Ambae Island

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False color (elevation)
and computed shadow
map of Ambae
Ambae island 3D pic.jpg
Location within Vanuatu
Location within Vanuatu
Coordinates: 15°24′0″S 167°50′0″E / 15.40000°S 167.83333°E / -15.40000; 167.83333Coordinates: 15°24′0″S 167°50′0″E / 15.40000°S 167.83333°E / -15.40000; 167.83333
Country  Vanuatu
Province Penama Province
 • Total 398 km2 (154 sq mi)
Highest elevation 1,496 m (4,908 ft)
Population (2009)
 • Total 10,407
 • Density 26/km2 (68/sq mi)
Time zone VUT (UTC+11)
Highest point
Elevation 1,496 m (4,908 ft)
Prominence 1,496 m (4,908 ft)
Location Vanuatu
Topo map 154 square miles
Mountain type Shield volcano
Last eruption June to July 2011[1]

Ambae Island, also known as Aoba or Leper's Island, is an island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, located near 15°30′S 167°30′E / 15.500°S 167.500°E / -15.500; 167.500, approximately 165 miles (266 km) NNW of Vanuatu's capital city, Port Vila.


First recorded sighting by Europeans was by the Spanish expedition of Pedro Fernández de Quirós in the spring of 1606.[2]

The misty sight of Ambae from neighbouring Espiritu Santo, which served as a major World War II airbase, inspired the mythical Bali Ha'i in James Michener's Tales of the South Pacific.


Rough, black basalt stones compose its shoreline and surface in many places, though the soils (where present) are rich. The island appears to be covered in nearly unbroken vegetation; inhabited areas feature large gardens and managed forests above, with coconut and cacao plantations usually closer to shore. There are no reliable sources of surface water (rivers, streams, or lakes), save the crater lakes which are inaccessible. Water for all human uses comes from cement-lined wells or water tanks filled with rainwater.


Ambae is the emergent portion of Vanuatu's largest (most voluminous) volcano, Manaro Voui,[3] which rises 1,496 meters above sea level, or about 3,900 meters above sea floor.[4] A steam and ash eruption began on November 27, 2005, leading to a Level 2 volcano alert and preparations for evacuations. On December 8, the eruption became stronger, displacing around half of the island's roughly 10,000 inhabitants and requiring the evacuation of two hospitals.

On September 28, 2017, after a week of increasing volcanic activity to Level 4 (Level 5 being a major eruption), the government of Vanuatu ordered complete evacuation of the island of Ambae, home to about 11,000 residents.[5]


The population is Melanesian, though (anecdotally) ancient Polynesian admixtures have given Man-Ambae lighter complexions and Polynesian languages. Religiously Ambae is exclusively Christian, split into many denominations. These can be characterized in three stages: the original colonial-missionary churches (Anglican, Catholic), the second-stage, often American-origin evangelical denominations (Apostolic, Church of Christ, Assemblies of God), and the newer, less orthodox, fusion/'unity' sects. This last category includes many grass-roots groups originating within Vanuatu. Missionary activity from outside (as in all Vanuatu) continues, especially from Mormons, who have a growing following on West & North Ambae.


Ambae has a population of less than 11,000,[6] divided into 3-4 discernible language groups (North/East Ambae language centered on the Lombaha area, West Ambae language centered on Nduindui, and South Ambae language centered on Redcliffe). The island has no considerable towns, though the Penama provincial center is located at Saratamata on East Ambae.

Economy and agriculture[edit]

Ambae children with pet Lorikeet

The local economy is largely non-monetary, with cash crop income (from copra, cacao, and dried kava) being used primarily for school fees and sundry items like soap, salt, kerosene, etc. Most regular employment is in the public sector, as teachers. Remittances from employed relatives in the towns of Santo or Vila also contribute cash to the local economy.

Ambae is serviced by fewer than 100 telephone lines, mostly on the east side. It has two post offices and National Bank of Vanuatu branches, at Saratamata and Nduindui, regular interisland ship traffic, and several Vanair flights a week.[needs update] Of the small-to-medium outer islands of Vanuatu (i.e., not Efate, Santo, Tanna or Malekula), Ambae must be considered one of the more "developed."

Traditional subsistence agriculture satisfies food needs, while most villagers engage in small-scale cash crop production as well. Often grown in large upland gardens (with good rainfall and safe from roving pigs), the primary crops are taro, banana, yam, and manioc. Kumala (sweet potatoes – a good tuber thereof is called iggeremanggeggeuni[7]), vegetables, fruits and nuts help to provide an excellent diet, though protein is occasionally lacking. Without substantial reefs, seafood is less significant a protein source compared with other islands of Vanuatu and in any case is inaccessible to the large populations living at high inland elevations.


The island is served by three airstrips with services by Air Vanuatu: Walaha Airport in the southwest, Redcliffe Airport in the south and Longana Airport in the northeast.


  1. ^ "Aoba". Global Volcanism Program. Smithsonian Institution. 
  2. ^ Brand, Donald D. The Pacific Basin: A History of its Geographical Explorations New York: The American Geographical Society (New York, 1967) p.137.
  3. ^ "Manaro Voui Volcano". Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department. 27 September 2017. 
  4. ^ Cronin (2004). Participatory methods of incorporating scientific with traditional knowledge for volcanic hazard management on Ambae Island, Vanuatu. Bulletin of Volcanology. 
  5. ^ "Vanuatu orders evacuation of island with rumbling volcano". Retrieved 2 October 2017. 
  6. ^ 2009 Census Summary release final Archived 2013-12-21 at the Wayback Machine. - Government of Vanuatu
  7. ^ Codrington, Robert N. (Oxford, 1891). The Melanesians; Their Anthropology and Folklore

External links[edit]