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A conservation worker on one of Papua New Guinea’s most far-flung islands and a teenager from the United States have struck an unlikely friendship after a recent surprise discovery.
Ranger Steven Amos was sorting through 50 kilograms of rubbish collected from beaches around the Conflict Islands last month when he stumbled on a glass bottle containing a hand-written letter, some seashells, and a few grains of rice.
It was written by Niki Nie, then a 17-year-old girl from America, who was sailing from Vanuatu to the Marshall Islands when she threw the letter overboard, unsure of where it would end up.
In the letter, Ms Nie said the bottle was thrown on January 8, 2019 as she “crossed from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere”.
The bottle floated more than 2,500 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean and landed in Mr Amos’s hands almost two years later.
“Oh, I was so excited. I was so excited. Because this is my first time coming across [something like] this,” Mr Amos said.
“And then I really wanted to find the owner of this and be a friend to her.
The team from Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative (CICI), where Mr Amos works, tried to help him get in touch with Ms Nie through an email address she included in the letter — but the email bounced.
Then last week the group posted a photo of the letter on Facebook, still hoping to find Ms Nie through social media.
A couple of days later, Ms Nie, now back in Washington DC, noticed an unexpected email pop into her inbox, sent by someone who had seen the Facebook post.
“I was actually just sitting on my couch working on homework for college,” she said.
“And I was like, this is weird. And I opened it. And it was just an image of the letter.
“I was shocked, I ran upstairs, I immediately started telling my parents.”
Ms Nie said she couldn’t believe the letter had been found.
Meeting face to face
Ms Nie and Mr Amos communicated briefly on social media, but they met face to face for the first time in a video interview facilitated by the ABC.
Ms Nie said that her family had been sailing around the South Pacific for six years, ferrying bible translators from place to place and doing maritime safety training in local communities.
“We lived aboard our 60-foot sailboat, my family, my parents, my older brother, and I and our dog, Bella,” Ms Nie said.
In 2019, the family returned to the US so she could start college.
“We definitely had some reverse culture shock coming back,” she said.
Caring for baby turtles in paradise
Keen to meet in person, Mr Amos invited Ms Nie to visit Panasesa Island, about 150 kilometres off the coast of Alotau in PNG, where he’s been working for the past four years.
The Conflict Group is a collection of 21 tiny islands, famed for their stunning beaches, bright blue waters and lush tropical vegetation.
Mr Amos said his favourite part of the job was looking after tiny turtle hatchlings.
“Just looking after the babies, the sick hatchlings in the nursery,” he said.
“We relocate the eggs during the night, take them back to the island.”
He also works on a marine clean-up and plastic monitoring program run in partnership between the Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative and Take 3 for the Sea.
“We’re collecting the plastics trying to get data to find out how many plastics or type of plastics that flow in on beaches,” he said.
Ms Nie said she would love to visit Panasesa Island and help out with conservation work when international borders open up.