Desert island myth debunked

Caramor - sailing around the world
Franco Ferrero / Kath Mcnulty
Mon 4 Jun 2018 07:32
If the Marquesas Islands were like ‘Scotland post climate change’, the Tuamotus are the ‘Outer Hebrides with palm trees’. Franco and I paddled off in our kayaks in search of the perfect ‘motu’ (island) for two.

Looks marvellous, doesn’t it?


Idyllic beach

Ever wondered why there aren’t any footprints?

  1. It is infested with ‘nonos’ (sandflies), the tropical equivalent to midges, so if you’ve been to the Scottish Highlands in the summer, you will have some idea.
  2. There is no fresh water on these atolls. A young Franco once asked his nautical studies teacher (yes, nautical studies! Meanwhile the rest of us were doing grammar): “Is it true that if you drink sea water, you go mad?” Teacher replied: “No - if you drink sea water, you have already gone mad!”
  3. There are no fruit or vegetables, it is very difficult to grow anything in the coral sand, other than coconut palms.
  4. You can’t even eat the fish, the ones in the lagoon are infected by ciguatera. This is a microalgae found in the ocean depths but when a reef ecosystem is disturbed by natural or human causes, they can multiply dramatically in a lagoon. The microalgae are consumed by tiny herbivorous fish and the toxins pass up the food chain becoming increasingly concentrated. The poisoning affects the nerves and causes numbness and tingling and a reversal of hot/cold sensations, vomiting, erratic heartbeat, etc. The toxins build up within the human body and each time the symptoms will get worse. Although ciguatera occurs all over the Pacific, it is worse in French Polynesia and has been particularly bad since the French nuclear testing programme. (Explanation provided by David Stanley of Moon Handbooks)

Remarkably, these islands have been populated since A.D. 1000. It is thought the first people may have been political refugees from the Marquesas and Society Islands. During the past half century, people started leaving and not returning, life was too hard. Our motu had a derelict house on it. Then, with the advent of affordable GPS and an increasing number of satellites in the sky, navigating safely through these atolls became possible, likewise air travel was developed and runways built on most but the most inaccessible islands. A black pearl industry was established and tourism and diving initiatives set up, creating jobs and so there has been a return and a revival.


White tern

 We spent a happy while looking around, white terns and black noddies were the only other visitors. Franco climbed a small coconut palm and we enjoyed young green coconuts. He cut the soft top off and it was like opening a can of fizzy drink, the coconut water gushed out - the most refreshing drink we know. After two hours, we had run out of reachable coconuts. Luckily we could escape but if you were so unfortunate as to be shipwrecked, you would either have to learn to climb tall palms or die of thirst.


Franco up a coconut palm


Enjoying young green coconuts

The snorkelling is wonderful though, as long as you don’t mind sharing the space with a few sharks.

Spotted eagle ray


Pipe fish

Butterfly fish (I think)