The World Is Still Enormous

By Eric Co

The navigator cannot act on what they know, but what they think they know. The navigator must envision beyond sight, understand beyond the senses.

Amid the vastness of the ocean and the complete darkness your senses are heightened, as are your emotions. Out there you can only worry about what you can control, which isn’t much at all. Traditional navigation is an exercise bound in the metaphysical. Dozens of variables and thousands of observations need to be simultaneously and continuously recorded, collated, processed and used for real-time decision-making on a daily basis. All this, with very few reference points to confirm the torrential stream of information the navigator perceives. In other words, the navigator cannot act on what they know, but what they think they know. The navigator must envision beyond sight, understand beyond the senses. He must pursue oneness with his surroundings, his environment. 

At one time we all had this kind of relationship, this kinship, to our environment. But the technological advances that have given us so much have also taken away as well; a grand bargain we as a society don’t always realize we’ve made. We have successfully surrounded ourselves with artifices that disconnect us from our surroundings, dull our senses, and dim our emotional connections to our place. While convenient, smart phones, the internet, and globalization absolve us from acknowledging our environmental problems. Where does our food come from? Why isn’t it safe to swim in the ocean after the rain? Why is it hotter, drier? Rather than navigating our surroundings we are inured to them, expecting quick fixes, instant gratification, and the bliss that comes of ignorance.

Over the years I’d become increasingly convinced that the world “is shrinking” due to technology. But sailing in the immensity of the ocean, with no land in sight, I can assure you that it is most certainly not. Sailing a wa’a using only the natural world around us for guidance without any aid from modern technology is a powerful reminder of just how dependent we are on our environment. The world is still enormous. It is beautiful. And it is in trouble. Reefs are bleaching. Fisheries are being pushed to their limits. The air is warmer, the ocean more acidic, the storms more frequent and menacing. And sailing around the Pacific aboard Hokule’a doing our best to raise islands out of the ocean, we are even forced to acknowledge that some are sinking. The exodus off of some islands has already begun, giving birth to a frightening new term: climate refugees.

The world has not gotten any smaller, but its problems are growing. In realizing that we cannot shrink these global problems, we must rise to their scale to create global solutions. This the promise of Mālama Honua, an attempt to unite all of humanity toward devising shared solutions for common problems—not unlike sailing aboard the wa’a, our only hope is to work together, to coordinate efforts among the world’s communities on Island Earth. We must do as our navigators do. We must envision our solutions beyond what we see; we must understand how to solve our global environmental problems beyond what we know; we must be prepared to step beyond what we think is possible.


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Marisa Hayase works with the Polynesian Voyaging Society to support Hōkūleʻa’s journey around the world. While sailing 47,000 nautical miles, Hōkūle'a and her sister canoe Hikianalia work to string together a “lei” of stories--big and small--that bring people together and inspire a new pathway forward for the health of our oceans and planet. The Polynesian Voyaging Society preserves and strengthens the traditions, values and knowledge behind one of the greatest feats in human history. Thousands of years ago, Polynesians found and settled islands scattered over 10 million square miles of ocean, exploring unchartered waters and using only the stars, waves, and marine birds and animals to guide them. Hōkūle'a was built 600 years after the last of the Hawaiian sailing canoes had disappeared from sight but not memory. Hōkūle'a brought traditional Pacific exploration back to life and helped spark a revival of Hawaiian language, culture and knowledge. She is more than a voyaging canoe—she represents the hope shared by people of Hawai’i, the Pacific, and the world that we can protect our most cherished values and places from disappearance. Marisa has worked with nonprofit and government organizations nationally and internationally, conducting research in South America, Japan, México, and Europe. She graduated from Williams College with a B.A. and has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University. A resident of Kailua, Hawaiʻi, Marisa is happiest when learning new things, building community, and spending time outdoors with her husband, son, and daughter.