First scanning the eroded surface for a good foot hold, I leaned into the river of water flowing against me and stood up to look around. The moon was nearly full and though mostly blocked by clouds it still lit up the night enough to see my surroundings. Just 200 ft away large ocean swell met its turbulent death against Mopelia’s outer reef then poured over into the lagoon causing the several knot current which was making it so hard to stand. Around me I counted five submerged lights each slowly scanning the reef floor. I couldn’t actually see who held them, but I knew each light was followed by two people, one with the flashlight the other with gloves and a bag.
This apparently, is how you catch lobster.
Our guide was our newly acquired friend Edgar, one of the dozen inhabitants of the island. His home is a 15′ by 15′ tin shack containing a bed, a stove and a 200 litre drum filled with a homebrew they affectionately refer to as Cosmos. Ask him what he does for a living and he’d tell you “Coconuts” but what he really means is he makes copra, the sun dried meat of the coconut. Sacs of copra can be sold to Tahiti where its used to make things like coconut oil, for $0.70 a pound or about $80 for a potato sac full. Apart from one couple who are starting a pearl farm, everyone on the island makes copra.
Mopelia is the most isolated island we’ve been to. No phones, no internet, no regular shipments. For transport and material goods they count almost entirely on other passing ships (including sailors) to bring them to/from Maupiti. During their summer, which is cyclone season, the number of passing boats dwindles leaving the inhabitants entirely disconnected from the rest of the world. Cyclones there are a real threat. Just a decade or so ago one passed over the island destroying what was then a small village. The locals have no access to weather forecasts, so an impending cyclone would take them by surprise. I asked Edgar if he was worried about one passing over again. “If it looks like a cyclone is coming, the government will pick us up in a helicopter”, he said. Apart from that they’re on their own.
Earlier on the evening of the lobster hunt Edgar met us on the beach and led us down to the end of the adjacent motu (island). Eight of us (Saltbreaker, Ardea, Ruby Soho) followed him, stopping where the coral sand ends and the rocky reef began and put on our snorkel gear. The wind was blowing strong making for a chilly south pacific night. We all slowly filtered into the water and turned on our lights revealing a surface made entirely of rock worn smooth and slippery by the never-ending current. The buoyancy from saltwater created a feeling of anti-gravity and, combined with the strong current and surreal scenery, made it feel like what I would imagine maneuvering around the surface of the moon would be like in strong lunar winds. Moving around was a mix of swimming and rock climbing.
As we scrambled around from between the coral heads florescent fish would peak their heads out of holes inspecting the strange source of light. Around one coral head the light revealed a large animal protruding from a gap in the coral. An eel perhaps? We moved in to investigate and quickly realized it was in fact the long swept back tail of a rather large lemon shark! I guess they like to sleep by stuffing their heads inside holes in the coral? We turned the other way.
Eventually we found a lobster, his eyes glowing in the light like a cat’s. He took a few backsteps and we reached out to grab him. Success! Thankfully this species of lobster has no claws. We stuffed him in our mesh bag and were about to pull the draw string closed when he managed to slip out, first crawling over Brian’s face before swimming backwards directly into my chest and then right back into my hands.
Half an hour later we regrouped on land and began telling our own recap of what happened like kids would after a go-kart race. We found we had collectively captured eight lobster, half of which were thanks to Edgar. According to him that was a pretty small catch, but being our first hunt we considered it a wild success.