Recently in Polynesia/Melanesia Category

Planting Mangrove Seedlings

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Known for their massive root systems, mangrove trees are one of the planet's most important coastal species. They protect inland areas against floods and erosion and provide habitat to numerous species of fish, birds, mollusks, and other marine life. Around the world, mangroves are disappearing at a disastrous rate; since 1980, 20% of the world's mangroves have been lost. Seacology is working to fight this fatal trend: our project on Nanumea atoll in the Polynesian nation of Tuvalu establishes a two-acre mangrove reserve, with the additional planting of 1,000 mangrove seedlings along the coastline. Seacology Executive Director Duane Silverstein and other Seacology supporters recently visited Nanumea to observe the project's progress and help with the planting of the mangrove seedlings. Our latest Seacology video describes their trip and the details of our Nanumea project:

Reminder: Smart Travel Contest!

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How would you like to swim next to a 50 foot whale? With the help of Seacology and Trazzler, you can! Submit your travel writing to Trazzler's Smart Travel contest by November 15 and you might win a spot on a Seacology ecotourism adventure to swim with humpback whales in the Polynesian island of Tonga.

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The Smart Travel contest asks: Can Travel Make Us Better People? Do you think travel can make the world a better place? Is it possible to make a positive contribution to a community just by visiting?

Since islands appear in every corner of our planet, Seacology board members, supporters, and staff frequently travel to islands around the world to visit Seacology project sites and meet with communities we've helped.

Now, Seacology has teamed up with Trazzler, an online travel website that recommends personalized travel experiences to its users. Trazzler allows you to submit personal, one-of-a-kind trip descriptions, and then share and suggest them to other Trazzler users. Trazzler promotes Smart Travel--trips that are more than just a visit, but instead allow you to truly explore the world around you as an active, rather than passive, traveler. Trazzler believes that travel can be a good thing in the world--that it can make the planet a better place to live, and make us more conscientious people and global citizens.

Seacology is helping Trazzler put this idea to the test. Trazzler users can enter the Smart Travel contest and submit their own trips. Two lucky winners will be selected to join Seacology on an ecotourism adventure to swim with humpback whales in South Pacific island of Tonga. Tonga is one of the few locations in the world where humans can swim with humpback whales. The 10-day trip will begin in Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital and continue north to the Ha'apai island group, where travelers will have the opportunity to swim with humpback whales. In addition to up-close whale encounters, the trip will include opportunities for snorkeling and several night dives amidst Tonga's pristine coral reefs--and a visit to the Seacology project in the Ha'apai islands, where Seacology is establishing a marine reserve.

So what do you think--can travel make us better people? Join Trazzler today and share your life-changing trip experiences in the Smart Travel contest! 

Tuvalu - A Nation of Superlatives

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Want to visit the world's least populous nation?  If so, I suggest you pack your sunscreen and head to Tuvalu, whose nine Polynesian atolls are home to 12,373 inhabitants.  Formerly known as the Ellice Islands, Tuvalu achieved independence from England in 1978.  Want to visit a smaller nation?  Only Monaco and nearby Nauru can claim a more diminutive status, as Tuvalu is the world's third smallest nation.  Want to visit a lower lying nation?  Only the Maldives edges out Tuvalu, whose highest elevation is a mere 16 feet above sea level.  It is this latter fact that indirectly led to my recent visit to this very remote island nation. 

You see, Tuvalu is understandably very concerned about the rising oceans due to global warming.  In other parts of the world, this change might impact the types of crops that are grown, how much energy is used, and the introduction of new tropical diseases.  In Tuvalu, rising oceans may submerge the entire nation under water.  As Samuel Johnson said, "The prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully."  Indeed, for Tuvalu the prospect of being drowned does cause a nation to take rising sea levels very seriously.  Unfortunately for Tuvalu, the negative impacts of the rising oceans are already being experienced in terms of stronger storm surges that reach farther inland.  During my recent visit, many village elders described how this is already happening, with areas that never before experienced flooding now regularly underwater during storms.

It is well known that mangrove forests ameliorate the impact of storm surges.  As was seen in the great Southeast Asia tsunami several years ago, villages that kept their mangrove forests intact suffered less damage than those that had cut their mangrove trees down. Consequently, the Tuvalu atoll of Nanumea approached Seacology for support of a win-win project.  Nanumea has a population of 660 people and outside of government employment there are no (as in zero) paying jobs on the island.  Everyone lives off the bounty of the land and sea in a subsistence fashion.  Therefore Nanumea was seeking support for the renovation and expansion of a Woman's Centre where the local women can make traditional handicrafts for sale in the capital city of Funafuti.  In exchange, the people of Nanumea would begin a two acre lagoon based mangrove nursery and reserve, planting over 1,000 mangrove seedlings along the coastline.  Seacology's response was a resounding "YES."

Along with Seacology president Ken Murdock and 42 other guests on Zegrahm Expeditions' exploratory cruise ship the Clipper Odyssey, I recently attended the official opening of the Nanumea project.  As we came in to the lagoon on our zodiacs, we were serenaded in traditional fashion by villagers who came out to greet us on their kayaks.  After receiving flowered headdresses from the wonderful Pula Taofa, coordinator of the Tuvalu National Council of Women (TNCW), and other high ranking village representatives, we walked over to the new Women's Center.  The speeches made by Pula and her colleagues from TNCW were very moving and made it clear that the Women's Center will allow women to earn income from the manufacture of traditional handicrafts and give them not only much needed income but also a sense of independence and accomplishment. It was then time for Ken Murdock and me to cut the ribbon officially opening the new Center (see photo below).  

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Photo credit Ramona Wilson

We then traveled by zodiac rafts to the other side of the lagoon to inspect the mangrove nursery (see photo below) and plant mangrove seedlings. 

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Photo credit Ramona Wilson

 It is very much in the tradition of Seacology to get our hands dirty (in this case literally) and lend a hand to our projects. The photos below show Jerry and Don Zieglar with a mangrove seedling (left), and local women planting mangroves (right).

Don & Jerry Ziegler Nanumea.JPG Local Women2.JPGWith our work completed, it was now time to celebrate.  The village put on an incredible fest featuring pigs and chicken baked in an earth oven.  Afterwards, we were treated to a wonderful performance of singing and dancing. Ken Murdock and I made our way through the 80 villagers singing in a tight knit circle around a large drum and joined the villagers in the drum circle, which was a very moving experience. As a surprise to my fellow passengers, Seacology had arranged to be the first major customer of the Women's Handicraft Center and with our support, the village presented everyone with gifts of beautiful handmade dresses, necklaces and fans.  It was an event that none of us will ever forget.


Photo credits Giovanna Fasanelli

Saving the Muri Reef

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Seacology recently celebrated the completion of our project in Muri in the Cook Islands, where we are protecting the region's fragile coral reef and surrounding lagoon. 

Scattered across central Polynesia, the Cook Islands contain hundreds of miles of coral atolls and tropical lagoons. Inhabited by Polynesians since the 6th century, the islands were not discovered by Europeans for several more centuries, and were named after the 18th century explorer Captain James Cook. Formerly under the jurisdiction of New Zealand, the Cook Islands are now independently governed. 

The largest of the fifteen islands, Rarotonga is encircled by shallow lagoons and coral reefs. Home to numerous fish, seabirds, invertebrates, and other species, coral reefs like those on Rarotonga are marine metropolises. The corals themselves are small animals whose deposits of calcium carbonate make up the foundation of the reef ecosystem. It is on these layers of hardened coral that other species build their lives (see picture below). A rich variety of fish inhabit coral reefs, feeding off the many smaller fish, invertebrates, and plants that thrive in reefs, using the structures for habitat and protection. Some, such as the clownfish and parrotfish, are known for their vibrant colors and patterns. Numerous invertebrates, such as sea urchins and sponges, as well as seagrasses and algae, also populate reefs. With such abundant life, larger animals, including seabirds, marine turtles, dolphins, barracuda and sharks, live in or frequently visit coral reefs, depending on them for sustenance.

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Worldwide, coral reefs are among the most threatened of all ecosystems. High in biodiversity, they cover less than 1% of the world's oceans but contain about 25% of all identified marine species. Corals are highly susceptible to many environmental hazards, such as pollution, destructive fishing practices, and the harmful effects of climate change, particularly ocean acidification. With reefs disappearing so rapidly, it is imperative that intact reefs, such as those in Muri Lagoon, receive as much protection as possible. 

Close to the reef is Muri Beach, a popular tourist destination that features beautiful beaches and lagoons as well as coral reefs (see photo, below). Muri's corals were recently threatened by preparations for the 2009 Pacific Mini Games--plans included clearing a large portion of the lagoon for boating events. With the local community adamant about conserving their lagoon and natural resources, this development was soon halted, and the village sought to establish permanent conservation restrictions for the area. 

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French Polynesia Travel

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I just returned from an interesting and exciting trip to French Polynesia. The main purpose of my voyage was to attend the official opening of Seacology's latest project on the beautiful island of Moorea. But on this trip I was wearing many hats. In addition to my role as executive director of Seacology I was also an island "expert" lecturer on a Zegrahm Expedition cruise throughout French Polynesia. Zegrahm is one of the world's leading exploratory cruise companies. What makes a cruise an exploratory cruise as opposed to the more typical drink, eat and gamble 3,000 passenger cruises? As the name implies we stopped at many remote destinations including islands that had not received tourists for many years. An exploratory cruise also features numerous snorkeling, diving, hiking, birding and cultural events. Furthermore an exploratory cruise such as the one I was on has many lectures throughout the day on the history, geography, culture, fish and birds of the many places we visited. Finally, exploratory cruises take place on smaller ships such as the Clipper Odyssey which I traveled on with a maximum capacity of 110 passengers (pictured above left).

This week kicks off the 10th Pacific Arts Festival, this year hosted by American Samoa. Twenty-seven countries are expected to participate in the festival, bringing their talents, tastes, and tales to Pago Pago in American Samoa.

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The Pacific Arts Festival began in 1972 and is held every four years in a different host country. Previous host countries have been Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, French Polynesia, Australia, Cook Islands, Samoa, New Caledonia, and Palau. The festival includes workshops as well as performances and allows each participant country to share and learn from each other. Indeed, the theme of the festival is Su'iga'ula a le Atuvasa: Threading the Oceania 'Ula'.  Ula is the Samoan equivalent of lei and according to American Samoa's Governor, Togiola T. A. Tulafono, the theme represents the "coming together of Pacific people to share their values, traditions, and spirit on the soils of Samoa."





I've been at Seacology for nine years now (I was the first paid employee, beating Executive Director Duane Silverstein by around a week). Each time a board meeting comes and passes, I'm astounded at both how time flies, as well as how we have grown as an organization. At their June 9 meeting, Seacology's board of directors approved seven new projects, bringing our total number of projects to 176. Moreover, a really cool milestone has been reached - Seacology now has projects on 100 islands in 44 countries throughout the world.

Wow.

wasini_kids.jpgFollowing are short descriptions of the projects passed by Seacology's board of directors at their June 9 meeting. You can find full descriptions on our website.

AMERICAN SAMOA, Pago Pago Village, Tutuila Island - Phase 3: Eradicate the dense stands of the destructive Falcataria moluccana tree adjacent to the National Park areas of American Samoa (NPSA). *

Left: Children on the mangrove walkway, Wasini Island, Kenya.

111-1111_IMG.jpg OfficeArt14.jpgHanging on one of our office walls is a Miao Headdress pictured to the right. The Miao people are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in China. Our executive director, Duane Silverstein, purchased this hat from a local woman (pictured above) on Hainan Island during Seacology's 2005 expedition to China. Although not a small island (with a population of millions), the residents of Hainan seemed to have very little contact with the western world, and, according to Duane, many were quite surprised to see a group of foreigners walking down the street!


As a Word-of-the-Day email subscriber, I relish the exploration of language that increases my vocabulary. I am fascinated by etymology, especially the words that derive not from another language's roots--like "panjandrum," a word for an important person or pretentious official, coined in the 18th century in a piece of nonsense writing. So when I began researching the Hawaiian kapu ("forbidden") system that prevents overfishing, I was surprised to learn that Captain James Cook had brought the Tongan and Fijian word tabu back to England, which became our word--taboo. The Austronesian language family of Southeast Asia and the Pacific reveals related words for "forbidden"--tapu in New Zealand and Tahiti and kapu in Hawai'i.

Kapu Sign.jpgGrowing up with a Hawaiian-Chinese father, I was accustomed to seeing KAPU written on his dried aku (tuna) and tako (octopus sashimi), but further investigation of the kapu/tabu system reveals an ancient method of conserving natural ocean resources. At Seacology we ask islanders to establish and manage terrestrial or marine reserves, and the tabu system reveals why this approach to conservation respects islanders' traditions. The traditional tabu system outlined fishing limits to prevent depleting marine life (in addition to restrictions on eating, a chief's rights and privileges, etc). Seacology's no-take reserves respect this ancient tradition, preventing overfishing and protecting all marine life.

Polynesians share many similar cultural traits, from language and music to family structure. One of the most sacred of Polynesian traditions, the kava ceremony, is also one of the most well-known. Tasting like a wet dish towel to my unrefined palette, kava is a relaxant which was banned in 2003 by several countries because of medical concerns. A recent push to lift that ban (Fiji Times article, September 24) and a new University of Hawai'i study (Honolulu Advertiser article by Dan Nakaso, September 22) brings kava back into the news. Despite these developments, it is the tradition of the kava ceremony that interests me most.

Kava has many names: 'ava in Samoa, 'awa in Hawai'i, yaqona in Fiji, and sakau in Micronesia. The drink is made from the ground root of the pepper plant Piper methysticum. The root, a long beige stick about 2 inches in diameter, is ground to a pulp and then massaged in a sack made from coconut fiber and mixed with water to make the juice. The drink is collected in a wooden bowl with legs and one uses a half-coconut shell to scoop the liquid.