Late last year, a new volcanic island formed in the South Pacific. Located about 40 miles (65 km) from the region's main island of Tongatapu, the island could become Tonga's latest tourist attraction. But scientists warn it could still be unstable and dangerous.
This past weekend, hotel owner Gianpiero Orbassano arrived at one of the island's three beaches. With his son, he climbed to the highest point of the island's crater, which is about 820 feet (250 meters) high. According to Tonga's lands and natural resources ministry, the newly formed island is 0.8 miles (1.3 km) long and a half mile (800 meters) wide.
ABC Science reports:
"We had a beautiful view of the volcano, which inside is now full of green emerald water, smelling of sulphur and other chemicals," Mr Orbassano told Radio Australia's Pacific Beat program. "The view was fantastic."
Mr Orbassano, an Italian national, moved to Tonga more than 20 years ago after giving up a career in photography. When he heard about the new volcanic island, he said he had to photograph it.
"This was a great location. It's not every day a new island appears in the middle of the ocean," he said. "It was absolutely amazing."
Orbassano says the island has great potential to attract tourists (which, given that he's a hotel owner, would seem to be a rather self-serving claim). The fragile soil, which is apparently still hot to the touch, makes it difficult to climb. But Orbassano says its quite doable for someone who's in good shape. Also, visitors might do well to avoid swimming in the island's many sulphuric lakes.
But as the BBC is reporting, some scientists say the island is likely highly unstable and dangerous to visitors. Geologists aren't sure if the island is done erupting.
The new island is called Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai, which loosely translated means "small pieces of rock on top of each other."
Above is the before (left) and after (right) image of the island, which erupted violently in December. (Image: CNES)