The island of N’guna in Vanuatu
The departure point is a quay at Emua, at the northern tip of Efate Island. From there, a boatman will take you to N’Guna. The trip lasts around 20 minutes, during which your boat will zigzag a bit among hard coral and you will have time to enjoy the various shades of blue of the sea. You will land on a sandy beach that borders the village of Woralapa.
The island is dominated by a volcano whose slopes plunge abruptly to the sea. A thick forest covers most of the landscape and a thin rim of white sand surrounds the island. The village is on the western coast, on the leeward side of the island, and the lagoon is only a few metres deep over a stretch of some 200 metres, making it a choice spot for snorkelling. There is an abundant underwater fauna and you may come across some big fish that have moved closer to shore from the deeper waters to look for food.
Staying a few days in a small bungalow
You may spend a few days on the island if you wish but the comfort is minimal without running water or electricity. You will, however, enjoy a calm setting right by the sea and you will have a beach on your own as well as enjoyable company.
A couple of people will help you organise your stay and show you around. You may enjoy a stroll around the bush and into the forest growing on the steep slopes of an extinct volcano until reaching the top. The impregnable view on Efate and the surrounding islands makes the walk well worthwhile. On your way, you will learn a lot about small-scale local farming and its techniques.
You will get a better grasp of what a subsistence economy is, especially when crossing small plots of land on which yam, sweet potato, banana, pineapple, papaya trees, etc. are grown after stubble burning. These plots of land are used for cultivation for two years then other plots are cleared a little further away to be planted. The plants and trees initially grown will continue to give fruit until the jungle takes over. The local people will also show you various medicinal plants used since ancient times and tell you about their properties.
A number of fishermen regularly go out to sea, most of them in pirogues. It may not be the best option for you as these boats do not offer sufficient safety conditions. One of the fishermen uses a motorboat and it may be possible to accompany him.
There are many kava bars in the villages. The kava is the traditional drink obtained by soaking a crushed root in water. This drink has an appeasing effect but is not a drug. Some timeworn bars are open in the evening but no-one will hold it against you if you turn down an invitation to join in for a drink.
If you intend to take photos during your stay, it is advised to inform the people as soon as you set foot on the island. Seeking permission and explaining the reasons why you want to take photos will avoid lengthy haggling every time you want to take a shot and avoid you sliding onto sticky ground.
Protected marine areas well integrated into the lives of the islanders
The islands in the South Pacific region count an increasing number of permanent and temporary reserves which aim at protecting the endangered biodiversity. For various social or cultural reasons or for the sake of conservation, many communities living on these islands are in favour of the creation of these reserves.
Several protected marine areas exist on N’Guna Island and on the islets of Pele and Emao, which have much in common in terms of geographic, social and cultural characteristics. It is to be noted that 18 additional protected marine areas have been created on this small archipelago between 1998 and 2008! They sometimes have a limited surface area but none of the villagers seems to know how far out to sea these reserves stretch. They, however, span beyond the sea walls and include deep-sea habitats.
You will get a glimpse of the importance of these protected areas for the villagers as the question will quickly become the centre of your conversations with them. For instance, at the time of handing over of your bungalow, the locals will point out the most appropriate spot for snorkelling and the boundaries of a marine reserve to enable to have the best experience of the fauna and flora. It takes a few questions to realize that this organisation is well established and accepted by all. You will note that the potential for developing tourism increases the motivation for the locals to want to set up reserves.
According to Christopher Y. Bartlett, from James Cook University in Australia, a considerable amount of work has been done in the small archipelago comprising N’Guna, Pele and Emao. The temporary and permanent reserves of these islands have also been the object of a follow-up. A 55 set questions were put to 80% of the adult population of six communities concerned by the management of the protected marine areas, following a protocol designed by Christopher Y. Bartlett. The analysis of the data gathered has enabled a comparison among the populations of reef fish, Trochus Hiloticus, giant clams (Tridacnids) and live coral in and outside these reserves.
There are indeed two types of reserves, as on many islands of the Pacific region: permanent reserves, where fishing is strictly forbidden for good or for a long period of time, and temporary reserves where resources can be utilized once or twice a year at most and only during a short period, usually a day. This measure is not fully in line with the global guidelines of important organisations such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) but it at least has the merit of taking into account the wishes of the local population and has proven to be effective. It is to be noted that these resources are used time and then for social purposes is a tradition in the Pacific islands: the holding of a ceremony, for example, or for economic reasons. On these occasions, one can discover traditional fishing methods such as stone fishing, which is practised in Polynesia.
A detailed analysis of the questionnaire’s results has shown that 80% of the villagers knew the importance of setting up reserves as they were well aware of changes taking place in the underwater landscape. This fact has been methodically checked by divers, at least regarding corals and molluscs, which seldom move. It was noted that 90% and 98% of the villages were supporters of the temporary and permanent reserves respectively.
In the Melanesian world, it is a right by tradition for the community to access the land and sea resources. Besides the help provided by the local authorities in the setting up of marine areas, the customary authorities of the villages have appointed a group to manage the resources. Very few among the local people do not comply with the decisions that are made. The neighbouring villages are kept informed of the choices that are made in order to harmonise fishing practices across the villages and avoid that fishermen from one village use the resources in the reserves of the others. This fosters social interaction among the villages of the islands all the while allowing the designing of a management programme that promotes sustainable fishing practices and a coherent use of resources. Fines are an essential enforcement tool, particularly in the case of outsiders such as professional fishermen from other islands who get caught in the protected zones.
You may also be offered the opportunity to go on an outing at night to tag sea turtles. It is to be noted that the village chiefs of the archipelago have spontaneously decided to prohibit the catching of sea turtles for a minimum period of 10 after a sensitisation effort with the support, amongst others, of the Wan Smolbag Theatre Company. The latter have had the brilliant idea of creating a play around the theme of the protection of sea turtles. The play has been staged in all the villages of Efate. Discussion sessions were also held on the themes of prevention and protection after each performance. This approach has produced some immediate and positive results. As an outcome of the questioning of traditional practices and of these laudable initiatives, you will be able to quite easily come across sea turtles while snorkelling or going on a boat trip.