Vanuatu is somewhat well known as a diving destination - mostly because of the huge wreck of the USS President Coolidge in Santo. It's one of the largest accessible shipwrecks in the world and a marvelous dive. But there are other great dives in Santo as well and one of my favorites is to snorkel along the shallow coral reefs just off the island of Bokissa.
Bokissa is a private island and the owner and his family operate a luxurious dive resort there. They protect the coral reefs around their little tropical paradise with religious fervor and - as a result - this is one of the few places IN THE WORLD where you can toddle out of your beach bungalow and sploosh into clear water with vibrant living corals swarming with reef fish.
Everywhere else I have ever seen close to humans the reefs are dead or dying and the fish long gone. So this is a special place. This sphere image was taken right off the pontoon where the resort's boat docks, bringing guests from Santo's airport some 20 minutes away. It is a shallow patch reef, with just enough depth to snorkel over if the tide isn't too low.
The fish swarmed around us because they are used to guests from the resort and because they get fed a little day-old bread from the resort's kitchen every morning. Some people maintain that feeding fish a little bread isn't a good idea - like feeding bears in a park. There is certainly a rationale for not feeding sharks - and the resort owner refuses to allow any shark feeding anywhere around his island. But tossing bits of bread to the fish by the pontoon is more like feeding pidgins in a park and there is no doubt that the fish really enjoy the experience as much as the guests.
Anyway, the point is, the fish here are tame and friendly - and protected by the vigilant resort people against anyone who would take advantage of that friendliness. I should mention that the actual island is owned by the villagers of the next island to the east and they lease the island and surrounding reefs to the resort. The islanders and the resort have together formally declared the whole area a protected marine reserve. In a world where coral reefs are dying, it is a great pleasure to find people who really care and are protecting the few happy reefs for all they are worth.
If you want to flop into the water off a beach and see this lovely little reef download a copy of the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu for detailed information on how to get to Bokissa.
Melanesia is a term describing Pacific islands inhabited by black skinned people. It includes the islands of the Torres Straits, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Fiji. The long chain of islands is highly volcanic and is also known as the "ring of fire". The people who inhabited these rugged volcanic islands thousands of years ago established small isolated village communities that persist to this day.The communities are genetically and linguistically diverse, with over 400 languages, often as different from one another as French is from Russian. People sharing the same language are known as "one talks" and are considered extended family (which they are). Although culturally and linguistically diverse, Melanesian people share a common bond in a sense of identity with their island. The people of the island of Tikopea, for example, speak of themselves as "we the Tikopea" a term that encompasses the people, island, trees, gardens, and coral reefs as one living entity. Melanesians are masters at social harmony. You can understand why they have to be when you consider that 90 percent of them live in small, very isolated villages that have been in exactly the same location for thousands of years. Melanesians tend to stay where they were born until they die - generation after generation. If they failed to achieve social harmony they would not survive long. A person unable to "adapt" was (and still can be) banished from the village. Until the mid 1900's this usually was a death sentence as the concept of social harmony generally extended just to the boundary of the tribal lands and inter-tribal warfare and cannibalism was common. Melanesia is one of the few places on our planet where one can see truly ancient custom dances and rituals performed with utter sincerity and cultural importance. Almost all of the Melanesian people are Christians but there are many who are Muslims and still a few who cling to their custom religions. But even dressed up in Christian clothes, their spirits remain one with their ancestors and their land. It is a fascinating part of our world, rich in powerful images.