10th of August 2016, Teraina Gold Rush

The Kwai has arrived safely at the coast of Washington Island with seventy six passengers and seventeen crew on board. To my knowledge, this is the first time that so many Kiribati choose to go to this island, and I found out that it all has to do with the fact that the Kiribati government has doubled the value of copra a few months ago. Instead of one dollar, the workers now get paid two Australian dollars per kilo.

Many young boys travel with our vessel to this most remote island in the Eastern group of the Republic of Kiribati. They are trying their luck of earning money by climbing trees, collecting coconuts, transporting and husking them, cutting and drying the meat, putting it in bags, and storing the bags in the warehouse. I interviewed a few of them and they are very excited. Under educated and without a lot of prospect in their islands of origin, Washington island looks like the land of hope. One of them told me with a smile that he was on his way home after spending two years in the prison on Christmas Island. Now he wants to better his life and that of his wife and two children.

This copra ‘Gold Rush’ has a huge impact on the life on Washington Island. The increase in population will add to the strain on food supplies. The increase in manpower for cutting copra means an increase in production, so there will soon be need for extra storage space in the already full warehouse. That’s when people start to fill the village houses with copra. But the biggest challenge of all: there will be need for transport to take the copra off the island.

This will be Kwai’s last visit to Washington until we return end of November. We will try to load as much copra as possible, but after we are gone there are only three ships that are able take the copra off the island, but nobody seems to know when, if ever, they will arrive.

I hope that time proves me wrong and by the time that we pay our next visit there will be a lot of people with money to spend so they can buy a new bike or some ‘luxury items’ from our floating store.