Exactly six months ago, four traditional voyaging canoes, otherwise known as vaka, arrived at the IUCN World Parks Congress (WPC) in Sydney to deliver the Pacific call for global action on climate change and oceans. This journey was the Mua voyage and involved vaka Gaualofa (Samoa and Tonga), Marumaru Atua (Cook Islands), Haunui (Aotearoa) and Uto Ni Yalo (Fiji) travelling from their homelands to the WPC in Australia.
“Our drums are the voices of the Pacific, our sails are the flags of hope. The vaka are symbols of the Pacific communities who have lived as one with nature. We have adapted to the vast expanses of the Pacific. Harnessing the energy of the wind, the sun and the currents and, guided by nature.” – Mua Voyage Pacific Call
Twenty-one Pacific Island Countries and Territories are located within 38 million km2 (approximately 23%) of the Pacific Ocean. These Islands are home to 9.8 million people, diverse cultures, rich marine and terrestrial biodiversity, and support over 50% of the world’s whale species and 60% of the world’s tuna fisheries. The mission of the Mua voyage was to communicate the value and the global significance of the Pacific Island space in a climate-challenged planet, and to seek partnerships and commitments to sustain the Pacific islands for future generations and for the health of the planet.
In the Mamanuca Islands, Marine Environment & Education Officer, Filomena Serenia, crew member of the Uto Ni Yalo, shares her experience of the Mua voyage and the journey she has taken on the vaka and as a Pacific Islander growing up in Fiji.
A Pacific Call
“The Mua voyage sailed on a mission that is guided by nature. On the canoes we sailed from our island homes to the Congress taking the Pacific peoples message of saving ‘Our Oceans, Our People, Our Climate’ and the culture of all Pacific people and convincing our global leaders that climate change is real and it is happening right now back at home. The World Parks Congress allowed us to spread our message about the Pacific Island peoples plight of saving our oceans, providing a bigger and better platform which would make much more impact in terms of policy making.” says Filomena Serenia.
“Since 2010, the Pacific fleet of seven canoes have been sailing the Pacific Ocean with the same message as Mua. We had traditional navigators training us, the young ones, to use nature to guide us when crossing the ocean, and most importantly to appreciate what we have around us and become good stewards of the environment for the next generation.” she adds.
The Mua voyage crew were actively involved at the World Parks Congress; they engaged members of the public about the significance of the Mua voyage and met with key stakeholders including policy makers, scientists and conservation partners.
“We were very pleased with the outcomes of the Congress and I was especially pleased with the developed nations and what they promised in Sydney. It was a good experience and six months later I am still reeling from the experience. It was such an epic voyage. I’m sure we have touched so many lives, and I know that six months later people are still talking about the voyage.” Reflecting on her experience at the World Parks Congress, Filomena expresses the highlight of her time in Sydney: “Having our Pacific Island leaders get on our canoes and sail with us under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and share the message to the world of the plight of our Pacific Oceans was my fondest memory of our time in Sydney.”
“I feel we got our message across. For me it was overwhelming to see that our brothers and sisters from the Pacific who now live in Australia gave us such an enormous reception when we first arrived, and it was good to see everyone supporting our cause. I believe it is not only for Pacific Island nations but everybody’s cause because personally I think we all share only one ocean, and the World Parks Congress made a lot of impact.”
At the World Parks Congress, Pacific Island nations collectively made a ‘Pacific Promise’ to convert 3.7 million km2 of their Exclusive Economic Zones as managed marine areas.
A changing climate
The ocean is being overexploited. The effects of climate change, rising sea levels, rising temperatures, ocean acidification and more intense storms are affecting freshwater lenses, damaging crops, threatening food security and intruding into island homes.
“Our islands need all of the support. The Pacific Islands and the Mamanucas are already facing the effects of climate change and saltwater intrusion in the water table. Without freshwater, people cannot live on the island, as it cannot sustain them any longer. This will force people out of their island homes, the island home that our ancestors voyaged to discover, the only home we have ever known.”
“We are at the forefront of the effects of climate change. In Fiji we already have villages that have to be relocated. In the Mamanucas, villagers are moving to urban areas due to salt water intrusion in the water tables and also the decline of coral reefs. I go out to the Mamanuca Islands almost every week and it is sad to see that there are large patches of corals bleached, and that again is a result of global warming”.
“The ocean is our second home. We live by the ocean, we depend on it, we breathe from it, it is the biggest resource that we have. When we are travelling, and we see a pod of dolphins every other day, we still get excited. When we see whales, we will be running around the canoe screaming and it is almost like these creatures are telling us that they are supporting us in what we are doing. When we experience this kind of thing, we know that there is hope that they are still there, and they are still worth saving.”
Filomena recalls an emotional story from a crew member of the Cook Island Marumaru Atua vaka: “Lucas had a spiritual experience with dolphins. They were sailing to the congress and he was on watch early in the morning. He was sitting on the bow, and there were a pod of dolphins putting on a display in front of him. The dolphins were lit up by the phytoplankton in the water and he said he felt like he was in a dream.”
When reflecting on her journey, Filomena expresses the effect the Mua voyage had on her: “When we sailed from Fiji to Vanuatu and then to Australia, most of our crew noticed depleted fisheries in the Australian waters. There was an abundance of fish in the Fiji waters, and in Vanuatu, but when we got into Sydney waters, we caught only one small Tuna. Coming back to work, this impression was a driving force in what I do now. I grew more passionate about my work. I shared my experiences on the voyage and have encouraged people to think about the future generations and practise sustainable management on our fisheries resources.”
“One thing about the voyage is that once you get off the canoe and are back home, you miss it so much. Every time we got to land we tried to give the canoe the best care we could, because it had protected us and it had given us a home when we were crossing the ocean. We believe amongst the crew that if we take care of our canoe while on land, our canoe will take care of us while we are out at sea” she adds.
The Future of Mua
Mua voyage symbolised the voyage the four vaka embarked on to the IUCN World Parks Congress. The vaka will continue their journey spreading the same message of saving ‘Our Oceans, Our People, Our Climate’. The next voyage is Te Manava vaka, directly translated as ‘the essence, the heart and soul of the origins of vaka.’ The voyage will be starting from both Auckland and Tahiti to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The Cook Islands Voyaging Society and the Government of the Cook Islands will be hosting the Te Manava vaka festival in the first week of May 2015, celebrating their 50th anniversary of self-rule.
Six vaka have set sail for the Te Manava Vaka voyage including; Gaualofa (Samoan Voyagers), Kalauni 'O Tonga, (Tonga Voyaging Society), Marumaru Atua (Cook Islands Voyaging Society), Haunui (Te Toki Voyaging Trust), Te Matau a Māui and meeting the fleet in Rarotonga is Faafaite (Tahiti Voyaging Society) and Te Au Tonga.
The Uto Ni Yalo
The Uto Ni Yalo, on board of which Filomena sailed to Sydney last November, has sailed the equivalent of two times around the globe. It testifies to traditional voyaging abilities and is currently in Auckland, New Zealand. Filomena adds “We hope to have the Uto Ni Yalo sailing around Fiji and continue on the work we have been doing. That is trying to spread the message to our people and inspire the young generation to become stewards of the ocean. Also, to become more aware of their surroundings and what we have, to appreciate it and use it wisely for the sake of our future generations and also to revive the culture and art of sailing back at home.”
By Te Taiawatea Moko-Mead