On Papua

© Vincent Hilaire / Tara Expeditions Foundation

3 November 2017

After leaving Alotau at mid-day on November 1st, we navigated 80 kilometers to the northeast before reaching Normanby Island. At nightfall we anchored close to the west coast of the island and the next morning went through the first of many rituals of this leg.


At 7:30 am local time as the sun rose over the rainforest, we launched one of the dinghies to go ashore and meet our hosts. Before leaving, smiling children and adolescents were already circling Tara in canoes.

In the dinghy, our improvised delegation was led by Simon Rigal, our captain, and Alfred Yohang Ko’ou. our Papuan scientific observer. We landed on Soba Island and were met by excited children and shy adults awaiting this first contact. We were led past 2 huts, one on the ground and the other on stilts, both constructed mainly with braided palm leaves.


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The place of our first custom, surrounded by the houses of this little community © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Sitting on the floor around a palm mat taken from the main hut and unfurled for us, the ritual began with the family gathered amidst dogs, chickens and a pig.

Alfred began by explaining in Papuan where we came from and what we were doing on board Tara, while showing on his blue T-shirt our voyage from France. Kanagola, the head of the community, listened attentively.

Then “Beckie” Vega Thurber, our current scientific leader, explained more precisely our scientific interest in this bay and what we would like to do there.

Kanogola listened very calmly without expressing any particular reaction and suddenly blurted out: “Ah, the bubbles!

Beckie explained that a mission had already taken place in 2013 to carry out research on these CO2 bubbles. Kanagola nodded confirmation. Beckie went on, “we’ve come to launch a new campaign on these carbon dioxide bubbles and their effects on the coral ecosystem. We will eventually compare these results with the older ones. The ocean is acidifying right now and at you have at the end of your beach an ideal laboratory.

Kanagola was reassured: “I give you permission to do what you have to do here. But if you go to the next bay, you will have to ask the other community for their agreement.

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Two generations of the community of Soba Island in this photograph © Vincent Hilaire – Tara Expeditions Foundation


Simon Rigal pulled out of his backpack some Tara Junior magazines in English and gave them to Kanagola, explaining with a touch of humor, “These are magazines for children, but as an adult I learned lots of things from them“. Kanagola thanked Simon with a smile while a new pile came out of the bag: notebooks and pens.

The ritual was coming to an end and we were honored to take some pictures of these people still living their traditional life, without electricity or water.


Vincent Hilaire

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