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  Field Notes From
Hotspot: Islands of the Pacific

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On Assignment
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From Photographer

Tim Laman

On Assignment

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From Author

Mike Parfit

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Mark Thiessen (top) and Suzanne Chisholm


On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
Hotspot: Islands of the Pacific

Field Notes From Photographer
Tim Laman
Best Worst Quirkiest

    To photograph the rare Fiji crested iguana, I traveled to its last stronghold on the tiny island of Yaduataba. After transporting me and my assistant in a float plane and by boat, the ranger in charge of the uninhabited, waterless, iguana island dropped us off on the beach with a jerry can of water, a little food, and my camera gear. His last words as he pulled away were "Just don't eat my iguanas!" We certainly hoped we wouldn't have to. Although we had just met Ranger Pita a couple of hours before, and he seemed a fairly trustworthy fellow and we counted on him to return for us.
    But things do happen in these far away corners of the planet, and he was pretty much the only person on Earth who knew exactly where we were. The island was spectacular, and the iguanas—though hiding in the trees—turned out to be fairly easy to find, so we were soon absorbed in our work. In spare moments, we contemplated tropical island survival skills and knocked down and opened a couple of coconuts, increasing our confidence level considerably.
    Nonetheless, when Ranger Pita did show up on the appointed day we decided he deserved a big fat tip.

    It seems like a dream assignment to do a story on Pacific Islands, but it was not exactly sitting on the beach. The creatures I wanted to document for the story—including endemic and endangered birds, lizards, and frogs—were rare and elusive. I spent lots of time hiking through rain forest and searching for them. Sometimes I got lucky, but for every picture of a rare species that ended up in the magazine, there were others that—despite a lot of time and effort—I never got shots of or even saw. I spent many hours by day and night searching with local guides in a rain forest park said to be a prime habitat for the Fiji tree frog, one of only two native frogs in Fiji. We never found a single one, even on wet, damp nights ideal for frog activity. Not only was this very frustrating, it was also very worrisome.
    Frogs are declining around the world, and Fiji is no exception. Among other things, an introduced toad is wiping out the native frogs. I just hope the Fiji tree frog is not already extinct. Unfortunately I found no evidence to the contrary.

    May 15, 2002, was the longest day of my life. It started at a small bungalow on an island in Fiji. After breakfast we took a boat to Taveuni Island, transferred to the airport, and flew to Nadi on the big Fijian island of Viti Levu. With most of the day to kill before our night flight to Tahiti, we checked into a hotel to repack and take a nap. After a several-hour flight, we arrived in Tahiti at 1 a.m. But since we crossed the International Date Line, it was still May 15. We found a hotel and got some sleep.
    Back at the airport in the morning, we flew to Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands. We transferred across the island by helicopter, shooting aerials on the way. In the afternoon we lined up a boat charter for the next day and met with local officials. Then we checked into a small hotel on the incomparable bay of Taiohae. It was our sixth island and fourth hotel, but it was STILL May 15. We crossed the date line but only moved two time zones, so it was a 46-hour day. If only they could all be that long.

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