December 8, 2014

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Island Reach in Vanuatu

By Janis Steele

Island Reach is a volunteer ocean-going project run by a New England forest farming family headed by a couple of social scientists trained in Human Ecology and Cultural Anthropology. In collaboration with The Ocean Foundation in the US, we work in Vanuatu in the South Pacific aboard Research Vessel Llyr.

Vanuatu is one of our planet’s last great places of rich cultural and biological diversity. Lying on the eastern edge of The Coral Sea, this remote ocean state of 83 islands is home to a vast treasure trove of natural riches – from coral reefs to mangrove and rain forests – and an enduring interdependence between its people and their environment. This intimate relationship between Ni-Vanuatu (the people of Vanuatu) and their seas and islands finds expression in the densest language diversity on the planet, with over 120 languages in active use. Vanuatu is in a race to protect this heritage from the rapidly intensifying effects of climate change and social pressures.

Futuna girls at a celebration

Futuna girls at a celebration

Island Reach’s mission in Vanuatu is to support grassroots conservation initiatives in collaboration with local communities and civil, non-profit, and government groups. We provide essential services and facilities required to fill the gaps that impede local conservation efforts, particularly in more remote settings. Without these critical resources to back them up, the best efforts of Ni-Vanuatu to protect their homelands and seas – and one of our planet’s biocultural gems – are at great risk of being overwhelmed.

Heading offshore to Cooks Reef with Marae villagers to collect crown-of-thorns starfish. Aqualung snorkel kits were donated to Island Reach by Aqualung USA for distribution in Vanuatu.

Heading offshore to Cooks Reef with Marae villagers to collect crown-of-thorns starfish. Aqualung snorkel kits were donated to Island Reach by Aqualung USA for distribution in Vanuatu.

We built Island Reach as a harvester-to-harvester movement to help facilitate and empower indigenous communities in remote island and coastal settings. Most of our planet’s incredible biological and cultural diversity resides in the homelands of indigenous people like the Ni-Vanuatu, but that diversity is disappearing at a rate never seen before in human history. Not only is the loss of species alarming; a language disappears from the world roughly every 14 days, and with it goes unique ecological knowledge about the earth.

Island Reach collaborates with many partners in Vanuatu to provide a wide array of both basic and skilled services including transportation of people and supplies, a mobile work platform aboard RV Llyr, and educational outreach and activities. We’ve partnered with people to work on projects such as invasive crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) control, coral gardening, reef surveys, adaptive strategies for climate change impacts on food and water security, erosion control, and developing sustainable markets for artisanal harvesters and craftspeople.

Collecting invasive crown-of-thorns starfish at Emae Island and in the Maskelyne Islands

Collecting invasive crown-of-thorns starfish at Emae Island and in the Maskelyne Islands

We’re thrilled that for 2015 Island Reach has been asked to partner with the Vanua-tai – a remarkable network of indigenous volunteer environmental stewards protecting land, sea, and culture. They are the archipelago’s conservation champions and best hope for Vanuatu’s future. Woven into the social fabric of their villages and islands, these men and women work within their communities to build connections between traditional practices and knowledge about their land and seascapes that have evolved over generations and Western science-based information and methods that can address unprecedented impacts.

However, for many Vanua-tai monitors – especially those in the most isolated settings – resources, training, and opportunities for exchange are scarce, inhibiting their ability to tackle the growing number of challenges. Many are struggling with projects that are stalled or under-developed. It is precisely these kinds of obstacles that Island Reach can help communities overcome.

RV Llyr is a carefully selected rugged steel work yacht built in Europe and ketch-rigged, well-equipped for hard duty in Vanuatu.

RV Llyr is a carefully selected rugged steel work yacht built in Europe and ketch-rigged, well-equipped for hard duty in Vanuatu.

The complete description of our 2014 services is provided here.

We hope this Ridge to Reef project inspires you! Please go to our newly launched campaign – “A Vessel for the Vanua-tai” – to see our latest video and plans for 2015!

The girls of Lutes village, Malekula

The girls of Lutes village, Malekula

All images © Island Reach.

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One Comment

  • Noy Holland says:

    I love the approach you’ve taken to the often-overwhelming question of What Can I do? One person, one family. You have a marvelously diverse approach to a clearly various and complicated challenge to preserve both culture and ecosystem. Thank you for your inspiration!

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