Changing Planet

Hōkūleʻa: Honoring the Kermadec Islands

Hōkūle'a sailing by Rangitahua / Raoul Island. (Courtesy of the Polynesian Voyaging Society)
Hōkūle’a sailing by Rangitahua/Raoul Island. (Photo courtesy Polynesian Voyaging Society)

Last week, the Worldwide Voyage set sail from Nuku’alofa in the Kingdom of Tonga after days of community connection and shared learning. The next stop on this 47,000-mile journey will be Aotearoa, or New Zealand, which will serve as a crucial port along the way for historical, cultural, ancestral, and educational reasons. In order to navigate the course to Aotearoa using traditional wayfinding methods, the crews aboard Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia are relying on the Kermadec Islands—a special group of 15 islands that serve not only as a navigational waypoint, but a cultural and conservational one as well.

The view into Denham Bay, Raoul Island, one of the few beaches for landing on the island. (Photo by Gareth Rapley)
The view into Denham Bay, Raoul Island, one of the few beaches for landing on the island. (Photo by Gareth Rapley)
The view down Oneraki Beach, Raoul Island, looking towards Meyer Island in the distance. (Photo by Gareth Rapley)

A Waypoint for All

This particular leg of the voyage, starting from Samoa and ending in Aotearoa, is deeply significant because it follows the path of ancient Polynesian voyagers along the Kermadec Arc and Trench. With over 50 underwater volcanoes that line the way between these islands and Aotearoa, it is no wonder why the Kermadec Arc was known to be used by traditional navigators for many generations.

This path also served as a highway for sea life during seasonal migration. Even now, the course that Hōkūleʻa sails on is a migration pathway for bird and ocean species of the Pacific. Immense numbers of whales, sharks, and turtles rely on these islands as migratory stopovers each year. Additionally, up to six million seabirds breed on the islands each year. As such, the Kermadec Islands also play an important role in the Pacific for marine conservation.

The Galapagos shark is the dominant shark in the waters around the Kermadec Islands. This population is one of the healthiest in the world, because they are protected from fishing within the Kermadec Marine Reserve. (Photo by Malcolm Francis)
The Galapagos shark is the dominant shark in the waters around the Kermadec Islands. This population is one of the healthiest in the world, because they are protected from fishing within the Kermadec Marine Reserve. (Photo by Malcolm Francis)

Conservation Efforts

In order to preserve the incredible and diverse array of life in this region, an effort is currently being made to call for a fully protected marine reserve around the Kermadec Islands. Spearheaded by the Global Ocean Legacy project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and its partners, the effort has garnered support from crucial stakeholders including the Maori tribe of Ngāti Kuri, who trace their ancestry back to the Kermadec Islands.

In an official statement, the Ngāti Kuri Trust Board expressed their view that “Achieving protection of the Kermadec region is consistent with the cultural and natural values that Ngāti Kuri have traditionally associated with the island, and the vast seascape within which they lie.” If successful, this protected region would be one of the largest marine reserves in world, covering approximately 380,000 square miles (620,000 square kilometers).

The banded coral shrimp is a cleaner shrimp found in the waters around the Kermadec Islands. It uses its three pairs of claws to remove parasites from fish (Photo by Roger Grace).
The banded coral shrimp is a cleaner shrimp found in the waters around the Kermadec Islands. It uses its three pairs of claws to remove parasites from fish. (Photo by Roger Grace)
Green Lake is in the volcanic crater in the middle of Raoul Island. It is dramatically coloured by a high concentration of minerals in the water. (Photo by Gareth Rapley)
Green Lake is in the volcanic crater in the middle of Raoul Island. It is dramatically colored by a high concentration of minerals in the water. (Photo by Gareth Rapley)

Honoring Ancestry and Biodiversity

The mission of the Worldwide Voyage—”Mālama Honua”—is the idea of stewardship of the Earth. One way that we seek to do this is to highlight the amazing work of change-makers and stewards from the places that we sail to around the world. As the canoes passed Rangitahua (Raoul Island), crews took some time to reconnect to the voyaging ancestors that paved the way for us, as well as to pay respect to the incredible history, cultural depth, and biodiversity of this island region. In doing so, we all take part in celebrating the brilliance of all life in this place and the efforts taken to preserve it.

Crewmembers aboard Hikianalia take a moment to pay their respect to Rangitahua / Raoul Island (Courtesy of the Polynesian Voyaging Society)
Crewmembers aboard Hikianalia take a moment to pay their respect to Rangitahua and Raoul Island. (Photo courtesy Polynesian Voyaging Society)
Rangitahua/Raoul Island at sunset. (Courtesy of the Polynesian Voyaging Society)
Rangitahua/Raoul Island at sunset. (Photo courtesy Polynesian Voyaging Society)

More About the Kermadec Islands

Read All Worldwide Voyage Posts

Read More by Daniel Lin

A photographer and National Geographic Young Explorer, Dan has spent his career trying to better understand the nexus between people in remote regions of the Asia/Pacific and their rapidly changing environment. Dan is a regular contributor to National Geographic, the Associated Press, and the Guardian. He believes firmly in the power of visual storytelling as a vessel for advocacy and awareness, which helps to better inform policy makers. In 2016, Dan started the Pacific Storytellers Cooperative seeking to empower the next generation of storytellers from the Pacific Islands. Additionally, Dan is a crewmember for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a Fellow of The Explorers Club, and a member of the IUCN Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas. He received his Masters Degree from Harvard University

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