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January 15th, 2006

The crater lake of Tikopia

Next step: Restoring the freshwater lagoon of Tikopia

After the first trip with Tiger, Ulla returned later on to finish her documentary about the island. The film was broadcasted in January 2006 by Norwegian tv and received big attention. Still, Tikopia is not yet what it was, especially the former freshwater lagoon with reliable water supply is now open to the sea - a potencial danger for the inhabitants. Ulla forwarded emails by David Martin of s/v Galathea:

Dear Ulla

We have never met but I feel I know you well - our many friends on Tikopia have often spoken of you to me. Last October we spent a month in Tikopia (and a few days in Anuta) aboard Galatea our Hylas 49 cutter, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We will return in September this year.

As I understand it you initially visited the island with "The Scotsman" in the aftermath of Cyclone Zoë and returned to make a film on the rebuilding of the island with Thomas Lien.

breach in the Tikopia crater lakeYou will be aware that the water in the crater Lake is still salt and the sea comes and goes with every tide through what is now quite a narrow breach. The villagers have continued to work extraordinarily hard to dam the opening using stone carried from the beach. They have been partially successful and sand has built up behind the wall they have created - but there is still 20 to 30 metres to go and the force of the incoming and outgoing tides washes away the stones carried so laboriously on the backs of the people. That the water should no longer be fresh is tragedy - but that the sea can now threaten this narrow strip of coral sand and rock from both sides is positively dangerous. As you know over 800 people live on the low lying beach in palm frond huts - nearly half the population is under twelve.

I am determined to find a way of helping to close the remaining gap and provide proper protection against normal storms. It is difficult to imagine a development or relief project where such a small input from the outside world would have such an immense effect on the lives of local people. Relief aid immediately following a tragedy like Zoë is much easier to fund than a project of this sort, which although much less expensive and demanding, does not have the momentum generated by world press agencies.

The gabion for TikopiaIn my inexpert opinion the solution is to find and supply gabion baskets or cages - these are the wire net structures you see filled with rock on the sides of road embankments, docks and harbours. The villagers could fill them with rock which would then be held in place and not washed away. There are several different types. The rigid cages would seem best but I am unclear whether these would have to be transported as flat sections and welded on site - which would mean additional welding equipment and expertise. The real problem is of course transportation.

I am writing now to ask if your film highlights the problem and if you have received any reaction or offers of help. The islanders feel they have been abandoned and it seems vital that proper engineering help is organised without delay. Any help you can give would be great benefit - I would be very happy to coordinate the effort - what I need now is as many contacts as possible - I will write to everybody who might be able to help.

In essence there are four key areas where assistance is needed:
  • advice on the optimum engineering solution
  • help in procuring the equipment
  • transportation and
  • financial backing.

I look forward to hearing from you


(Dr David Martin, s/v Galatea)


Tikopians carrying rocks Dear Ulla
Edward is fine - in great spirits. He has a heart condition which he had checked out by the two Italian doctors we persuaded to come over from Anuta and they pronounced him pretty fit.
John and Isobel are well (I like John very much - he is a fine man and will make a good leader) as are their children. No I don't know Matthew - a young man did die just before we arrived - he was (very unusually) taken off by the Police Boat but died whilst being transferred from Lata - a ruptured hernia.
Lots of the islanders spoke of you with affection - I remember Doren, Patterson's daughter, singing (and playing on her new ukulele) a song she said you had written.
You ask my profession - I was for many years an academic publisher - my last post was as Chairman of Edinburgh University Press. So my knowledge of construction is very limited! (...)

As you know I am very keen to organise help to stem the breach into the crater lake - have a look at the web site we have set up at

Any help you can give would be great benefit - I would be very happy to coordinate the effort - what I need now is as many contacts as possible - I will write to everybody who might be able to help.

Let's stay in touch


Boys next the Tikopia lagoon some 15 years ago

Boys playing next the lagoon. Picture taken by Eric Matson in 1998 (?)


Dearest David,
thank you so much for your nice and kind letter!!!
It is so nice to read about your love and concern for Tikopia.... Was it your first time to be on the island? How is Edward, how John, how the children?
How long did you stay?
Do you know of a 17 year old boy "Matthew", who lives on Edward (chief Tafua)'s side. He is very beautiful, has a huge smile, and a traditional tattoo (vaka, boat) on his left arm. I hear that he died some month ago. Please, did you hear anything about him?

You seem to understand and know lots about the construction site, may I ask your profession?

Sorry, to bombard you with so many questions, but reading your mail, I feel very familiar with you, so please, excuse my curiosity! :)
Filming on the island is a tricky issue and I am often discussing with Thomas Lien about it. But if we can combine it to help Tikopia, it would be excellent.
I forwarded your mail to the BBC people and suggested them to give the film more depth with helping the islanders.

As soon as I hear back, i will let you know. All my best wishes to you, I am looking forward talking to you again soon.

Best wishes from the snow-covered German Alps.


So far for the emails between Ulla and David. What we need now, is someone with professional skills in water building (or what is that kind of work called in English??) and - of course! - money to affort and support the works to be done. Helping hands would be great, too, but at this moment, we cannot say anything about the time schedule. Anyway, as Ulla is a gutty person ready to deal with mummies, volcanos and email viruses, she asked me to publish her contact mail right on this website:


David, Ulla and Ina
© pictures David Martin and Eric Matson

Click here for a satelite view on Tikopia and here for Google Earth placemark!

News of September 30, 2006: The lagoon is closed! Read more!

Tikopia kids

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