Summary of Island Reach Expedition Activities 2014

Research Vessel Llyr, Vanuatu, Melanesia

This report is a companion piece to the Island Reach (IR) introductory video, and summarizes the range and variety of activities IR has undertaken to meet its mission in Vanuatu during the 2014 fieldwork season. IR is designed to operate in partnership, offering support to existing conservation projects in Vanuatu. We are indebted to the villages, groups and individuals mentioned for their support, welcome and guidance.


Port Vila, Efate, Capital of Vanuatu, May-June

Orientation; meetings with government, civil, and private sector stakeholders; intensive Bislama language training with Teri Firiam.

350 Vanuatu, Pacific Climate Warriors, May & September:  Produced 2 videos documenting 350 Pacific's climate action campaign in Vanuatu:

--350 Vanuatu Canoe Project:

-Ta Reo, The Voice of Vanuatu: 350 Pacific Climate Warriors (short, 4:30)

--The Voice of Vanuatu, 350 Climate Warriors (full version 9:06) s

Buninga Water Project, Live & Learn, June

Assisted with implementation of water security project on the remote and hard-to-access island of Buninga, Shepherd Group: technical design and sourcing of materials, transportation of Live & Learn personnel and 11 x 1100 liter water tanks and gutter collection systems (project material weight estimated @ 4tons); installation of collection systems with community; and video documentation for Live & Learn and project funders:

Partnership with Sarah Graham, M.Sc Marine Ecology, Marine Biodiversity Project Officer Vanuatu Department of Tourism, Shefa Province Office, July

Ms. Graham joined RV Llyr for a 4 week expedition (free of charge) focused on Crown of Thorns Starfish (COT) surveying, community awareness, and mitigation in the central and Northern islands and educational coral gardens on Amae Island & Tonalieu, Efate.

Loru Forest Carbon Project Film, August: Filmed and produced a documentary in Bislama for Live & Learn and project funder the European Union on the Community Conservation Area & REDD+ project at the Loru Community Conservation Area, Espiritu Santo Island.

Crown of Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster Planci) Mitigation, March-September

– In consultation from the US with Peter Whitelaw in Vanuatu, researched and acquired 5 low-cost NJ Philips 15ml Dial-a-Dose Injection Guns with added 6' stainless-steel needle extenders and 5 liter flexi packs to be trialed for COT mitigation in Vanuatu. These injection gun units cost 70% less than available equipment currently marketed internationally for COT management. They are easy to use at both dive and snorkel depths and can be used with readily available, low cost, natural toxins. As a result of IR's work, numerous stakeholders across government, civil, and private sectors are now adopting this equipment.

-- Training on COT culling methods in Havannah Harbor, Efate, and COT mitigation literature review with Peter Whitelaw, Secretary of the Vanuatu Scuba Operator's Association and Captain of SV Goldenwing.

– Produced 60 Crown of Thorn Starfish (COT) culling kits, (hook/bag/glove) in collaboration with Peter Whitelaw. Total material cost of kits: US$300. To date, 45 kits distributed, with training in their use, to community members and Vanua Tai environmental monitors throughout Vanuatu.

– Educational presentations on coral reefs ecology, including (where relevant) Crown of Thorns behavior and management:

  • Emae, Marae Community Center

  • Emae, Primary School

  • Lamen Bay primary school

  • Lutes church, Maskelyne Islands.

  • Pelonk Community Center, Maskelyne Islands

  • Bwatnapni Primary/Seconday school, Pentecost

  • Ranputor Community Center, Pentecost

  • Pangi Primary School, Pentecost

– Worked with Marae village members and conservation area managers to build an educational coral garden.

– COT Culling Activities:

* Emae Island, Shefa Province & Sangalai, Maskelyne Islands, Malampa Province:

Teamed up with village-based environmental monitors, conservation area chairmen, and community

members to survey and cull COTs. Produced short videos for the communities on their collaborative efforts.

* Crab Bay Conservation Area, Malekula Island:

Conducted field trials on COT injection using the injection guns IR brought from the US employing various natural acids in association with the Vanuatu Dept. of Fisheries. Five day campaign from RV Llyr, including surveys, 32 tank dives, 5 snorkel sorties, 8 georeferenced video transects, and 3 parallel 50 meter replicate injection transects (this last, specifically on behalf of fisheries). COT mitigation by the IR team over this period was highly successful, resulting in 3200 COTs culled over 29,000 square meters of reef. A report of activities and results was produced for Fisheries.

Additional COT culling sites:

  • Lelepa Island, Havannah Harbor, Efate, Shefa Province

  • Cook Reef x 2 sites

  • Lamen Bay, Epi Island

  • Turtle Island, Arore Island, Sanma Province

  • Ratua Resort, Aore Island

Total Cots culled via injection Gun or hook/bag: 4,300

– Promoting Awareness with Visiting Yacht Cruisers:

In collaboration with Eric & Ann Simmons, NZAid VSA Volunteers, Vanuatu Tourism Office, generated daily SSB radio net announcements for Vanuatu cruising yachts promoting COT data collection for the Dept. of Fisheries and VSOA as well as culling participation.

– “Crown of Thorns Starfish in Vanuatu” (working title). COT Mitigation training Video in production.

SPC-GIZ Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific Islands Region & National Advisory Board on Climate Change May-Sept:

IR disseminated print and video educational resources for Dr. Christopher Bartlett to over a dozen communities throughout Vanuatu. Integrated coral reef ecology and COT mitigation with climate change awareness and El Nino/La Nina weather impacts in school and community multimedia presentations. Video documentation of the Nguna-Pele MPA Coral Gardening Project and donation of 5 youth snorkle kits from sponsor Aqualung USA.

Coral Gardening Project, Sept.: Tanoliu Primary School, with Wan Smolbag's Vanua Tai director Donald James, Peace Corp volunteer Robert Lee (North Efate): Established 3 mobile, educational coral garden frames, donated by IR along with 5 snorkel packs from sponsor Aqualung USA. The frames were assembled, stocked with coral fragments and sited within the Tanoliu taboo conservation reef with Tanoliu primary students, alongside their giant clam project. Ongoing project development will be led by Vanua Tai director Donald James and Robert Lee.

AquaLung USA:

Distributed 31 snorkel kits, donated to IR by Aqualung USA, to schools and Wan Smolbag Vanua-Tai environmental monitors throughout the islands.

Completed 29 GoPro HD Geo-Referenced Coral Reef Benthic Substrate Video Transects and 2 Reefcheck surveys , filling in core data gaps for government and private sector concerns on reef health and COT distribution in Vanuatu

60 Kilos general medical supplies distributed at the request of Michael Schugg, Director,Vanuatu Society of Disabled People to:

* Marae Village medical outpost, Emae Island

* Emae Island Primary School Clinic

* Lutes clinic, Maskelyne Islands

* Lamen Bay clinic, Epi Island

* Lamap Medical Center, Malakula

* Vao Island clinic, Malakula Island

* Bwatnapni medical Clinic, Pentecost Island

* Ranputor medical outpost, Pentecost Island

* Ranon medical outpost, Ambrym Island

Additional training, research, and volunteerism:

  • RV Llyr First Mate and EMT Connor Steele-McCutchen & 2 nd Mate Rowan Steele-McCutchen advance dive training to PADI Rescue Divers in Luganville, Santo.

  • Site visit with Pierro Bianchessi, Director of the Venui Vanilla Company, Espirito Santo , investigating permaculture farming, marketing, and conservation challenges in Vanuatu.

  • Connor Steele-McCutchen volunteered with Promedical Ambulance and the Port Vila Hospital.

Summary of Videos published or in current production onboard RV Llyr:

Planned upcoming IR activities for 2014-2015

It is our understanding from collaborators that Research Vessel Llyr is currently the sole vessel in Vanuatu dedicated to providing capacity services to a range of established conservation projects in remote locations. In 2014 IR completed a 500+ nautical mile working expedition through the Central and Northern islands of the archipelago. In 2015 we will both expand our geographical range in Vanuatu and return to many communities.

We are currently building a collaborative alliance with Wan Smolbag, the renowned theatre, arts, activist and conservation non-profit in Vanuatu ( and with Dr. Christopher Bartlett at SPC-GIZ (Coping With Climate Change in the Pacific Islands Region). Wan Smolbag has over 400 registered Environmental Monitors called “Vanua Tai” spread across Vanuatu in a program over 15 years old. These individuals each operate in unique and challenging circumstances in remote locations and comprise the largest, locally embedded environmental entity in Vanuatu. All need broad ranging capacity services to bolster their efforts. SPC-GIZ has a broad portfolio of projects, training capacities and educational materials seeking expansion and outreach access. Smolbag's Vanua Tai Director, Donald James is collaborating with SPC-GIZ and Island Reach to vitalize the Vanua Tai program and deliver a wide array of material, training and logistical resources to these men and women. Research Vessel Llyr and crew will provide the mobile resource platform for these exciting developments during the 2015 tradewind season.

Embedded in these activities will be IR's attention to the ongoing COT infestation in Vanuatu. We will continue to participate in coordinating a mobile national response across numerous collaborators for mitigating Crown of Thorns for 2014-2015. COT mitigation offers a natural pathway for village communities towards coral reef awareness and active conservation and husbandry. Research Vessel Llyr is an ideal work platform for such an rapid response effort, able to deliver materials and personnel to remote locations as needs are identified; and provide comprehensive education and training that is adaptive to local conditions and concerns with an eye towards the future.

In the United States, through the activities of both Island Reach and the Berkshire Sweet Gold Maple Farm we will build ridge to reef linkages, presentations and videos alongside the farm's direct

farm-to-fork markets that introduce American audiences to coral reefs, food security themes in the Pacific region, and the biocultural impacts of climate change, extractive economies of scale and rapid population changes.

Finances : Island Reach has a minimum annual budget of US$70,000. The Berkshire Sweet Gold Maple Farm annual crop income is able to supply a strong portion of this budget. Most of the IR budget is for ship maintenance, transportation costs, conservation/educational supplies and crew food. We work without salary and offer services at the lowest cost possible. In the upcoming 2015 tradewind season in Vanuatu we anticipate asking for a modest capital contribution, well below boat service cost standards, from agencies and organizations in Vanuatu that have an available operational budget. We can accept funds for general operations or for specific, delimited projects within our conservation portfolio, such as; coral reef and COT survey & mitigation; design, transport and building of physical installations; servicing research projects; personnel and material transport; video productions; climate change adaptation; food sovereignty projects and educational outreach efforts.

Please be in touch with guidance or resources to fuel IR's minimum 2015 funding challenge of $35,000 so that we may return to Vanuatu next April to continue this work.