Miller Sharpshooters

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Tuvulan Tides

Dear Heidi

I’m sending this note from an Internet café named the ‘Coconut Wireless’ on Funafuti atoll, Tuvalu.


Tuvalu – the location has most people reaching for the dog-eared school atlas (me included). But if the name feels familiar, it may be because this little island nation has been getting more than it’s share of press over the past few years because the 11000 Tuvaluans living on their low lying islands are likely to be the first environmental refuges of global warming and sea level rise.

Fred and I are out here for BBC Science to record the events surrounding the King Tide that occurred with the new moon on Feb 28th. On that day, the island’s Bureau of Meteorology - who’ve been collecting tide data on the island for the past 24 years - recorded their highest tide on record, peaking at 3.42 meters (the average is about 2.5m) and during this time much of Funafuti (Tuvalu’s most heavily populated island) flooded.

wftv3Tuvalu's total land mass comprises a tiny 26sq km and highest land point is only 5 metres above sea level. There are no rivers nor streams and the islands are made up of porous limestone and broken coral so most of the flooding seeps up through the interior of the island. As tide peaked, it felt a bit like the islands had sprung leaks as geysers of clear seawater began pouring out of the ground. At one point I noticed a jet of water squirting out of a manhole covering underground electricity cables. I moved closer framing up a shot, but the viewfinder began an odd pulsating. It dawned on me I was probably standing in charged water with the current seeping up through the carbon tripod legs. Needless to say I quickly abandoned that shot.

It’s been a bit a hybrid shoot. We set off with plans and directions for high production values and a schedule matching the easy pace of a Pacific island nation. However, the tide of course waits for no man, plus the high occurred right on dusk and light of course  fades very rapidly in the tropics providing a very short time window with much work being done of the cuff and on the fly.

wftv5A set of Solo Legs and Arrow 30 head have been the perfect tools for this job – light weight enabling us to move relatively easily about the island, but with the precise movement and handling for the production standards the job demanded. Not to mention rough and tumble design too. The tripod needed cope with being immersed in sea water, carried in small open boats, heat, humidity, sand and rough treatment. At the end, I simply unscrewed and disassembled the legs, rinsed them in the shower, wiped with a clean rag and they’re function is again perfect. They’re about to be put through more of the same ‘tropical treatment’ in the jungles of the Solomon Island over the next months.

wftv4Lastly, Tuvalu has an interesting contemporary spin on TV, or rather .tv.

The Island nation raises money to finance public works such as roads, schooling and power by leasing its Internet domain name .tv to a US based IT company.

Over and out for now
Wade Fairley