Press Release - Crew members of the Va'a Gaualofa from the Samoa Voyaging Society are Environment Ambassadors to celebrate the Year of Biodiversity.

While sailing on the open ocean, battering the elements of Mother Nature as part of their voyage, the crew will also be documenting their findings and working to help promote nature conservation and good environment practices.

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Programme (SPREP) and the Coral Reef Initiative for the South Pacific (CRISP) are working in partnership with the Samoa Voyaging Society to help spread regional awareness about protecting our environment.

Over the next few months, it is planned that seven of the Va'a Gaualofa crew will sail to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa and Tokelau as part of a Pacific voyaging expedition.

"We are happy with this relationship as I see the va'a and the crew as a really great opportunity to communicate the work that is being done in Marine Protected Areas with CRISP as well as to promote nature conservation during this year of biodiversity," said SPREP's Coral Reef Management Officer, Caroline Vieux.

"It's a different way of communicating and sharing the work done by CRISP and the need to protect and save our natural resources."

During the Pacific voyage the Va'a Gaualofa crew will act as observers by documenting all rubbish, oil spills or any forms of marine life that they sight upon a geographical information system. They will take images of their sightings and mark their findings on a map to explain and show their results while the va'a is docked in the different harbours throughout the region.

The crew members will also carry out a visual survey asking the question - "What has nature done for you today?" to people they meet during their regional voyage, hoping to record the survey to video camera, the results of which will be downloaded to a website.

The third activity carried out by the va'a crew is that of an interactive environment learning exhibition to be shown at each stop they make.

CRISP have produced short educational videos about Marine Protected Areas, Coral Gardens and safe Aquarium fishing practices filmed throughout the Pacific region. These short awareness films will be on show during an interactive learning exhibition at each stop that the crew makes.

As part of the interactive learning exhibition the crew will share the findings of their voyage sightings which will have been documented as well as carry out their visual survey of "What has nature done for you today?"

"We're really excited to be able to support the crew of Va'a Gau'alofa and know that they will be good Environment Ambassadors for our region. There are some great activities they are to carry out during their voyage and we are sure that both the crew and those who visit the interactive survey will learn so much more about nature conservation and hopefully think twice about what they can do themselves to protect and manage our natural surroundings."

Last week at SPREP in Apia, Samoa the crew members of the Va'a Gau'alofa underwent a one day environment orientation to help strengthen their knowledge of our Pacific environment.

Karl Steffany aged 25, is an excited member of the crew that will be sailing as part of this voyage -

"I learnt that I had to be more aware of my environment and protect it, how fragile our environment is and how you damage it without being aware of it such as the ways we dispose of our waste. I am looking forward to sharing it with other people, I will try to be the best ambassador I can to convey the message of good conservation and being environmentally friendly."

He is joined by fellow crew member; Koleni Apulu aged 20 who are hoping his role as an Environment Ambassador and va'a crew member will help him in his career.

"I look forward to sailing this month, I want to be a professional sailor. I learnt so much from SPREP about the environment that I will take with me when we sail. I now know about turtles becoming an endangered species and other different things that I want to share."

Siaosi Asofolau is another 20 year old crew member who will be leaving Samoa to visit another country for the first time. He is looking forward to voyaging through the Pacific on the Va'a.

"I learnt so much from the programme and I now know of good ways to protect the environment and learnt so many different things. I can't wait to give good environment messages to people."

Caroline Vieux who worked alongside SPREP's Education and Social Communications Adviser Ms. Seema Deo during the environment orientation, was pleased with the outcome of the training.

"I was surprised in a good way as I found the crew very interested," said Vieux.

"They learnt about Invasive species, marine species and general good environment practices and I found that the crew had a lot of questions, based upon things they found interesting as well as queries from their own personal lives and from working in plantations. I was really impressed and look forward to seeing their work as Environment Ambassadors."

CRISP and SPREP are funding 6,000 USD as part of the partnership between the Samoa Voyaging Society and the crew of Va'a Gau'alofa. It is hoped that this will be the start of a successful relationship that will flourish as the Va'a travels with Environment Ambassadors sharing awareness on nature conservation.