of the largest nations in the South Pacific. Fiji's 300 islands are located 1,300 miles north of New Zealand. I have been to Fiji over 10 times, mostly to visit some Seacology projects there.

Map_Fiji.gifIs Fiji a great travel destination? You bet it is. Fijians are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. The first time I was in Fiji the people were so friendly I thought they were putting me on. I was born and raised in the suburbs of NY and was not used to such overwhelming hospitality. And Fijians LOVE children. If you are thinking of taking your kids to a beautiful island this is the place to go. Of course diving, snorkeling, kayaking, hiking, swimming and relaxing make this a wonderful place for adults to visit. Unlike a lot of exotic locations there are accommodations for every budget from backpacker hostels to high end resorts.

When leading a Seacology trip we stay at the Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort. Yes, its on the expensive side but if you can afford it, it is worth every penny. The setting on the island of Vanua Levu is wonderful, the food is great, the children's program is fantastic and this is one resort that really cares about the environment. The Cousteau Fiji Resort has received many awards from travel publications throughout the world and was recently recognized by the readers of Trip Advisor as the number one environmentally friendly resort in the world.

I was sucked into MySpace more than a year ago, and Facebook more recently, by friends and family who wanted to share their wonders with me, or more realistically just boost their friend count. I've spent many an hour "wasting" time writing comments, renewing friendships, playing games, attacking vampires and sending "gifts" (among other things) on these two networking sites. Yet these websites, now frequented by millions of other users, can be a great marketing tool for a nonprofit.

When the idea of creating a MySpace page for Seacology came up, I was very interested in designing it myself. If you know the tricks (supported by dozens of MySpace design sites across the web) you can create a MySpace page that is as attractive as any website you might find while surfing.

Today, islands are home to the greatest number of endangered species on the planet. More, in fact, than all of the great continents combined. As a matter of fact, in the past 500 years, 62 percent of all mammal and 88 percent of all bird extinctions have been island species. Further, The National Academy of Sciences published the results of an independent study of extinction hotspots around the world in 2006, and every one of the top ten sites is on an island.

VIETNAM_cat_ba_langur[1].jpgDue to the self-contained nature of island environments, their ecosystems are so vulnerable to damage caused by introduced species, inappropriate development, pollution and global warming. Island coral reefs, mangroves and rainforests, which hold an astounding array of marine and terrestrial life, are among the world's most threatened ecosystems. Yet because individual islands are often small and remote, little philanthropic and non-profit resources have been devoted to preserving island biodiversity.

To combat this global crisis, Seacology was formed as an international nonprofit organization with staff in 1999. Since then, we have launched an incredible 160 island-based projects, saving 1,780,486 acres of marine ecosystems and 101,446 acres of incredibly precious terrestrial habitat on 90 islands in 41 countries worldwide. Seacology's mission is to preserve island habitats along with island cultures around the world. With this goal, we endeavor to reverse the trend of island wildlife, plant life, and marine life extinctions globally, fostering biodiversity worldwide while supporting historic island cultures.

Jonny Hogg has written a very interesting article regarding the tension between the environment and tourism development in Mauritius. It's a good snapshot of how the Indian Ocean island nation is caught between economic sustainability and conservation - a dilemma facing countless islands throughout the world.

I traveled to Micronesia in June and July of this year to visit Seacology projects on Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap and Palau. I was struck by the fact that those islands are relatively unspoiled largely due to their remoteness - especially after overnighting in Honolulu, which was particularly depressing and full of island development "don'ts." After the decline in tourism from the US and Asia, Micronesia is struggling to attract visitors to its natural wonders. So far, for the most part development has been slow and careful - too slow for many. However, Palau, with its proximity to Asia, has a fairly thriving tourism economy. The Palau Conservation Society, our project partner there, has worked to help create responsible tourism standards and have trained numerous guides regarding environmentally friendly ways to expose visitors to the nation's marine and terrestrial wonders. This sort of successful collaboration between private tourism and conservation organizations is an ideal way to safeguard the natural treasures of islands.

Polynesians share many similar cultural traits, from language and music to family structure. One of the most sacred of Polynesian traditions, the kava ceremony, is also one of the most well-known. Tasting like a wet dish towel to my unrefined palette, kava is a relaxant which was banned in 2003 by several countries because of medical concerns. A recent push to lift that ban (Fiji Times article, September 24) and a new University of Hawai'i study (Honolulu Advertiser article by Dan Nakaso, September 22) brings kava back into the news. Despite these developments, it is the tradition of the kava ceremony that interests me most.

Kava has many names: 'ava in Samoa, 'awa in Hawai'i, yaqona in Fiji, and sakau in Micronesia. The drink is made from the ground root of the pepper plant Piper methysticum. The root, a long beige stick about 2 inches in diameter, is ground to a pulp and then massaged in a sack made from coconut fiber and mixed with water to make the juice. The drink is collected in a wooden bowl with legs and one uses a half-coconut shell to scoop the liquid.

Takutea Beach4.jpgSeacology receives news and updates from our island projects around the world regularly. Here are a few recent updates from September. The newly constructed geriatric ward at Atiu Village, Cook Islands, is complete and an opening ceremony is planned for the end of September. Allan Tuara, Seacology's field contact in the area, will be attending the opening ceremony acting as Seacology's representative at the ceremony and festivities. The construction of the geriatric ward was Seacology's grant to the Atiu Community for their decision to establish a 20 year 297-acre wildlife sanctuary and restricted fishing zone on and around Takutea Island, Cook Islands.

All people road work3.jpgFrom North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Seacology's project contact sent us a detailed set of photos and descriptions of the completion of the infrastructure portion of the projects at Tulap, Tulaun and Ranawangko Villages. Included were scenes of villagers working together to finish their access road. This was the last task to complete after having already completed a series of infrastructure improvements earlier in the year using Seacology funding. In exchange for the grant for infrastructure improvements the three villages have established a permanently protected sea turtle beach area totaling 97 acres. Photos of the protected areas were also included.

Island travel offers it all.  Coral reefs, beautiful beaches, unique cultures, friendly people and great sunsets.  Odds are if you are reading this you know I don't mean a week in a high rise hotel in Waikiki.  I'm talking about real island expeditions to places you may have only dreamed of or for that matter not even heard of.  That's where Seacology comes in.  While many people know us as the world's premier ngo (nonprofit) whose sole purpose is preserving island environments and cultures, what is less known is that we offer 3 or 4 trips a year to some of the planet's most beautiful islands.  What makes our trips special besides our destinations?  During our trips we visit remote villages where we have provided the funding for schools, community centers, fresh water delivery systems, etc. in exchange for the establishment of marine or forest reserves.  So when we visit a village we are treated like family.  We offer the three holy grails of modern travel:

  1. We go to places that are off the beaten path,
  2. We are treated by the locals like family and not like tourists,
  3. Our trips are meaningful and rewarding in addition to being fun.