July 24, 2010

Children's Day – Vanuatu

Vanuatu is an island nation in the South Pacific, lying between Australia and Fiji. It isn't just one island, but rather an archipelago of 83 islands and islets.

Today the people of Vanuatu celebrate Children's Day, which has two primary themes: “Stop violence against children” and “Give a child the chance to express an opinion today.” In the morning marches are held, followed by speeches, a dance, and other activities at schools.

Kids get the afternoon off from school and are expected to have fun with their families. Some children receive presents from their parents, but the organization Save the Children yearly reminds the people of Vanuatu that it doesn't matter if parents can't afford to buy their kids presents―that the day is aimed at encouraging parents and kids to spend time together.

How'd they get there?

People have settled the various islands of Vanuatu for at least 4,000 years, undoubtedly arriving by boat. However, there are a limited number of plant and animal species on the islands. This is most likely explained by the fact that the islands are quite new, geologically speaking. There are no large mammals native to the island, although people have brought the usual critters with them (such as hogs, dogs, and cattle). The most common indigenous mammals seem to be bats and rats. There's not much mystery about how they got to the islands: the bats flew, like the many bird and insect species, and the rats were probably stowaways on people's dugouts and boats.

There are some saltwater crocodiles on the island. It is tempting to think that they swam over from nearby islands, wher
e crocs are common, but these particular crocodiles are all descended from crocodiles brought over by colonists. I was amazed to see how few crocs there were: only three, possibly four! Apparently they are not breeding (all males? all females? too old?), so the crocodiles of Vanuatu will soon die out.

The Vanuatuan animals that are very common are fish and more than 4,000 species of mollusks. Some of these creatures, including cone shells (one variety is pictured here, left) and stonefish, are fatally poisonous.

Mollusks are land or water creatures that create protective “homes” of one or two shells, plus squids and octopi. Some examples are snails, clams, conchs, and oysters. Learn more about mollusks at the Conchologists of America website.

Did you know?

  • One tourist attraction is a sunken luxury liner similar to the Titanic. Instead of being sunk super deep down in cold water, however, this luxury liner rests on a shallow sea floor in clear, diveable water.
  • Vanuatu boasts a banyan tree as large as a soccer field!
  • A hotel in the capital city of Port Villa (on the island of Efate), floats guests' beds out over a lagoon. Sounds nice!

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