You are here

Natural events

New island emerges in Tonga

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

A new island has emerged out of the sea between Tonga's volcanic islands of Kao in the Ha'apai Group and Late in the Vava'u Group, according to an eyewitness report.

The island is thought to have emerged after a volcanic eruption in early September that has also spewed large amounts of floating pumice into Tongan waters that has been sweeping across Fiji about 350 km to the west south west of where the new island has formed.

Siaosi Fenukitau, a captain of one of the fishing boats of the Maritime Projects Co. (Tonga) Ltd., confirmed on Saturday, November 4, that about six weeks ago they sighted a new volcanic island near Home Reef, to the South West of Vava'u. "It was bigger than Fotuha'a," he said comparing it to the small raised limestone island in Ha'apai with a population of about 134 people.

Siaosi said that they tried to make radio contact with Nuku'alofa when they sighted the new island but they could not make contact with any government offices, and since then they had forgotten all about it.

There has been no official confirmation of the new island from either Tonga's Ministry of Lands or the Tonga Defence Service, but Siaosi said that the captain of another Maritime Projects fishing boat, Feleti Tonata, who is due in port on Thursday this week, had witnessed the actual emergence of the new island.

Large pumice raft

Meanwhile, mineral scientists are trying to learn more about the eruption and the pumice raft phenomenon. Richard Wunderman the editor of the 'Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network' in Washington DC, said that, "a large pumice raft presumably from Tonga, has been sweeping across Fiji and we are trying to learn about its origins. Any photos or accounts are of great scientific value on this event"

The pumice rafts sighted near Fiji.

Some of the pumice has been offered for sale on the internet.

Naulu and Kendra from Taukei Traditions, in Savusavu, Fiji, who have been trying to sell bags of the pumice on E-Bay said that yachties started reporting the pumice rafts off Vava'u around the middle of September.

"It has become quite a problem here, fouling boat hoses and engines. Some yachts reported going through wave after wave of pumice and it was even removing paint from the bottoms and sides of the boats.

"We are still getting areas of it washing in, however, I'm not sure if it's just washing out with the high tides or if it's new pumice washing in," they said on October 28.

In the past pumice rafts from Tonga area have drifted to the Fiji area in 1979 and 1984 from submarine eruptions at Tonga's Metis Shoal and Home Reef. Some of the rafts fill zones of up to 30 km wide.

Seismic activity

Local fishermen sometimes come across signs of volcanic activity in the west of Tonga. "It is fairly common to see floating pumice in our western side after seismic activity," Bill Holden of 'Altatini Fisheries said. "Mostly the pumice is stretched out in currents so that as you are crossing currents it is as if you are crossing pumice streams. I have not been fishing for about a year now, but I have seen these streams several times to the west of our western seamounts."

"I have also experienced passing over what I would describe as 'vents'” in the ocean floor. As I have done this on a few of our boats, I can comment that on Echo sounders with 1-3KW output power as you cross over a vent the sounder shows a red column, however I have not detected any change in surface temperature. I have also crossed over a shallow area of activity in a steel boat and its rumbling was as if my hull was breaking into pieces. At night time, the sound does tend to wake everybody up as it sounds like grounding," he said.