ende

2020
30
Sep

Addition to ‘Wilderness’

Yesterday’s blog entry triggered the following comment from Joachim (SY Atanga). We cannot put it online without internet, but would still like to respond to it, clarify and give more background:

“Comment: Why do you think that you are disturbing nature less than anyone else.
If you really wanted to preserve the environment, you should fight for: rigid ancoring restrictions , closure of atolls for cruisers, visits of small morus only on organized tours….”

We are extremely considerate and cautious not to disturb wildlife, only observe from the distance with binoculars and tele lens.
Many other cruisers also act environmentally friendly, but unfortunately we witness many examples of the opposite. Reckless or simply thoughtless sailors anchor in coral, hunt coconut crabs and lobsters on remote atolls, neither considering that they are stuffing their freezers with endangered species nor that they disturb bird colonies with their behaviour. We see boaters letting their dogs roam freely ashore and leave their children to their noisy games. They have beach parties and bonfires. Kitesurfers spend days on the beach and in the shallow water off sandy motus.
Of course all that’s perfectly fine to do on 95 % of all motus here in the Tuamotus, because they have been ‘cleared’ long ago and are now barren, lifeless coconut plantations. On the few remaining bird motus with decidious trees and shrubs on the other hand, it’s not okay. Even a harmless beach walk can cost lives–a young masked booby chicks dies within 15 minutes from exposure when the parents are shied away. Ground nesting species (e.g. brown boobies, masked boobies, tropic birds, sooty terns, etc.) have disappeared almost everywhere.

We try to inform fellow cruisers, put up info sheets how to anchor around coral, write articles and directly address neighbours in the anchorage (not always a way to make new friends). We fully agree with Joachim that only a strict ban on certain areas (that unfortunately hits eco-friendly cruisers as well) can achieve the necessary protection. The inner zone of a biosphere reserve (like in the Commune of Fakarava, Aratika, Kauehi, Raraka, Niau, Toau and Taiaro) is supposed to achieve just that. Theoretically those inner zones are off limits for everybody. Theoretically. Unfortunately those laws are not enforced (or only partly and rather senselessly, like when we were told that it was forbidden to sail over a protected corner in the lagoon of Aratika…). Locals are exempted in Fakarava and Aratika anyway…

In fact not only cruisers cause damage, the local population often shows even less awareness of nature or inclination to protect it. Copra workers keep burning wooded motus, introduce rats and nonos with their boats and copra bags and actively steal eggs and chicks from seabirds. Cruisers who make local friends are often encourage to join in this ‘traditional lifestyle’. It’s true, the Paumotu (people of the Tuamotus) have always hunted and collected, but the village elders used to ensure sustainable use by putting a rahui (ban, taboo) on certain species or areas for a while. Due to the influence of the European colonialists this traditional knowledge was unfortunately lost in most places.

It would be ideal if the government revived the tradition of the rahui, or if that fails, to replace it with modern rules. The population should be educated and informed. Unfortunately Tahiti is not really concerned with environmental protection and the few existing laws (biosphere zones, ban on hunting turtles, etc.) are not executed.

We have been working actively for years to protect the environment. We inform Te Mana o te Moana (organisation to protect reefs and turtles, based in Moorea) and send reports to the ornithologist society in Tahiti (SOP Manu, the reason for our visit here). Whenever we find motus worth protecting (there are only a handful left in all the 78 atolls) we approach officials (mayors, principals, teachers) to raise awareness of how precious their wilderness motus are. Sometimes we get positive feedback–locals often don’t even know that it’s a special feature for an atoll to have land and sea birds. The people of Raroia were thrilled when we assured them that their motus with primary forest are a nature gem and agreed that they must be protected for future generations.
Unfortunately we sometimes just hit walls, like in the case of the wildlife gem Tahanea, which we struggled to get some protection for years. After it was left uninhabited for decades, many rare species had returned until people from the neighbouring atoll Faaite started doing copra again. We watched the sea bird colonies dwindle, talked to the mayor of Faaite, informed environmental protection organisations and even bothered the ministry of environment–to no avail. Tahanea belongs to Faaite and they can ruthlessly use its ressources.

We keep searching for spots with wilderness, get disappointed in many cases, but sometimes we find a place that is a really pleasant surprise (like this one here).

2020
29
Sep

Finally some wilderness!

We are currently in an atoll we have not visited during our previous seasons in the Tuamotus and we are in LOVE and truly happy.
It wasn’t easy to come here: we had to navigate through an uncharted, tricky pass and get a special permission to explore the lagoon. All the effort was fully worth it: dozens of untouched motus with endemic vegetation and bird colonies. We have seen more brown boobies (vulnerable, because they nest on the ground) here already than anywhere else in the Tuamotus and we’re hoping to find some endemic, endangered species as we work our way around the lagoon when the weather permits.

Only a handful of locals live here and hardly any visitors ever come here, so wild animals find the peace and quiet they need. Of course we are also careful not to disturb them and only observe from afar. As we cannot be sure that all cruisers who follow in our footsteps will be just as cautious and respectful, we will not put the name of this wildlife refuge in our blog.

2020
25
Sep

Very long day

We got up at 5 this morning, sailed across the lagoon and out of the pass of Aratika (at 8). Again the forecast predicted light conditions for our planned daysail to Kauehi (36 nm) and again we had much more wind and a boisterous sail. This time we had fishing luck though, after an unlucky stretch of a year or so. A big mahi-mahi bit heartily into the lure and will feed us for 2 weeks :-)
After arrival we still had to bottle our new batch of beer, now we’re completely knackered…

2020
22
Sep

Biosphere reserve? My arse…

We sailed to Aratika a few days ago, sailed along the western outer reef (the biosphere protected zone) and were already disappointed to see only very few birds in the air. We arrived with easterly winds and after going through the pass, we altered course to sail across the lagoon to the SE corner (close-hauled pointing as close to the wind as possible), when a boat with locals came after us. They told us that ‘everything down there’ was off limits as part of the biosphere reserve, but were not specific. Asked whether we were allowed to anchor along the eastern coast they said yes, anchoring was okay, but we were not allowed to sail across the lagoon. Instead we’d have to go directly east and then along the coast. Told that we’d have to motor against the wind instead of environmentally-friendly sailing there, they said it was the law. Asked what exactly we would harm by sailing through, they didn’t have an answer either. We assumed they were protecting the water from being run over by boats. Hmmm.

We motored to the east as requested and then sailed southwards along the eastern shore, which is marked as ‘transitional zone’ on the biosphere map, which suggests happy co-existing of humans and nature. We found a few patches with shrubs among the palmtrees, some boobies and terns, but not many as there are houses on almost every motu.

Today we sailed back up to the northern shore to visit the townhall (mairie) and ask for details. The newly elected mairess welcomed us super-friendly and was astounded that we wanted to pay our visitor’s tax (apparently we’re the first sailboat to volunteer–only about 10 boats come here per year…). We asked about the biosphere and together with the nice police man she explained that the southwestern coast (with a few small motus) was strictly off limits. For everybody? Yes, for everybody–except of course for locals, when they want to have a picnic or so. Aha, just a picnic? No, of course they can go fishing there as well, just not too many fish. Aha. So could we go there as well if we promised not to fish or take anything (we don’t even HAVE a speargun). Noooo, sailboats are not allowed there. Hmmm.
What about sailing through the lagoon? The map showed only a narrow fringe off the coast off limits and part of the lagoon in a different colour (the same colour and zone category as the ocean between the atolls of the Fakarava commune…). No, that’s forbidden. Aha, and why? There are many bommies, oh and many pearl farm collectors (plastic girlandes where larvae of pearl oysters are supposed to attach themselves).

So summarising you can say that in this biosphere reserve everything is allowed for the locals and wildlife is protected from the handful of rather harmless sailboats that make it here. We suspect that the biosphere lady (yes, the one who shied us away on day 1) didn’t want anybody to see the pearl farm buoys in the reserved zone. Oh and we asked: her family owns the huge fish traps in the pass and they export fish to Tahiti. Getting a biosphere status seems like more of a scam to get funding. We were also told that anchoring was forbidden in the lagoon (for sailboats) and referred to the big, yellow buoys that were installed one (or two) years ago (14 well made and certainly expensive buoys, 2 next to the W pass, 5 in front of the village, 4 in the east pass area and a few more down the eastern coast). We motored over to the NE corner after visiting the mairie and are now on one of those buoys–so far out in the lagoon that we have 0 protection from the wind and white caps around the boat. Hmmm.

2020
19
Sep

Forest fires

Here in French Poly it’s ‘tradition’ to burn islands to ‘clean’ them from shrubs, so it’s easier to pick up coconuts and make copra (and a few bucks). Of course this way no humus can build up, birds lose their habitat and what remains is a barren rock with some palm trees on it. Whenever we go ashore and find a burnt motu we come home depressed (like yesterday).

This morning we read the BBC news: the forest fires in California and Oregon are the biggest ever recorded, also in Siberia forest fires are raging and in Brazil the Pantanal wetlands(!) are on fire. These fires were either caused by careless people, but most were started on purpose to gain farm land, have easier access to logging grounds, etc.
Greed and stupidity ruin our planet. What’s wrong with humanity?

2020
14
Sep

Not enough efforts to protect environment

Fakarava and its neighbouring atolls are a UNESCO biosphere reserve: a program for ‘conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use’. Unfortunately there’s not much wildlife left ashore that could be protected–copra industry and a rather large population have shied away most birdlife. Fakarava’s famous for its many grey reef sharks in the south pass and several dive operators and of course the ‘pensions’ ashore depend on tourists to come and admire the underwater world.
We snorkeled the North-pass today, sadly the coral is not in a good shape and we didn’t see lots of fish. We moved on to snorkel a bommie inside the lagoon (also a popular place for excursion boats) and were more than surprised to see a group of tourists in the water with a speared parrot fish. Not exactly clever of the tour operators to have the fish speared that are supposed to pose for the cameras of future visitors…

We find the lack of awareness and environment protection here in French Polynesia really sad. Yes, there are programs in Tahiti and Moorea to protect birds and turtles, educational programs at school and some awareness. But out in the Tuamotus people still hunt turtles, eat sea bird’s eggs and spear endangered species. Even here in a biosphere copra production and spearfishing is allowed and the few moorings that were installed for sailboats a few years ago to protect the coral were not maintained and have mostly been torn out and swept away.

The uninhabited atoll of Tahanea (just 100 nm from here) still has plenty of bird colonies, wonderful coral, spectacular passes as well and would certainly deserve to be a biosphere reserve. Unfortunately it is not protected and the people from the neighbouring village call it their ‘food reserve’. All our efforts to raise awareness for the nature gem Tahanea have hit walls: apparently it’s a ‘political issue’ and delicate topic.
It’s a shame that the little left-over patches of wilderness here don’t get the protection they deserve. Soon there won’t be anything left to protect.

:de_start “Zu wenig Naturparks in Französisch Polynesien”

Fakarava und seine Nachbaratolle schimpfen sich UNESCO Biosphären Reservate: ein Programm für ‘den Schutz von Biodiversität in Einklang mit nachhaltiger Entwicklung in ökologischer, ökonomischer und sozialer Hinsicht’. Leider gibts hier nicht mehr allzu viel zu schützen – die Kopraindustrie und eine recht zahlreiche Bevölkerung haben zum Verschwinden der Vögel auf den meisten Motus geführt. Fakarava ist berühmt für die vielen Riffhaie im Südpass und einige Tauchbasen und natürlich Pensionen an Land profitieren von den Touristen, die diese Attraktion anzieht.

Wir haben heute den Nordpass geschnorchelt, leider sind die Korallen hier in schlechtem Zustand und wir haben nicht allzu viele Fische gesehen. Wir sind dann weiter zu einem Bommie in der Lagune, wo schon einige Ausflugsboote vor Anker lagen. Wir trauten unseren Augen kaum, als wir Touristen mit einem per Speer erlegten Papageienfisch im Wasser sahen. Nicht gerade schlau von den Organisatoren, wenn die Fische, die eigentlich für die Kameras der nächsten Touristen posieren sollen, abgeschossen werden.

Uns erschüttert der Mangel an Umweltbewusstsein in Französisch Polynesien. Ja, in Tahiti gibts Programme zum Schutz von Schildkröten und Vögeln, aber hier draußen in den Tuamotus schlachten die Einheimischen immer noch die wenigen, verbliebenen Schildkröten und sammeln Seevogeleier. Sogar hier in der Biosphäre gibts Kopra, Speerfischen ist erlaubt und die wenigen Bojen für Segelboote, die zum Schutz der Korallen installiert wurden, sind großteils mangels Wartung schon längst wieder verschwunden.

Das unbewohnte Atoll Tahanea (nur 100 Seemeilen von hier) hat noch Vogelkolonien, superschöne Korallen, ebenfalls spektakuläre Pässe und würde den Status Biosphären-Reservat viel eher verdienen. Leider ist es nicht geschützt und die Leute vom Nachbaratoll beuten die Ressourcen aus. Alle unsere Versuche zum Schutz dieses Naturparadieses sind im Sand verlaufen: angeblich ist es ‘eine politische Frage’ und darf nicht angesprochen werden…

Es ist eine Schande, dass die wenigen, übrig gebliebenen Flecken Wildnis hier nicht den Schutz bekommen, den sie verdienen. Bald gibt es nichts mehr zu schützen.

2020
11
Sep

Rapa Iti remains closed

Rapa Iti, the southernmost of the Austral Islands, has no airport and only one supply ship a month. When the Covid crisis started, they very reasonably decided that they couldn’t take any risk and closed their bay for all ships (except the Tuhaa Pae supply ship). Only family returning to Rapa Iti was allowed to travel on that ship and they have to stay in quarantine for 14 days after arrival.

Last week we wrote to our friends in Rapa Iti and were told that the little island is still holding up those strict rules. While Covid19 spreads slowly to the remote islands, they want to stay on the safe side and asks sailboats to stay away as well.

2020
11
Sep

Cruising in times of Covid19

French Polynesian officials have announced the first 2 deaths: an elderly couple (both 81) died at the hospital in Papeete this week, more than 800 cases have been registered since July 15.
Of course those numbers are still very low in comparison to many other countries, but it’s still alarming…

The majority of the sailboats that were either here before or have arrived this year will stay in French Polynesia, as most islands further west are still closed. Only Fiji has opened its borders (with lots of regulations in place), Indonesia is partly open, New Zealand announced that some applications would be considered if crews would spend more than 50.000 NZD, but that deal is uncertain as well.

We wanted to sail westwards next year, but it’s impossible to make plans at the moment. The future of cruising seems very uncertain at the moment.

2020
09
Sep

Article on our Mooring Project for Rapa Iti in Yachtrevue Magazine

Christian Feldbauer, Birgit Hackl: Mit Rat und Tat–Eine Muring für Rapa Iti, Yachtrevue, August 2020, p.40–43.

2020
09
Sep

Just quickly order some things…

Yesterday we sailed over from Apataki to Fakarava (a rough ride despite a very benign weather forecast) as we urgently have to do some internet chores. In July we were told by other cruisers how easy it was to have things sent from the US by containership: just get an account at DGX, have stuff sent to their store house and they send it on. Straightforward and quick. Great!
We had been wondering how to get a dinghy from Costa Rica a wind generator from the UK to Tahiti anyway, so we got in touch with DGX and ordered a few more things to join the package. Foam for a sofa cushion, fabric for the saloon, cat food for Leeloo–all arrived quickly in L.A.. Only the two important bits (dinghy and wind generator) took their time. By mid-August we got worried and enquired: the sales guy at Apex finally admitted that our dinghy hadn’t even been produced yet(!) and tracking the TNT shipment with our precious generator showed that it was still ‘in transit’ after a month. They had lost it…
Now 2 months have passed since we started the project, the dinghy finally made it, but the generator’s still missing… Different time zones, no internet–we’re close to going bananas with all the delays.

2020
05
Sep

Strangely empty Apataki

There is a haul-out place in the SE corner of Apataki, so we did not expect much wildlife there–surprisingly enough the bommies were quite lively with relatively healthy coral and some small fishies. There were even a few terns flying around. Sailing up the eastern side we were happy to see lots of endemic shrubs, so we expected nesting birds–but nothing. The motus are silent and empty and the few small fish that are around scatter in panic when they see a human shadows. It seems the lagoon is overfished, but then we hardly see local boats. Very strange.

2020
25
Aug

Arrived in Apataki

We arrived during the night, slowed down and tacked up and down fishing–no luck… At 8 the pass looked do-able (still quite some standing waves inside the pass, so wind against current, not so ideal), but the pass is so wide that we went in anyway, were tossed around a bit, but not too badly. Now we’re sailing close-hauled again to the S side of the lagoon, where we’ll anchor behind a little motu, clean the boat and get some rest. The cat ate like a lumberjack during the passage, but did a prolonged howling concert last night–we think she was just bored…

2020
25
Aug

Many factors to consider

‘Sailing where the wind takes us’ sounds romantic, but in the end chosing an atoll relies on many factors: we have to reach it tacking through neighbouring atolls so the wind must play along, atolls have only tiny openings that are greatly affected by tidal currents and a yacht must never try to enter with wind against current (resulting in high, standing waves) and thirdly arrival must be in daylight with good visibilty to reach an anchorage through bommie-strewn waters.

Yesterday we were bashing along against 25 knots of winds, heeling so badly that it was barely possible to walk inside the boat while Pitufa jumped over 2 to 3 m waves–but we were making great speed on a good course. Today the breeze is lighter and we’re much more comfy, but we won’t be able to reach our planned destination Toau (uninhabited atoll, cruiser friends are already there) as it is too far to the east. Ahe was another option, but we won’t make it in daylight tomorrow. So in the end we have decided to try Apataki, which we should be able to reach in 2 or 3 tacks and arrive on an outgoing tide (the pass faces west, the wind’s from the east, so wind and current in one direction) with plenty of time to cross the lagoon in daylight. At least that’s the theory–we’ll see ;-)

2020
23
Aug

Towards the Tuamotus

260 confirmed Covid-19 cases in French Polynesia, the president announced ‘new measures’ for Monday–it’s good timing that we’re fully provisioned, prepared and ready to go. The SE wind (mara’amu) that was blowing strongly for the last few days is easing off a bit and we should have good conditions to set out towards the Tuamotus. Over 70 ring atolls are out there–we’ll set the windvane to 45 degrees and see to which one it will takes us. Some have a pass for boats, others don’t, some have small villages, other are uninhabited–all of them are far from civilisation and it will be nice to be offline again for a change ;-)

2020
19
Aug

Fuel consumption

We went to the petrol station this morning to top up our diesel tank and jerry cans–180 litres and we were full again. To us living on a sailboat means being close to nature and treading lightly, so we try to use less than 300 l a year.

The boat before us (German sailboat, young, hip couple) had taken a long time, so I asked the guy from the station what had kept them. I couldn’t believe my ears (and actually asked twice) when he said that they had filled up 3.000 litres(!). There’s all kinds of different cruising lifestyles… Rushing around on a tight schedule without time and patience to wait for wind, running the generator every day to keep gadgets happy (instead of installing enough solar panels) leads to a high fuel consumption, but it still seems incredible that a single sailboat could use (and store!) that much fuel ;-)

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