Pacific Voyagers Sail from New Zealand to Raise Ocean Awareness

author: 
Dan Bacher

"Our Polynesian ancestors respected and cared for the sea," according to a statement from the Pacific Voyagers. "As we follow in their wake on our journey, we carry with us Te Mana o Te Moana, The Spirit of the Seas, as we venture forth raising awareness to help heal our ocean. Like our forefathers had done thousands of years before us, we travel using traditional Vaka Moana, voyaging canoes."

Pacific Voyagers Sail from New Zealand to Raise Ocean Awareness

by Dan Bacher

A group of Pacific Islanders called the "Pacific Voyagers" have traveled from New Zealand to California on "vaka moanas," boats of ancient Polynesian tradition, to renew their commitment to healthy ocean ecosystems for future generations.

They will be landing at Del Monte Beach in Monterey at approximately noon on Friday, August 12th and will be greeted by representatives from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, according to Sanctuary spokesperson Deirdre Whalen.

Ironically, while sanctuary officials will greet representatives of indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands on their voyage, California officials still refuse to recognize the ocean gathering rights of California's indigenous nations.

"Our Polynesian ancestors respected and cared for the sea," according to a statement from the Pacific Voyagers (http://www.pacificvoyagers.org/voyage). "As we follow in their wake on our journey, we carry with us Te Mana o Te Moana, The Spirit of the Seas, as we venture forth raising awareness to help heal our ocean. Like our forefathers had done thousands of years before us, we travel using traditional Vaka Moana, voyaging canoes."

"Our mission is simple: Use the wisdom of our ancestors, combined with modern science, to propel us into a more sustainable future, help heal our injured ocean, raise awareness, and to revive our cultural traditions of voyaging. Demographically, our crews vary. We have come together from many islands, men and women, young and older, to sail our seven vaka as one," the group explained.

Starting in Aotearoa (New Zealand) in April of 2011, they have sailed to Tahiti, The Marquesas, and throughout Hawaii where they attended the Kava Bowl Ocean Summit.

"At the Kava Bowl Summit, all voyagers, along with some of the top marine scientists in the world, came together to address the effects of climate change on our ocean, the economic costs of the ocean, and the intrinsic value we hold for our ocean. During this unique Summit, we built a bridge, linking our traditional wisdom and spirit of the sea, with current scientific findings," the Pacific Voyagers stated.

Currently, they are in North America sailing down the California Coast, starting in San Francisco and concluding this leg of their journey in San Diego.

"Along the way, we welcome people to come and explore our vaka moanas, and we want to share the insight that we’ve learned and the things we have seen," the group said. "We want to raise awareness of the current health of our Pacific Ocean and show people what they can do to help. During our journey thus far, we’ve seen pockets of floating plastic and debris, litter strewn upon our beaches, and the most heartbreaking: a Fin Whale just off the shores of San Francisco, struggling in an entangled piece of plastic rope took hold deeper."

Whalen said staff from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA’s West Coast Regional Office of Marine Sanctuaries and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will welcome the visitors to the Sanctuary upon their arrival. The Sanctuary will also present the Pacific Voyagers with a certificate of appreciate for the group’s commitment to ocean stewardship.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), designated in 1992, is a federally protected marine area offshore of California's central coast. The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) is part of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary System. Stretching from Marin to Cambria, the MBNMS encompasses a shoreline length of 276 miles and 6,094 square miles of ocean.

Known as the "Serengeti of the Sea" and supporting one of the world’s most productive and diverse marine ecosystems, it is home to a variety of marine mammals, seabirds, fishes, invertebrates and plants, according to Whalen. The MBNMS was established for the purpose of "protecting and preserving this vital area as well as ensuring its sustainable use, conducting and coordinating ongoing research, and offering educational opportunities to foster stewardship for this national treasure."

For further information on the exact time and details of the beach greeting with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, contact Deirdre Whalen at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Phone: 831-455-6556, Email: Deirdre.Whalen [at] noaa.gov.

The voyage takes place at a time of crisis for California's ocean and estuary fisheries. Governor Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird are forging ahead with the three most notorious environmental policies of the Schwarzenegger regime - the privately-funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create questionable "marine protected areas," the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build a peripheral canal, and the massive export of northern California water to corporate agribusiness and southern California water agencies that has resulted in record numbers of Sacramento splittail and other fish species perishing at the state and federal water project Delta pumping facilities this year.

While Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary representatives are welcoming the Pacific Voyagers on their journey across the ocean, California officials have to date failed to recognize the sovereign gathering rights of California Indian Tribes and have excluded the input of Tribal scientists under the controversial Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative

The California Fish and Game Commission accepted a preferred alternative Wednesday, June 29 that failed to affirm traditional tribal gathering in the North Coast Study Region of the MLPA Initiative, according to a statement from the Yurok Tribe, California's largest Indian Tribe with 5,500 members (blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2011/07/21).

According to "Option 1" that the Commission adopted, tribal members sixteen or older would have to use a state recreational fishing license in addition to a Tribal ID and be limited by state regulations.

“I cannot accept the part about the fishing license," said Yurok Tribal Chairman Thomas O’Rourke Sr. "The Fish and Game has taken an unjust and patronizing step. No one can separate these resources from our culture.”

MLPA Initiative Background

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) is a law, signed by Governor Gray Davis in 1999, designed to create a network of marine protected areas off the California Coast. However, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 created the privately-funded MLPA "Initiative" to "implement" the law, effectively eviscerating the MLPA.

The "marine protected areas" created under the MLPA Initiative fail to protect the ocean from oil spills and drilling, water pollution, military testing, wave and wind energy projects, corporate aquaculture and all other uses of the ocean other than fishing and gathering.

The MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Forces that oversaw the implementation of "marine protected areas" included a big oil lobbyist, marina developer, real estate executive and other individuals with numerous conflicts of interest. Catherine Reheis Boyd, the president of the Western States Petroleum Association who is pushing for new oil drilling off the California coast, served as the chair of the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast.

The MLPA Initiative operated through a controversial private/public "partnership funded by the shadowy Resources Legacy Fund Foundation. The Schwarzenegger administration, under intense criticism by grassroots environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal members, authorized the implementation of marine protected areas under the initiative through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the foundation and the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG).

Tribal members, fishermen, grassroots environmentalists, human rights advocates and civil liberties activists have slammed the MLPA Initiative for the violation of numerous state, federal and international laws. Critics charge that the initiative, privatized by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, has violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meetings Act, Brown Act, California Administrative Procedures Act, American Indian Religious Freedom Act and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.





Photo of vakas moanas, boats of ancient Poynesian tradition, courtesy of Pacific Voyagers website.