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May
06

Tropic Birds

Once we were anchored down we met the caretaker of the island, who lives alone here. His job is to guard the atoll, which turns out is private and belongs to the Wan family. They had a pearlfarm here which was closed 20 years ago, but the buildings still stand and the airport is also still in use (mainly for stop-overs of private jets on the way to Marutea or the Gambier).

Usually sailboats are not allowed here, but as we arrived just before heavy weather we were told we could stay. In the meantime we managed to get a special permission to check out the remote, little motus in the south searching for rare birds.

We took Pitufa to those southern motus just after the mara’amu stopped and spent two days in calm weather exploring there. Most of the atolls in the Tuamotus were turned into coconut plantations by the villagers who live there at some point. The remote, uninhabited ones that one would suspect to be untouched belong mostly to the church and workers are taken there regularly to collect copra.
Copraproduction still goes on and by now even the tiniest motus have mainly been deforested and replanted with coconut palms, rendering them worthless as eco-systems and lifeless.

As Nengonengo was left deserted after the pearlfarm was closed and ‘forgotten’ for twenty years, nature had time to reclaim the atoll. There are palmtrees on the northern motus and the caretaker makes some copra there, but the southern motus are mainly clad in endemic trees. Much to our amazement we found a large colony of red-tailed tropic birds–a species which used to be abundant in the Tuamtous (atoll names like ‘Nukutavake’, ‘gathering of tropic birds’ tell us that much), but has disappeared by now from here. Birds who nest on the ground and can’t walk on their webbed paddling feet were easy prey for the locals…

We also hoped to find boobies there, as we’ve seen them flying around, but their nesting season has not started yet, so it’s hard to tell how many actually live here. Apart from that we saw white terns, noddies and a few couples of frigate birds (they already sit on fluffy chicks :-) ).

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