25 Nov 2020

Pandemic affects even remote Pitcairn Island

11:56 am on 25 November 2020

Honey is helping to keep Pitcairn Islanders afloat after the global pandemic stopped cruise ship visits, a growing source of revenue for the island.

Pitcairn Islanders pack locally-sourced honey sold online, a source of revenue for the island since cruise ships stopped coming in the pandemic.

Tourism revenue is down but online sales of Pitcairn Island honey have gone up. Here it is being packed ready for export when the supply ship comes Photo: Meralda Warren

This year 21 ships were due to visit Pitcairn which was settled by Fletcher Christian, his fellow mutineers and their Polynesian wives in the late 18th century.

Their descendants, who make up most of the 42-strong population, make money selling souvenirs and other local produce when the vessels anchor offshore during tours of the Pacific.

Homestay experiences were also part of the offering to the few tourists who venture to Pitcairn, a two week boat journey from New Zealand.

Pitcairn Islander Meralda Warren said locals depended on the tourists and households were making between $NZ12,000 and $20,000 annually.

She said there had only been three cruise ship visits this year and income from tourism was now "almost non-existent."

Since March the only ship allowed to visit is the supply vessel, the Silver Supporter, based in Tauranga, New Zealand.

"We're very strict. No yachts, no ships are allowed to stop. We've had a few come by but they haven't been allowed to come ashore," Warren said.

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Pitcairn stopped cruise ship visits in March because of the pandemic. Photo: Meralda Warren

But thankfully online sales of honey had increased over the past couple of months, she said.

"So the honey is still flowing however it's terribly, terribly slow," she told RNZ Pacific, pointing out the delays in shipping out of New Zealand because of the pandemic.

Since August the island, a British territory, had also been receiving extra aid from the British government to the tune of $500 per person per month, according to Warren.

"It goes towards our store bill and paying off our medical loans," she said.

EU-funded improvements to community buildings had also helped the island this year, Warren said.

Workers were being paid $10 an hour to build a new community centre, store and post office.

Isolation of Pitcairn in a pandemic "emotional"

Pitcairn Island is one of only a handful of places world-wide which are free of Covid-19, which made Warren feel privileged but quite emotional.

"We're in isolation anyhow yet I don't feel isolated. Sometimes I feel sad knowing how many people are dying. I sometimes feel guilty I'm living a normal life here on Pitcairn, one that I've known all my life and others … out there, they're struggling.

"That makes me really, really sad that I can still drive or walk around Pitcairn and I can stop at a bush and pick off a berry or pick a banana off a tree, or taro from the valley," she said.

Souvenirs from Pitcairn Island were among  produce sold to passengers on cruise ships, which were increasingly visiting the island until the pandemic hit

Photo: Meralda Warren