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Ninigo Atoll in Papua New Guinea: Latest cruising news – March 2011.

By Sue Richards last modified Jun 30, 2011 02:10 PM

Published: 2011-06-30 14:10:04
Countries: Papua New Guinea

Contributors: Joop Jansen and Hanneke Kroon, SV Vaarwel

Ninigo atoll lies in the north east of Papua New Guinea, 200 miles north west of Manus and the admiralty islands.

Our electronic Cmap chart of Ninigo atoll shows few details. The position of the islets and the pass into the lagoon is at least 0.5 miles off. But visibility is good and we can easily see the reefs and the pass (which is wide), so we don’t need electronic assistance. We sail into the lagoon of the hoge atoll, in between the breakers of the swell, while C-map shows us crossing over a reef and an island instead of through the pass.

We drop the anchor right around the corner behind Longan island, opposite a village with the same name. The anchorage is 10 metres deep, a flat sand bottom with good holding. Later we shift closer to the village, also sandy bottom.

We are visited by Solomon, the semi-official village representative in case of foreigners arriving. He has come to say hello and to tell us what to expect. They bring some fresh fruit and vegetables which we exchange for sugar and rice. These two items together with fish hooks are the "currency" with which we "pay" for fish and fresh produce, but we could also have traded with soap, t-shirts, shorts or teabags. In short allmost anything can be used for bartering. There is a surprising variety of fresh produce on this flat sand island in a salty environment. Bananas, papaya, watermelon, sweet potatoes, cucumber and other vegetables.

All islands on the atoll are inhabited and there are quite a few islands, some fairly big. Solomon estimates that Ninigo is home for about 800 people.

Up until a few years ago the atoll was regularly visited by live-aboard dive boats. This brought in money for the community, because every diver paid a fee, while the environmental impact on Ninigo was minimal. But the disappearance of the big fish and especially the sharks has stopped the dive boat visits. A potentially long term source of income has been stopped by the short term profits of the shark fin trade.

We snorkel twice at the other side of Longan, on the outer reef and see a lot of coral and numerous small fish, but the larger fish are all absent.

Outboards do not rule supreme on Ninigo. Most people use traditional sailing canoes for travels between the islets. Both men and women are very able sailors and the square rigged craft reach surprisingly high speeds in the light breezes. The bigger canoes even carry two masts. Ninigo is known throughout PNG for their canoe building. They use tree trunks washed ashore on their reefs.

On Monday 7 March, after a week on Ninigo, we say goodbye to the friendly and hospitable people of Longan, start the engine and sail the 50 nautical miles to Hermit atoll with Luf island in the middle.