Wednesday, July 20, 2011

An Atoll Unto The Seven of Us!

They say the Russians discovered it and named it Suvarov. James says that the Cook Islanders never lost it to begin with so they call it Suwarrow. Part of the northern Cooks, eleven miles across, uninhabited save for two "Park Rangers", a low-lying southern reef (dotted with shipwrecks) with scattered motus on the northern part of the reef, Suwarrow can be seen from at least seven miles away! Seven miles that is, if the seas are flat- which they usually are not because Suwarrow is located miles and miles away from any land mass out in the middle (it has been called The Dangerous Middle) of the south pacific trade winds! The one pass into the lagoon on the northwest side is dotted with coral heads. The tide is always ebbing out the atoll pass because the waves constantly come over the southern edge of the atoll. Even with the wind on our beam and running at high RPMs Rutea could only do between 3 and four knots. Interestingly enough, there were no large waves on either side of the pass because of the extended reef protection on the outside, so we could pretty much just concentrate on the tidal action, eddies and whirlpools (and oh, yes- the coral heads!)!

It's wild! A birder's paradise! A snorkeler's dream! A hermit's ideal island! A fisherman's haven! A beachcomber's park! The rangers have strung hammocks overlooking strategic places like Shark's Bay and Anchorage Island Bay that invite a good book and a snooze as soon as the sun puts them into the shade. All this to be shared with just six other boats- one Swiss, one New Zealand, one Australian, three American and us! So far I have identified Sooty Terns, Brown Noddys and Common Fairy Terns. I am still waiting to spot a Red Tailed Tropic Bird but James says he will take me out to Bird Island (where thousands of birds nest) for a bird walk. Corie went snorkeling yesterday with some other free divers to look for the four meter grouper that hangs out at the end of one of the motus. James told us of Parrot Bay where the Parrot Fish are so plentiful that you can stand in the water (knee deep) and spear one fish after another! The beaches are perfectly clean, unlike other atolls, because the rangers perform beach clean-ups regularly to pick up all plastic and tuna seiner trash that floats ashore. The shells are stunning but we can't pick them up because this is a reserve….

The next ten days are going to be really interesting and a lesson in the ecology of an atoll. We are taking our compost ashore to feed the compost pile for the making of soil for the garden. Since there is only sand on the atoll, the rangers make the soil for the garden from food scraps, rotting coconut palm tree trunks, and fish. In the mid 1900s a company that was going to grow copra and farm pearls here, imported by ship and spread tons of soil all over the island. They also planted 39,000 seedling pearl oysters in the bay. A couple of years later a major cyclone blew through covering the atoll in water which washed ALL of the soil into the lagoon which then killed ALL of the pearl oysters. To this day, the visibility in the lagoon is about ten meters because of that soil still suspended down deep in the water. In spite of the possible reoccurrence of a cyclone and the red ants which love to eat juicy sprouts and saplings and the land crabs which love to eat tender leaves and shoots, James and John persevere in their gardening efforts and have even eaten lettuce and bok choy this season! Then there is the story about the cruiser who started a palm tree forest fire on the atoll while burning trash…….

The other great thing about being in the Cook Islands is that the main language is English! I think we all should be multi lingual; however, it is wonderful to be able to listen to all of these fascinating facts and figures, great stories and understand the details! Of course we are trying to learn some words in Cook Island as it is the visitor's obligation 'to take up the local dialect as a mark of respect and an expression of I feel at home already"! What a concept! I feel at home already! On an atoll! Just the seven of us and our hosts! Kia orana! Hello! May life continue with you!

R of Rutea
At 7/20/2011 10:21 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 13°14.88'S 163°06.48'W

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