Ambae Island

Last updated
Ambae island 3D pic.jpg
False color (elevation) and computed shadow map of Ambae Location within Vanuatu
Vanuatu - Aoba.PNG
Map of Ambae
Location Pacific Ocean
Coordinates 15°24′0″S167°50′0″E / 15.40000°S 167.83333°E / -15.40000; 167.83333 Coordinates: 15°24′0″S167°50′0″E / 15.40000°S 167.83333°E / -15.40000; 167.83333
Archipelago New Hebrides
Area398 km2 (154 sq mi)
Highest elevation1,496 m (4908 ft)
Highest pointAobahi
Province Penama
Population0 (2018)
Ethnic groups Ni-Vanuatu
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 Oba and formerly Leper's Island, is an island in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, located near 15°30′S167°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 .[ citation needed ]


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.

There are no permanent rivers on the island, but the population rarely suffers from water shortages.

The climate is both humid tropical with slight seasonal variations. The average annual temperature on the coast is 30 °C, on the caldera - 23 °C. The average annual rainfall varies from 2500 to 3500 mm of rain. The rainy season lasts from November to April.

Important Bird Area

The upper slopes of the island have been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International because they support populations of Tanna fruit doves, red-bellied fruit doves, palm lorikeets, cardinal myzomelas, Vanuatu honeyeaters, fan-tailed gerygones, Polynesian trillers, long-tailed trillers, streaked fantails, Melanesian flycatchers, buff-bellied monarchs, southern shrikebills, Vanuatu white-eyes and rusty-winged starlings. [3]


Ambae is the emergent portion of Vanuatu's largest (most voluminous) volcano, Manaro Voui, [4] which rises 1,496 meters above sea level, or about 3,900 meters above the sea floor. [5] 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 more than 3,000 of Ambae Island's inhabitants to elsewhere on the island [6] and requiring the evacuation of two hospitals.[ citation needed ]

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 a complete evacuation of the island, home to about 11,000 residents. [6] Ash from the eruption has covered the island, killing crops and polluting the air and water. In April 2018 the remaining approximately 10,000 residents were ordered to evacuate permanently. [7] [8]


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, [9] 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

Ambae children with pet Lorikeet Ambae children with pet Lorikeet.jpg
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 [10] ), 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.

Notable people

Related Research Articles

Vanuatu Island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean

Vanuatu, officially the Republic of Vanuatu, is an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is 1,750 kilometres (1,090 mi) east of northern Australia, 540 kilometres (340 mi) northeast of New Caledonia, east of New Guinea, southeast of the Solomon Islands, and west of Fiji.

Air Vanuatu National airline of Vanuatu, founded in 1981

Air Vanuatu is an airline with its head office in the Air Vanuatu House, Port Vila, Vanuatu. It is Vanuatu's national flag carrier, operating to Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and points in the South Pacific. Its main base is Bauerfield International Airport, Port Vila.

Penama Province

Penama is one of the six provinces of Vanuatu, located in the northeast of the country and consisting of three major islands:

Tafea Province

Tafea is the southernmost of the six provinces of Vanuatu.


Ambrym is a volcanic island in Malampa Province in the archipelago of Vanuatu. Volcanic activity on the island includes lava lakes in two craters near the summit.


Palu'e Island is located north of Flores Island in the Flores Sea. It is part of Lesser Sunda Islands. Palu'e island is under the administrative region of Sikka regency of East Nusa Tenggara province, Indonesia.

Tanna Island island in Tafea Province of Vanuatu

Tanna is an island in Tafea Province of Vanuatu.

Banks Islands

The Banks Islands are a group of islands in northern Vanuatu. Together with the Torres Islands to their northwest, they make up the northernmost province of Torba. The island group lies about 40 km (25 mi) north of Maewo, and includes Gaua and Vanua Lava, two of the 13 largest islands in Vanuatu. In 2009, the islands had a population of 8,533. The island group’s combined land area is 780 km².

Karkar Island

Karkar Island is an oval-shaped volcanic island located in the Bismarck Sea, about 30 kilometres off the north coast of mainland Papua New Guinea in Madang Province, from which it is separated by the Isumrud Strait. The island is about 25 km in length and 19 km in width. In the centre is an active volcano with two nested calderas.

Lifou Island

Lifou Island or Drehu in the local language is the largest, most populous and most important island of the Loyalty Islands, in the archipelago of New Caledonia, an overseas territory of France in the Pacific Ocean. With a total area of 1,207 square kilometers Lifou is located east of Australia at 20.9°S 167.2°E.

Futuna is an island in the Tafea province of Vanuatu. It is the easternmost island in the country.


Erromango is the fourth largest island in the Vanuatu archipelago. With a land area of 891.9 square kilometres (344.4 sq mi) it is the largest island in Tafea Province, the southernmost of Vanuatu's six administrative regions.

Aniwa Island Island in Tafea Province, Vanuatu

Aniwa is a small island in the southernmost province of Tafea, Vanuatu.


Gaua is the largest and second most populous of the Banks Islands in Torba Province in northern Vanuatu. It covers 342 km².

Vanua Lava

Vanua Lava is the second largest of the Banks Islands in Torba Province, Vanuatu, after slightly larger Gaua.

Mount Yasur Volcano on Tanna Island, Vanuatu

Mount Yasur is a volcano on Tanna Island, Vanuatu, 361 m (1,184 ft) high above sea level, on the coast near Sulphur Bay, northeast of the taller Mount Tukosmera, which was active in the Pleistocene. It has a largely unvegetated pyroclastic cone with a nearly circular summit crater 400 m in diameter. It is a stratovolcano, caused by the eastward-moving Indo-Australian Plate being subducted under the westward-moving Pacific Plate. It has been erupting nearly continuously for several hundred years, although it can usually be approached safely. Its eruptions, which often occur several times an hour, are classified as Strombolian or Vulcanian. A large lava plain creeps across the valley at the base.

Outline of Vanuatu Overview of and topical guide to Vanuatu

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to Vanuatu:

Manaro Voui Volcano in Vanuatu

Manaro Voui is a shield volcano whose emergent portion is known as the island of Ambae in Vanuatu. The summit is 1,496 metres (4,908 ft) above sea level and about 3,900 m (12,800 ft) above the sea floor. According to indigenous custom Chief Virenaliu Paul Vuhu, the summit's valley and lakes are considered `the "sacred place and paradise" where they believe after death, their spirits go to live happily ever after'. Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department maintains a live webcam and seismological chart.


Tongoa Island is an inhabited island in Shefa Province of Vanuatu in the Pacific Ocean.


  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. "Ambae". BirdLife Data Zone. BirdLife International. 2021. Retrieved 9 February 2021.
  4. "Manaro Voui Volcano". Vanuatu Meteorology and Geohazards Department. 27 September 2017.
  5. Cronin (2004). "Participatory methods of incorporating scientific with traditional knowledge for volcanic hazard management on Ambae Island, Vanuatu". Bulletin of Volcanology. 66 (7): 652–668. Bibcode:2004BVol...66..652C. doi:10.1007/s00445-004-0347-9. S2CID   13613641.
  6. 1 2 Nick Perry (September 28, 2017). "Vanuatu orders evacuation of island with rumbling volcano". Associated Press. Retrieved October 2, 2017.
  7. Nick Perry (May 3, 2018). "Vanuatu plans to permanently evacuate entire volcanic island". San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. Retrieved May 4, 2018.
  8. EleanorAingeRoy (April 19, 2018). "Island of no return: Vanuatu evacuates entire population of volcanic Ambae". The Guardian. Retrieved May 6, 2018.
  9. 2009 Census Summary release final Archived 2013-12-21 at the Wayback Machine - Government of Vanuatu
  10. Codrington, Robert N. (Oxford, 1891). The Melanesians; Their Anthropology and Folklore
  11. Matas, Tatavola. "Winner of the Australian High Commission 2020 International Women's Day 40th Anniversary Gender Equality Advocate Award". Australian Embassy of Vanuatu.