Crown of Thorn clean up campaign West Efate, Sunday 18th November

Sunday 11 November 2012:   COTs Frontal Line report # 1 :

A team of 5 scuba divers, comprising staff from Hideaway Dive, Nautilus Dive, Sailaway Dive and a French climate-change volunteer,  used a manta board to spot white scars  whilst the main boat (*Golden Wing*) was moving past the 2  x Survivor TV beaches, midway between Mangaliliu Village and Tukutuku Point.
There appeared to be an aggregation of COTs in a band between 8 and 15 metres depth, about 50 m to 100 m out from shore towards Paul's Rock seamount (which itself is about 200 m out from shore & currently free of COTs).
At GPS location:  17 deg 39.93 minutes South;  168 deg 11.1 minutes East ,    we dropped anchor, 50 m from shore.  The COTs in this area were very large (so obviously well fed and possibly older, well travelled specimens from previously wiped out coral areas from Mele Bay to Devils Point to TukuTuku Point.  Except for a few clumps, the COTs were not so numerous to be feeding side-by-side , but were separated by, say, an average of 5 metres from each other.
In a 1 hour scuba dive, the 5 divers bagged 212 COTs in 15 flour bags  and transferred them via dinghy to a remote land location .
It was noted that with 15 bags sitting on top of each other in a smallish  2.5m inflatable dinghy, sea-water from the bags and fluids from the compressed & self-punctured COTs, were building up in the bilge of the boat. Maybe 50 litres.
The fluid was a light orange colour and we are concerned that some of this fluid may be spawn released by the COTs in their stressed condition.  So, when crew bailed out the dinghy, they may have been inadvertantly releasing vast amounts of spawn back into the sea.   We need a scientist with microscope  to identify what this orange fluid consists of,  and if containing spawn, we need to be able to transfer the bilge-water into containers to also be dumped on shore.  Hard work indeed !  Or could we just pour bleach or  some benign chemical into the remaining bilge water, that would kill any spawn within ?  Leave it for a bit and then bail out the dinghy, well offshore ?  Any ideas, anybody?
Snorkellers confirmed that there were no COTs  close to inshore, fringing coral reefs near the Survivor beaches (at this stage).  That will come after the front-runners have moved through.
After lunch on board, a brief snorkel/dive with the friendly fish at Paul's Rock and a 2 hour surface interval, we moved  the main boat back in closer to shore, so now 100 m out from shore in the same general area of 15 m depth.
GPS location:  17 deg 39.93 min S;   168 deg 10.96 min E  .
5 divers then worked an area about 50m x 50 m  and removed a further 187 COTs in 14 flour bags.   So total for the day was only about 400 COTs,  with many more thousands on the way inbound towards Havannah Harbour.
Devils Point Dive also reported removing 300 COTs from the Tukutuku Caverns area, where the mopping-up COTs are coming in close to shore. 
Here,  keen snorkellers could remove many, if sufficient manpower plus a 6 m banana boat was made available..
The reality is,  that this is energetic work and local niVanuatu snorkellers would need to be enticed with monetary compensation to put in a hard days work of this nature.
If you had say 8 snorkellers and a boat driver and all the simple equipment on board, one boat like this could remove at least 500 COTs per day  in shallow waters up to 5 m depth.
They could start at Survivor Beaches and work their way back towards Tukutuku.
If one arm of Government has a little spare funding available,  let us look what costs might run to, for an efficient 2 week trial effort,  collecting on only 7 of those days:
A  charter of a 6m banana boat,  which includes wear and tear on the outboard motor = 15,000 Vatu per day x 7 days  = total   105,000 Vatu
Fuel for the banana boat from a relatively close-by Mangaliliu or Natapao Village base = approx 20 litres per day x 7 days x  170 Vt/litre   =   total 23,800 Vatu
8 snorkellers + one Boat driver , wages @ 2,000 Vt /day    =    18,000 Vatu/day.  Operate every second day for 2 weeks . This is tiring work, so need a day's rest in between collections.  Total  7 days x 18,000  =   126,000 Vatu
Cost of snorkelling gear  (mask/fins/snorkels)  at cost price, for 8  collectors  =   8,000 Vatu ea  =  64,000 Vatu.    One off charge.  Would need to use those same snorkellers for  several weeks of cleanups and they get to keep the gear  (suggestion)  and be willing to get involved in further collections into the future, if funding permitted.  Alternatively, the snorkel gear is stored in a secure place, for whichever  collectors are working on each particular day.
Before long, Mangaliliu Village will need to be collecting COTs directly off their village, if they wish to protect reefs there.  So they would be the best ones to mount this operation and secure the snorkel gear for future use.
COTs collection gear required:    Fabricate 8 hooks @ 300 Vatu each from 7mm dia galv wire   =  2,400 Vatu
Set of  long vinyl gloves avail @ Wilco @ 500 Vatu/set    x 8 man  =   4,000 Vatu
Flour bags from Bakery opp. Wilco =  50 Vatu each plus 1.5 m draw-rope to close off the top end of bag @ 80 Vatu   = 130 Vatu/bag . 
 With only  13 large COTs per bag (ave.), to achieve 500 COTs/day cleanup, we need a minimum of 38 bags to be on hand.  Cost is  38 x  130 =   5,000 Vatu.
Total  :  330,200 Vatu   for 7 days of snorkelling collections, spread over 2 weeks.
Meantime,  in parallel with this snorkelling effort, there are numbers of qualified niVanuatu scuba divers who could join this effort if they were paid 2,000 Vatu/day for their time plus transport from outlying areas like Nguna/Pele where they have had experience already in handling COTs.  There are many more COTs requiring collection by scuba divers in the deeper waters just offshore.   Depths that snorkellers couldn't duck-dive down to.
A couple of the Dive Operators are voluntarily prepared to assist with boats, fuel, lunches, transport and dive equipment, to aim for a coordinated COTs cleanup between now and Xmas, so as to reduce numbers prior to the warmer waters of the spawning season.  If there was funding available for niVanuatu scuba-diver wages, we could get the manpower required to really reduce COTs numbers migrating into this area.
Being  qualified divers, their enticement daily rate might be more like 2,500 Vatu per day  ??
That's all for now.   Next full day out on *Golden Wing* will be Sunday  18 November.   Any volunteer scuba-divers are welcome to join us collecting in the Survivor Beaches (camps) area.
Cheers,    Peter Whitelaw,
Sailaway Cruises
Tel:   23802  or 7723802 (mob)