Located in the South Pacific, 86 km long and 15 km wide, Rennell Island is the world’s largest coral atoll rising above sea level. East Rennell reaches heights of up to 1000 m. A specialty is Lake Tegano, whose brackish water contains numerous endemic animal species. The atoll, hardly changed by human hands, is covered with dense forest.
Coral Atoll East Rennell: Facts
|Official title:||Coral atoll East Rennell|
|Natural monument:||southern part of the island of volcanic origin with coral formation on the Rennell Ridge and Lake Te-Nggano, once a lagoon, with an extension of 17.6% of the total area of the island, total area of 370 km² and heights up to 1000 m; Located in a typical tropical climate zone with precipitation of up to 4000 mm on an annual average|
|Continent:||Australia / Oceania|
|Country:||Solomon Islands, South Pacific|
|Location:||Rennell Island, south of Guadalcanal, southwest of San Cristóbal|
|Appointment:||1998; on the Red List of World Heritage in Danger since 2013|
|Meaning:||the world’s largest above sea level and least human-altered coral atoll|
|Flora and fauna:||650 flowering plants, 25% of which are not found on any of the islands further to the east, plants only occurring here such as the orchid species Dendrobium rennellii and screw tree plants such as Pandanus lacustris and P. rennellensis; 11 species of bats like the only here Rennell flying fox; 43 species of breeding birds including 4 endemic species and 9 endemic subspecies, Australian pygmy scarlet, Rennell fancatcher; Sea snake species such as Laticauda crockeri, 5 gecko, 4 skink and 3 snake species; also 27 land snail and 731 insect species|
Risen from the bottom of the ocean
According to mathgeneral, East Rennell, with its wild natural beauty, has a greater wealth of species found only here than on any other island in the Solomon Islands. Perhaps this island is also the world’s finest example of a coral atoll that rose from the bottom of the ocean. 80 percent of the area is overgrown with rainforest vegetation; the remaining fifth is taken up by a brackish lake called Te-Nggano, located at the eastern end of the island. Incidentally, this body of water is the largest inland lake in the Pacific island world.
The island’s residents are Polynesians, whose ancestors came here centuries ago after leaving Uvea – belonging to the Valais group – in large seaworthy canoes equipped with sails. For the Polynesians, such means of transport were a matter of course, and without them the South Pacific would never have been settled in the course of several waves of migration. For the first Polynesian seafarers, the rugged landscape was certainly a huge obstacle to safely land and set foot on the island: the entire coast is lined with limestone cliffs that tower over 150 meters and drop steeply into the sea. It took excellent navigation skills.
From coast to coast, the canopy of the forest envelops the island in a lush green cloak, and the only unpaved road between the east and the west is not visible because it is hidden under the sprawling treetops. If you want to reach Te-Nggano, you have to drive in a dugout canoe with an outboard motor from the end of the road at Lavanggu to the narrow beach of Tuhunggango. This excursion is definitely worth it: crystal clear, turquoise sea and wonderful coral gardens that disappear into the indigo blue of the depths of the sea, right next door towering limestone walls.
From Tuhunggango you climb a number of steps over 150 meters before you reach the brackish lake after four kilometers. The fact that you are not stepping on virgin ground becomes clear when you see the polished limestone rock, which has been ground down in some passages: innumerable feet must have found their way here over generations. Australian dwarf shags have gathered at one end of the lake, spreading their wings to dry them in the sun. A tugihono swims around in shallow water. She is looking for sea gobies, the sole food source of this extremely poisonous sea snake species that only occurs in Te-Nggano and nowhere else. A monitor lizard, half submerged in the water, lies near mauve-colored local orchids. Littered with fine yellow dots, you can barely see the one meter long body of this lizard in the patchy sunlight. In the forest that surrounds the lake, it is almost still and humid; the slightly scattered light penetrates greenish through the almost closed canopy. Small, olive-green-yellow colored birds with a wide white eye ring hop from branch to branch. It is the so-called “Rennell White Eyes” who only live here who look curiously and without fear at the strange two-legged intruder.
If you dive into the lake, you discover a dead coral reef on its bottom: The lake was originally a coral-populated lagoon, the surroundings an atoll. Due to the massive forces acting in the Earth’s mantle and the movement of tectonic plates, the land mass rose from the sea. This “unfolding,” geologists suspect, happened at least five times over a period of millions of years: East Rennell was formed.