Pacific Voyaging Canoe Journey To Spotlight

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Environmental Issues
From Cooks To Australia, 5 countries participating

By Jemima Garrett

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, July 18, 2014) – Traditional voyaging canoes from five countries will now be part of a spectacular armada making a journey from Cook Islands to Australia.

The purpose of the epic voyage is to highlight the environmental needs of the world's oceans and the threat posed by climate change.

The four-month journey will end with a grand entrance through the Sydney Harbour heads in November to coincide with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's World Parks Congress.

The new additions for the fleet have been announced at the International Sea Transport Talanoa, which is taking place in Suva this week.

IUCN's Regional Director Oceania, Taholo Kami, told Pacific Beat that voyaging societies from Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand will be taking part.

He says the Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the Fiji Voyaging Society, the Uto Ni Yalo Trust, so four vakas will make the voyage.

"The whole idea is that in September, well in August it will have to be, the Cook Islands canoe, sails to the SIDS meeting, the Small Island Developing States meeting in Samoa," he said.

"They are expecting 3,000 to 4,000 people to come to discuss small island issues.

"They will also meet the Hokule'a, that is the Hawaiian canoe, that is doing the global journey, with this messaging on oceans and climate change."

Mr Kami says the aim is to put Pacific issues on the map and highlight the message from the Pacific.

"The message, it is climate change, and it is about oceans, and healthy oceans.

"The last one is just a special thing about Pacific peoples and the whole impact of climate change, and oceans and our people, and saying to the world, you need spaces like ours (marine and terrestrial protected areas) for every China, for every Africa, you need big healthy spaces like this in a climate challenged world."

For the voyagers, the commitment is significant.

"It will take probably half a million dollars to get those canoes sailing," Mr Kami said.

"We are fortunate that they are available to be sailed, the crews are enthusiastic, but in terms of just logistics and planning each leg of the journey it is quite a task.

"We have got a team full-time, planning all these things here in Fiji."

The epic voyage will start from the Cook Islands with one vaka and another will join in Samoa.

"Then there will be two canoes leaving Samoa. Come to Fiji, a third canoe joins, and they go to Vanuatu and then across from Vanuatu to Brisbane," Mr Kami said.

"And then, hopefully, bouncing all along the coast until they get to Sydney, then waiting just outside Sydney Harbour until the World Parks Congress begins."

The World Parks Congress is held just once every 10 years and the voyaging canoes hope to make quite an impact on the 3,000 delegates at Homebush.

"Some of the biggest commitments of Protected Areas in history have been made from here in Oceania," Mr Kami said.

"From what Australia has declared - to what Pacific Island leaders of Palau, Kiribati, Cook Islands, 50 per cent of their EEZ (exclusive economic zone), Noumea, New Caledonia, 100 per cent of the EEZ.

"So some big, big commitments have been made that we see has global benefit.

"So part of the messaging is coming out and saying in spite of the threats of climate change, some of the biggest commitments being made are coming from leaders of these very small countries.

"And just the call to the world for more action on climate change, and a call for more action towards healthy oceans."

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