We are sleeping on a dead volcano. Thousands of years ago, the top disappeared under the sea. Around and on the borders of this volcano coral started to grow just beneath the surface. For centuries the coral grew at the same pace that the volcano sunk. That is how a coral island like Marakei came to existence. A collapsed volcano with a substantial coral crust on top. The inner sea of the island used to be the crater, right now it is the lagoon. Why this inner circle is shallow (a few metres) is a mystery for us. Now would be the time to ask for assistance from our colleagues geology at the Museon. Our task will be to discover the value of the lagoon in the wake of the villagers. We start early, at six o’clock in the morning, with checking the fishnets which have been placed at sunset. It feels strange to walk in a lagoon around this hour. But the water temperature immediately give you a warm welcome. We are still rubbing sleep from our eyes while we are illuminated by more and more sun rays and we are fascinated by the colour palette of the lagoon. What we normally see in pictures takes place in front of us. We feel like we are part of a 3D postcard. The catch in the net is poor. Only three fish for breakfast, still we are happy with the proteins within our ‘diet’. Especially because we are up for some serious lugging. In the wake of seven young fishermen we carry an aluminium boat from the sea, through the village, to the lagoon. When we are all a board and sail the lagoon fisherman Borerei (with palm hat) tells about the importance of the shallow inner sea of their island. The lagoon functions as a nursery for many fish. While we snorkel we see how tiny fish, the size of a nail, swim around the coral. For the fish the coral species ‘testai’ is vital. It is a natural shelter when in danger. Borerei tells that the testai is going through difficult times lately. It used to be firmly anchored at the bottom of the lagoon, but now it seems to be pulverised by the slightest touch. Some of the testai looks like very old Bros chocolate bars. It would be too easy to directly relate the state of the testai to climate change. We do not have enough knowledge and facts about these matters. Logical, the fishermen of Raweai sail the lagoon with fishnets and spears, not with measuring tapes or microscopes. They do not confirm nor deny that les and les fish is using the lagoon as nursery. Shellfish seem not to care. In a short period of time two boys gather many from the depth. Now that we have a bag full we can at least come home with dignity But first we visit a family across the lagoon. Hospitality goes beyond all around here. Even though the family does not have many possessions, they share plenty of their coconut milk (momoti). The master of the house is out. A bit later we see him sail the lagoon with a beautiful canoe. He comes back from inspection of the brick fish trap. After we lift our anchor, a rusty Singer sewing machine (!), we also set out to check our fish trap. The tide is to high already for it to be truly effective. A large fish shoots between our legs and over the brick walls to his freedom. ‘No worries’, assures Borerei. ‘There is still plenty to catch. On top of that we can fish here in the lagoon when there is a storm at sea. No big waves or dangerous currents here.’ Though we did not catch a lot today, we go home satisfied. A bag full of shellfish, a notebook full with stories and a camera with a lot of images is not a bad catch.


  1. Aaike van Oort

    29 oktober 2012

    How does an atoll come to existance?
    As a geologist in the Museon I can of course do nothing but react. So how does an atoll form in the middle of the ocean? An atol is a ring shaped island that is build from millions of years of coral. More than a century ago published Charles Darwin an explanation for the existence of atolls. This vision is still widely accepted.

    The island of Oahu. This island has in the middle a dead volcano. On the nearby island Hawaii is an active volcano named Kilauea.
    The island Bora Bora is an old and partially sunk volcano. Around it are already large coral reefs.
    This is the island Marakei, where the expedition of Climate Stories whent to. In the middle no mountain is found, only the lagoon.

    The theory is that is by the slowly sinking of the volcano in the sea such an island changes. At first it is a mountain like island, a volcano in the sea. But during a period of millions of years the volcano slowly sinks down or crumbles, it changes into a smaller island with a barrier reef around it. In times only the round coral reef stays. Darwin reasoned that the corals around the volcanic island, grow slowly which is why they stay at sea level while the volcano disappears under the water. When the volcano is disappeared, the island became an atol. The surrounding reef becomes a barrier reef because the inner corals do not have optimal growth circumstances. The area within an atoll lies often deeper and sometimes contains sweet or brackish water.

  2. Ernest Omino

    4 november 2012

    There are beautiful places in this planet of ours. I wonder with all the self-inflicted climate changes WE as mankind can be able to keep it for the future generations to come. Every small bit we can do to try and reverse the climate change is a step in the right direction and the information is certainly part of it… good work!

  3. Stanley Tonkins CPEngMIEAust

    23 maart 2013

    How lovely it was to stumble across this story on the internet.
    The words and pictures take us into daily life and the impact change is having at the Marakei community level is shared by the global community.
    The commentary supports understanding of the technical issues and the moral issue confronting our generation.
    The picture and story on the importance and use of the the stone fish trap could be used at every educational level.
    The opportunity identified to study with microscope and tape does not go unnoticed.
    Well done!

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