August 8, 2011

Giant Clams and other Aitutaki Highlights

Aitutaki Anchorage
The oldest church in the Cooks is located a few steps from the anchorage. Which makes going to church a remarkably simple thing and makes not going to church (on this very religious island) a very obvious thing. So we went. The church was founded in 1821 by John Williams of the London Missionary Society (the same missionaries who converted Tahitians), Williams was the second westerner to visit Aitutaki (the first was William Bligh and the Bounty-17 days before the mutiny).
The church itself is a massively sturdy building, with bright white walls that are two feet thick and that are decorated with bright green, red, yellow and blue scrollwork throughout the interior. The bilingual service (English and Rarotongan Maori) is attended by locals—who dress in all white (the men in white suits, shirt and ties and, in some cases, flipflops) and the women in dresses and intricately woven hand-made hats.
The highlight of any Polynesian service is the singing—rather than the standard choir setup the locals arrange themselves throughout the church then let loose with soaring melody. The result gave me shivers while some of the littler kids simply found it loud—and covered their ears.
lovely lagoon
 After church we decided we'd head out to see the giant clams. Three species of the nearly extinct Tridacnidae and the h. Hippopus are raised at the Aitutaki Marine Research Centre then moved out to the motus where they are repopulating the reef and being sold into the aquarium trade. We had seen the little clams in the hatchery and were eager to see just how big they could get.
Before we could leave though, our outboard went for a swim. By the time it was recovered and running again the dinghy motor the Connect 4 family planned to use needed to be returned to its owner so the seven of us piled into our dinghy and made the long, wet trip upwind and confirmed that the carrying capacity of our dinghy is less than seven…

The clams were worth the effort though. I've been fascinated by the big molluscs for years but because large invertebrates are neither cute nor majestic I assumed my interest was simply a bit odd. But it turned out that everyone who went out to the clams found them captivating.
They are found in shallow water and the clams lie on their backs in the sand or on reefs with their colourful mantles exposed to the sun. This was pretty much their downfall—because when you have a big tasty food-stuff just sitting there in calm, shallow water you tend to eat it. Which is what the people did, until there were no clams left to eat.
The big clams grow at about 4-5 mm a month and it takes about four years for them to grow to sexual maturity. The largest we saw were two – three feet across and Maia's math problem for today was to sort out roughly how old they are (about 13-16 years old). The coolest bit though was for big non-moving shells they were even more exciting to see than I hoped. They covered a huge area around a motu and in the clear water around them there were clam nursery trays (where they could grow bigger and avoid predators) and coral gardens, where the research centre was also regenerating coral, as well as some of the best snorkelling we've had since the Tuamotus.
Back at the anchorage we discovered all the boats were unlacing themselves and beginning to depart so we helped with untangling and rearranging. Meanwhile another boat came in and got stuck in the channel (which is only 40' wide), blocking it. By the time it was free the tide was falling and every departing monohull ended up getting stuck then needing freeing before it made it out. The whole procedure took a few hours and by the time it was done everyone was exhausted.
Today were finishing up laundry (we started before church yesterday), cleaning the boat with the readily available water, then pulling out for Tonga. It's been lovely here though and we could easily have stayed much, much longer.
PS—we'll upload images of the clams when we get to Tonga
For those behind us in FP we have time left with Manaspot Login: u10h1043 Pass:k78Zff
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1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Hi there,
I'm having a wonderful time following your adventures! Have you updated your map recently? I'd love to see the breadcrumbs.
Fairwinds, Jonathan