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22/08/2012 - Greg Smith and David Cavell (Solomon Islands)

posted 22 Aug 2012, 02:35 by Joel Gill   [ updated 22 Aug 2012, 02:38 ]
“Our trip to Savo is now complete, and looking back on it I’m reminded that what you plan and what actually happens are often two very different things. Don’t let this sound like a bad thing. Greg and I have both come back feeling great about the work we’ve done and the experiences we’ve had on the island, but last Monday morning that almost wasn’t the case…

As you know, we have been staying just outside of the capital, Honiara, here on Guadalcanal, and the trip to Savo is an hour or more by motorised canoe. So at the crack of dawn on Monday we set off for the docks to get an early start on the island and get straight to work. Our boat arrived just after us, but was unfortunately having engine trouble, which quickly moved from “we’ll fix it in an hour” to a “not until tomorrow”. Obviously carrying all our equipment and supplies we were eager to get onto the island, so after mid morning it became for us Savo: by any means. Ramo, our attaché from the Survey worked hard to get us a new passage, and we had little choice but to go and wait at a nearby café, the Lime Lounge. Not feeling great at having lost a day and possibly more cash, we settled in… until we got extraordinarily lucky.

Another researcher, Claudia (who we had met on the flight out here), also working on a project on Savo was in the café and had a boat leaving that day. We had a chat about our respective projects and she offered us passage aboard the boat going out that day. Whilst we arranged this, she took the liberty of showing us several datasets which her team had already taken from Savo, including a digital model of Savo’s topography. Whilst loosing a few hours and a boat ride, we’d struck gold, and we took it as a good sign for the rest of the trip.

We had a calm crossing across the Iron Bottom Sound and reached Lemboni by mid afternoon, where the local chief greeted us, showed us around and explained some of the areas history, including its time as a coconut plantation prior to the Second World War.

The next few days were spent doing what we came for: Working up and down the coast and locating good sections to log (and having to keep one good eye on the tide), mapping infrastructure and talking to local residents about the volcano.
 
 
"Some of the wonderful cliff section we got to study below the Lemboni plantation"
 
This last part was particularly interesting, as those we spoke to were well aware, through kastom stories that living in the shadow of an active volcano can be a dangerous business, but many were unaware of the principal hazards they may face. Evacuation plans and, crucially, areas to evacuate to have been put into place for the whole island, but there is a general feeling among the villagers that plans will not work 100%, and distribution of these plans and evacuation areas is not as widespread as it could be.
 
We had the opportunity to speak with the principal of the local school in Paimbeta (just south of Lemboni), who aired some familiar concerns, and stated that the threat of an eruption is always overshadowing the community, but that awareness is improving. In 2010, a team from the Geological Survey, including Professor Mike Petterson (University of Leicester/GfGD Advisory Group), made a presentation to students about the volcano and the hazards it poses. There is a hope that the survey can expand on this and revisit the school, as well as others across the island to spread awareness of an eruptions effects and how people might prepare and protect themselves. Hazards, including volcanic hazards and more frequent cyclones, are now taught as part of the school curriculum at Piambeta. For the younger generation of islanders, awareness and knowledge are steadily improving.
 

"A list of evacuation sites along with maps detailing hazardous areas, on a notice board in Lemboni. We were told this is the only one of its type in the area."
 
A testament to how necessary this is was seen by us along the Rembokola River, where fresh flood deposits from 2010 were clearly visible. Though these did no damage to the surrounding villages, I was reminded of similar events and the lahars reported in 1953 on the island, and the hazards such future events may pose. The islanders however simply consider these a fact of life.

Speaking of which, our trip coincided with a local change in weather, what islanders call “Komburu”, signifying a change in wind direction bringing worse weather. We experienced the full force of this on our journey back to Honiara, when our small canoe was buffeted by 5 foot waves and had several sharp rain showers during our stay. Even here you can’t do fieldwork without it raining.

Infrastructure on the island itself is pretty basic. Being a small island the only direct means of transport is by boat or by foot, along tracks throughout the village. Water is obtained through rainwater collection and many other supplies are brought onto the island by canoe from Guadalcanal. Chief Melchoir explained how vital this is to the island, going on to say that during a bad hurricane season (such as the one in 1986) the island can be cut off for a time causing a
great deal of hardship.

Having logged several coastal sections, we ventured in land to locate some proximal deposits further up the Rembokola valley. With waterfalls of boiling water flowing inches away from us at times and virgin rainforest all around, this is a journey I won’t quickly forget. A good proximal location did however remain elusive to us, but a visit to the crater more than made up for this.
 

"A waterfall we encountered on our trip up to the crater, with the water near boiling point from geothermal activity"
 
Savo proved to be a fantastic place to work, and we were both sad to leave, but now we hope we can expand from the work undertaken there to produce something worthwhile. Our thanks go out to the local team guides on Savo, our host Micheal Dokoa, Chief Melchoir and of course Alun Ramo.
 

"Some of the team who helped us on Savo. From left to right: Savino Turavalo, Simon Dokoa, Greg Smith, Alun Ramo and Stanley Sado."