31 October 2017
This Monday, October 30th at 9.30am local time, Tara and her crew of 12 people arrived in Alotau, capital of one of the 20 island provinces.
In a well-protected cove on the north coast of the deep Milne Bay, Alotau has a population of just over 15,000, while the country as a whole numbers almost 6.5 million Papuans.
We will leave Alotau on November 1st for 3 initial sites, one of which will be devoted exclusively to the study of water acidification and its effects on coral.
“I am pleasantly surprised by the Solomon Islands”, confided Simon Rigal, our captain, as we left Gizo – the capital of the western province – and this archipelago. Ahead of us were more than 2 days of navigation and 750 kilometers without wind, and with engines.
Like Simon, as Gizo slowly receded, I felt a twinge in my heart leaving this small, peaceful, farming town.
The few minutes spent in the morning walking the main street and the market, all these colors amidst so many smiles, the boats stranded on the sand in front of the stalls, all that I already missed. An atmosphere that I love, full of life, simple and without makeup.
The market of Gizo, in the Solomon Islands © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation
To chase away the melancholy as we passed the last Solomon Islands, Mother Nature concocted one of those magical moments which she alone can cast. First, a school of 5 dolphins played at Tara’s bow, directly in front of my cameras.
Then, through a magnificent cumulus formation, the sun was preparing a magnificent sunset, a falling curtain worthy of one of the greatest live show acts. It was like my experience when leaving Noumea at the moment the star was transformed at the horizon into a balloon of fire.
The navigation between the Solomon Islands and Papua, sometimes on a glassy sea and overwhelming heat, was interspersed by the quarter watches and the routine launching of oceanographic instruments.
Tonight, while I was on watch with the chief engineer, Loïc Caudan, we were treated in these last miles to an extraordinary sky, studded with thousands upon thousands of stars. At the break of dawn, at the entrance to Milne Bay, which in 1942 was the scene of the first Japanese defeat in the Pacific, we discovered a new country, mountainous and green.
The highlight of the show was soon coming. On the quay where Tara was now moored, an improvised welcome committee came to watch this curious schooner, with all those blue T-shirts bobbing about on deck: “Tara, Tara, is that the name of the boat? Where do you come from? France? Where is that? ”
Ocean acidification and observations – ITW Alexander Venn
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