In August 2006, the crew of the yacht Maiken, sailing out of the Vava’u island group, encountered what can only be categorized as an extraordinarily rare phenomenon- the birth of an island. The crew witnessed live, the miracle of nature in which a new island was coming to life.
Appearance of pumice- a light rock that originates after lava has cooled
Five miles after setting out his yacht from the Vava’u Islands in Tonga to Fiji, Swedish yachtsman Fredrik Fransson observed that the color of the ocean was lagoon green instead of the normal deep blue. Then, as the yacht started to move forward, he witnessed brown-colored grainy particles floating on the ocean.
As they continued to move forward, the grainy particles grew in density to an extent that the crew could no longer see any water ahead as the pumice was spread for miles.
Upon closer inspection, Fransson realized the brown grainy particles were actually pumice stones- a light rock filled with gas bubbles that originates after lava with a high gas and water content erupts from a volcano and cools.
Maiken attempted to sail further into the pumice land but as the density kept increasing, it started slowing down and had to be turned back to east.
How the pumice appeared to spread for miles
Thickness of pumice
An island coming to life-
Smoke and ash were seen coming out of the volcanic island-
Next, they observed a black pillar of smoke shooting up into the air. Since there are two active volcanoes south of Late island, adjacent to Metis shoal and Home reef, Fransson’s chart displayed an underwater seamount close to Home Reef from where the smoke was originating and he realized that that pillar was nothing but a 240-foot-tall volcano that was growing from the sea floor towards its surface- they were witnessing the birth of an island.
The volcano- as per a Maiken crewmember Håkan Larsson- was one mile in diameter and with four peaks and a central crater smoking with steam and once in a while an outburst high in the sky with lava and ashes.
According to Fransson – “It was kind of a smoldering, smoky stuff. It looked like coal, and when there was an eruption, we could see the new material piling up on it”. When the crew posted their observations online, it created a storm among the Scientists, researchers and geologists alike since undersea eruptions occur at remote places or deep into the sea bed but this one was witnessed by a human being which was really surprising.
Creew member on board Maiken
Some more images of the newly-born island
After five months of this discovery when Scott Bryan- volcanologist at the London’s Kingston University reached the place, the island that was initially spread out over a tenth of a mile square had already nearly washed away. However, there was a rotten-egg smell of sulfur dioxide gas that signified that magma was still cooling inside. Bryan took some water samples near the volcano site for chemical analysis and acknowledged that a shallow seamount is probably all that remains of the fascinating island at Home Reef. (1, 2, 3)