Expedition to the Solomon Islands: Giant Eels, Strangler Figs and Tasty Yams

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Published on March 17th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

(Editor’s note: Sanjayan, The Nature Conservancy’s lead scientist, is traveling in the Solomon Islands to explore the amazing diversity of life and the fast vanishing marine and terrestrial habitats on these islands. As part of this expedition, Sanjayan’s experiences will be made available to students across the United States by the interactive curricula company Promethean Planet. Sanjayan’s stories from the field, photography, video and more will be developed into innovative lesson ideas to be used in classrooms equipped with interactive whiteboards. To learn more, visit Promethean Planet.)

I wanted to mention that back on Gatoke, giant eels live in river pools (see video). The people don’t harm the eels — in fact, they believe that the eels help make the water “strong” (i.e., clean and healthy). Many of the people here are also Seventh Day Adventists and believe they should not eat fish without scales. So eels are off the menu.

They are a bit scary to touch. Like jelly. And they do nip and make you jump when your feet bump into one in the dark water. Also, they’re each four feet long — and about as thick as my forearm.

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Kolombangra (above) is not far from Tetepare — about 3 hours by fast boat, maybe 50 kilometers away. It is a huge strato volcano. It goes up to about 6,000 feet, and is covered in lush tropical forest. It is also the site of a major conservation effort in the Solomon Islands — an effort to protect the forests and work with a timber company that is certified as a sustainable harvester through a process called FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

Kolomombangra is now the largest terrestrial protected area in the Solomon Islands.  The forest is thick and fantastic. Its steep slopes were probably at one time inhabited by people, maybe hiding out from headhunters who roamed the coasts. Now, it’s basically unpopulated except for the coastline, where there are small fishing villages and small logging communities. There are also crocodiles here, and we are very careful getting in and out of the boats approaching Kolombangra.

Strangler figs are common  in the tropics — these ones on Tetepare are enormous.  They are parasitic. They grow around a live tree stealing sap from the tree using it as a ladder to climb up to the sunlight (a great commodity for tropical forest plants) and then they drop runners down to the ground. Eventually the tree is completely covered in a lattice or scaffold of the strangler fig, and the tree eventually dies — leaving just the lattice of the parasitic strangler fig.

yams-sweet-potatoes-bread-fruit-fish-pork1

Hot stone cooking is done in many island nations in the Pacific. Stones are heated in a fire until they are super hot. Then they are placed in a deep pit about two feet deep, and layered with banana leaves — upon which packets of food wrapped in banana leaves are placed.

The packets contain yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, bread fruit, pork, fish, etc.  More hot stones are piled on top.  The whole thing is covered with earth (sand) and slow cooked underground for say 5 hours. The result is delicious and tender.

(Image 1: Kolombangra. Credit: Sanjayan/TNC. Image 2: Feast of hot-stone cooked food. Credit: Sanjayan/TNC. )

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