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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 13, 2004

Voyage raises challenge

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

MIDWAY ATOLL, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands — Hokule'a is voyaging back to the main Hawaiian Islands now, but the crew members on its historic 1,200-mile island-hop up the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands said the community created by that voyage endures.

Hokule'a sails away from Nihoa, the nearest of the Kupuna Islands, or Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, on its journey.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

What also has endured is a sense that thinking as a community is what can help save a community.

"I have a lot of questions right now. This voyage has changed me," said captain Nainoa Thompson. "It has raised the issue of our values and our vision back home."

The voyaging canoe left Hanalei Bay on Kaua'i May 23, sailing to remote, poorly charted anchorages. The vessel stopped by uninhabited islands and others populated only by maintenance and scientific teams.

Its crew members planted native plants and hauled away marine debris. They sailed by endangered sea turtles and Hawaiian monk seals, dived in waters with sharks and massive ulua, walked beaches occupied by giant nesting albatrosses and tiny fairy terns, whose appearance at sea Thompson said is an indication that land is nearby.

The Hokule'a's 12-member community, half of whom were not veteran sailors, struggled together in good sailing and in bad, and brought themselves and the canoe home safe, officially ending the expedition Wednesday.

Reflecting on the voyage, marine biologist Randy Kosaki of Waimea on the Big Island said he was impressed by the reverence with which the crew approached land, bringing ho'okupu, or gifts, from their own islands. Led by cultural specialist Keoni Kuoha, they also offered chants and prayers to the islands.

"The respect that we give this place, the ho'okupu — the main Hawaiian Islands are no less sacred, yet we rarely give them this respect," Kosaki said.

Veteran Hokule'a sailor Tava Taupu, a native of the Marquesas Islands and now a resident of Kona, said he was struck by the abundance of sea birds that have disappeared on his native islands within his lifetime because of egg collecting and the effects of invasive alien species.

Watch captain Russell Amimoto, preparing a bed of greens for sashimi, trims unusable parts of an old cabbage.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

Voyaging on the canoe reminded him that the environment can be protected if people think of it as crew members think of each other and of the canoe.

"Just like on the canoe, we need to check on each other, take care of each other. It's like the canoe is yours, it is home for you. If you take care, it take you 1,000 miles, you go far, far. If not, you break apart," Taupu said.

The spare resources on the individual islands in the northwestern chain that some call the Kupuna Islands, or elder islands, reminded some that in Hawai'i we could be much more conscious of our use of resources, said crew member Leimomi Dierks.

"Living on these islands, living on the canoe, it's a challenge at first, but it's so doable," she said. "The vision is that you malama the land and take care of the wildlife. You learn to not waste resources, learn to conserve."

On Laysan, the killing of sea birds for their feathers, the taking of their eggs, the mining of guano and the introduction of alien species such as rabbits turned a green forested island into a sand desert. Today, wildlife crews are trying to restore it. It's tough work, and it's a lesson for us, said Kanako Uchino, a coral reef researcher from Japan.

"We are showing the islands' precious wildlife and how fragile it is. Once you break the balance, it's really hard to bring it back, and it's so easy to break the balance," Uchino said.

Escort boat crewman Palani Wright calls attention to a pile of washed-up ropes and nets on Laysan that Hokule'a's crew helped cut up and haul from a beach. Bins in the background contain more marine debris. Such debris can entangle seals, turtles and sea birds.

Jan TenBruggencate • The Honolulu Advertiser

Some suggest the Kupuna Islands should be restored and left alone, but that misses the point of one of the lessons of the Hokule'a voyage, according to Kawai Hoe, one of the captains of the escort vessel Kama Hele. The key is to learn how humans can be part of the environment without threatening its survival.

"I dislike the idea that wildlife is separate from humans. We're part of the system. For myself, this is about bringing the families back together. These islands are parts of a family that had been lost to each other. Some people are saying that this voyage is a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Hopefully it's not that. Within the last 200 years, we have screwed things up. Now we have to learn to put them right," Hoe said.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society, working with many partners, dispatched the canoe under the banner "Navigating Change," a concept whose basis is that if the community doesn't plan for the kind of future it wants, it will get the kind of future it doesn't want.

As when an anchor is hauled on the canoe, if only one or two people try, the anchor doesn't come up. But if many people pull, each does less work and the anchor comes aboard.

"What we're doing with 'Navigating Change' is to get people to do a little. If everybody just did a little thing, it would make a big difference. Like using biodegradable soap, because everything ultimately goes to the ocean, and all you have to do is change brands," said sailing master Bruce Blankenfeld.

"The whole spirit of malama is that you always leave a place better than you found it."

Thompson said the success of the voyage will be measured by whether people respond to the message.

"There seems to be a sense that, yes, there are concerns for our future, but there is hope when we come together in community," he said.

Advertiser science writer Jan TenBruggencate sailed aboard Hokue'a on its 1,200-mile voyage through the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, sending back dispatches by satellite phone.