1 April Crown of Thorns Control Bulletin

Hi Olgeta, Our Saturday, March 30 foray against the advancing hordes of aliens, saw 3 scuba divers do two dives each to bag 250 COTs out off Sivir Beach ( = the Survivor Beach Women's Camp) in 15 to 20 metres of water. Late afternoon, our boat crew dumped them ashore in a remote spot, so the smell didn't affect any villagers attending their gardens along this coastline. This was a new group of Starfish moving into an area which we had previously cleaned out late last year. The corals in an area of 100m x 200 m have almost all been decimated, with white scarring of coral skeletons everywhere. It is really disheartening to see such underwater devastation. Just imagine how many we could have nabbed if we could afford to pay another 5 niVanuatu divers to join us. As you know, SWAT means *Special Weapons and Techniques*. Unfortunately our warfare can't employ underwater drones to zap out the invaders. Our weapons are a simple half-metre long steel-rod stick, a flour bag and gloves, which costs a mere 700 Vatu to kit out each diver and our weapons can be used over and over until the flour bags eventually die and we renew our arsenal with new 50 Vatu flourbags from the Bakeries. So this is hardly Hi-tech warfare. However the stick-and-bag technique developed by Big Blue Dive when this infestation was in Mele Bay, has proven to be very effective in culling the pests. The other critical element it needs is enthusiastic scuba-diving manpower, which is in short supply. We are happy to provide the other infrastructure required, like boat, fuel and transport from Vila, scuba equipment, tank fills , and substantial lunches to keep the energy levels up, as this is hard physical work for the defence forces. We can see we are making a difference, with over 5000 COTs now removed in the past 6 months. We have drawn our Maginot Line out from the Survivor Beach and are doing all we can to stop them passing through this Line to continue the onslaught past Mangaliliu Village and into Havannah Harbour and Lelepa areas. However, whilst our attention has been consumed in guarding this Line-in-the-sand, other aggregations have been steadily moving in on Paul's Rock, one of Efate's iconic snorkel and dive sites visited by many hundreds of Tourists every year. We are now getting the white scarring all around the shoreward side of Paul's Rock base. Without continuous surveillance at this outpost, it will be easily over-run by the hordes. Fortunately we visit Paul's Rock usually twice a week with snorkelling Tourists, so while they are snorkelling we can patrol the boundary on scuba and bag as many of the invading army as possible. But if we miss a week, as was the case when T. Cyclone SANDRA was putting a choppy swell along this coastline a few weeks back, then the COTs move in to the Rock in clusters, hiding in small caves or cracks in the coral by day and coming out to forage on the corals by night.. Yesterday, Sunday March 31, whilst guiding scuba divers around the Rock, a new aggregation was sighted moving up the Rock face on the Southern side. We subsequently bagged another 25 COTs , with lots more inbound. Today is April Fool's Day, Monday the 1st. Another cruise day for us, with keen snorkellers wishing to visit beautiful reefs at Hat Island and Paul's Rock. Hopefully we can nab another 50 COTs this afternoon. We really do appreciate the assistance given by other Scuba Operators in Vila in supplying their divers, who's wages they pay. If anyone has contacts with Aid Agencies or Government Departments who may be able to pay for wages of other ni-Vanuatu scuba divers currently out-of-work, sitting around doing nothing , then please point me in the right direction. Looking at 2,000 Vatu per diver for a day's work. We supply everything else, Fools that we are ..... With added manpower, we could go on the offensive and not be just defensive. COTs SWAT days are conducted every Saturday. Bus departs Vila 8am, returns 5.30pm. Experienced expat divers are also welcome. No pay, but a big lunch provided. Cheers, Peter Whitelaw, Sailaway Cruises. email: sailaway@vanuatu.com.vu www.sailawayvanuatu.com Tel: 23802; 7723802 (mob)