Tuesday, 29 June 2010 1:40 PM

SPREP Commends Va'a Crew from Samoa

Press Release - A historical voyage across our Pacific ocean by a fleet of five traditional twin hulled vaka canoes is navigating towards a successful end.

Crew from the Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu have sailed a journey labelled as a "re-enactment of one of the world's greatest migrations across the Pacific". It has taken them from New Zealand to French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) is a proud supporter of crew from the Samoa Voyaging Society that has united with members from Vanuatu and Tonga to sail the Hine Moana captained by Marc Gondard.

The Hine Moana sailed alongside the Uto Ni Yalo from Fiji, Te Matau a Maui from New Zealand, Marumaru Atua from the Cook Islands and Faafaite from French Polynesia as part of the Pacific Voyaging Canoes Project funded by the Okeanos Foundation and Mr. Dieter Paulmann, the founder.

The full project involves the building of seven double hulled canoes for a Pacific voyage to Hawaii via French Polynesia in 2011 to raise awareness of environmental issues as well as recapture traditional voyaging skills and re-establish cultural links between Pacific islands countries.

SPREP's financial support to the Samoa Voyaging Crew to communicate environmental awareness has been assisted by the Coral Reef Initiatives Programme (CRISP). The support has enabled the Samoa crew to sail as part of the Pacific Voyaging Canoes project, as environment ambassadors sharing valuable messages in each port.

"The Pacific Ocean is home to all of us and we need to value and respect it", said Seema Deo, the Education and Social Communications Adviser of SPREP. "This is what the crew members are trying to convey during their journey."

"The vaka offers the opportunity to bridge the science with the spiritual and traditional. We wanted to use this voyage as an opportunity to build a spiritual connection to the ocean and the natural environment in general."

As environment ambassadors, the crew was tasked with sharing information on the environment during their country visits on this voyage. They also took part in carrying out a visual survey asking people to share their views on the question "what has nature done for you today?"

The findings and footage of this survey will be shared with SPREP upon completion of the voyage and will contribute to a global initiative as part of the International Year of Biodiversity and the "eyes4earth global initiative" from the non government organisation Earth Collective (www.eyes4earth.org).

As part of their preparations towards becoming environmental ambassadors members of the crew spent an orientation day at SPREP before they embarked on their journey. It was there the crew learnt about specific environment issues in the region, with a particular emphasis on the ocean and marine life, as well as the impacts of land-based activities on the health of the ocean.

"Working with the crew as environment ambassadors was not about imparting scientific facts in a formal manner but more about developing a collective spirit across the countries through interactions with the crew." explained Caroline Vieux, SPREP's Coral Reef Management Officer.

The Hine Moana arrived into Samoa from Rarotonga on the morning of Saturday 12 June, accompanied by the Uto ni Yalo and Te Matau a Maui, the other two vaka having completed their journeys in Cook Islands and French Polynesia, respectively. Several staff members of SPREP were on hand to welcome the triumphant, but tired crew. A traditional welcoming ceremony was performed for the sailors followed by a day-long feast and entertainment on the Sunday. Samoa's Head of State and Patron of the Samoa Voyaging Society was present at the Sunday event.

Crew members of the three boats visited SPREP to explore further opportunities for partnership and collaboration.
"The results from this first journey give us confidence that the vaka provide an excellent mode of communication for many different audiences," said Seema Deo.

"SPREP hopes to work closely with other partners and the different crews to build an ongoing awareness programme for the environment in the Pacific".

The last leg of the journey commenced on June 17 when the crew of the Hine Moana and Te Matau a Maui departed for Tonga. The two boats will be left in Tonga for whale watching and research while the Uto ni Yalo sails home to Fiji.

The Samoa crew will return to Samoa on 29 June after which they will again take charge of their boat, Gaualofa and begin preparations for a journey to Tokelau.