This morning found National Geographic Orion a little farther south. With the change in latitude came a change in weather. Rain greeted us early in the day, and seas were a bit rougher than days past. Everyone spent time relaxing after the festivities of Christmas and enjoying great food—all day. There were some excellent staff presentations about plankton, seabirds, and the history of National Geographic. With the winds picking up, New Zealand seabirds swarmed around the ship. As we bobbed and swayed south, the sun set on another ocean adventure. What a day!
National Geographic Orion
Shortly after breakfast, National Geographic photographer Massimo Bassano presented on the stories about Melanesia that have been published by National Geographic. Afterwards, we sailed into the harbor at Utupua, which is part of the Santa Cruz Islands. The island has a population of roughly 1,000 people and is located 66 kilometers southeast of the main Santa Cruz group between Vanikoro and Nendo Islands. Three Oceanic languages are spoken on the island—Amba, Asumbuo, and Tainimbill. These three languages only have a few hundred speakers each and are highly endangered. All three are almost completely undocumented. Everyone went out on the bow while we pulled into Utupua's stunning harbor. Palm trees lined the beaches, and wooden canoes floated in the water. We took Zodiacs ashore, and people from the Nembao village welcomed us with a song and dance performance. The main dancers blew into a conch shell, and a group of people decorated with leaves and flowers ran out to jokingly attack the boat. Everyone gathered on straw mats to watch a series of local dances featuring men, women, and children from the village. Their elaborate attire was made from local materials, including banana leaves and flowers. After the dances, we explored the village and talked to locals. After lunch, we took Zodiac tours to explore the calm waters around the island and observe the mangrove ecosystems that are so critical to this part of the world.