After recovering from the Talanoa over the weekend, it was shaping up to be a very eventful final 5 days on these beautiful islands. Colin, Taholo and I had a chance to talk over the weekend and discuss the Talanoa and the wider picture of sustainability in the South Pacific, there were follow-up meetings at USP, IUCN and WWF to discuss these themes too.
I was basing myself out of the local WWF offices and my great thanks to Kesa, Sally and the team there. There was much discussion on expanding on the benefits of the sustainable shipping initiative and the boost to local livelihoods, creating regular and affordable shipping routes that will open up trade, enabling farmers to plant surplus crops and bring them to market and also to create space for innovation and other commercial activity. Protection of the environment and the ability to patrol and monitor the marine environment were also high up on the agenda – all of these issues are vital for vibrant coastal communities with protected reefs, fishing stocks and limited scope for damage through infrastructure building.
I could see the passion that the local teams have for their incredibly important work, and that emotion had also clearly evident on the last day of the Talanoa, when we were invited to share in the ceremony for transferring the captaincy of the Uto ni Yalo. The seafarers who sail the oceans in the traditional ways have a deep connection to the sea, to their boat and to their captain. Fair winds Johnathon.
We managed to arrange a meeting with the Rotuman council representatives in Fiji, we had good discussions relating to the possibilities of using Greenheart vessels on unreliable, unprofitable and defunct ferry routes within Fiji and on the Rotuma route. These routes are heavily subsidized or non-existent and we are looking at testing our ships on these routes within Fiji and elsewhere in the region in the not too distant future. The opportunity to build vessels in Fiji was also on the table, the revitalisation of the shipbuilding industry in the country would also be a major economic boost, help to revive a once proud industry and bring back skilled, well paying jobs.
I also had a chance, though only briefly, to meet up with some of the last boat builders with experience in working on Fijian-style Drua. I had shaken the hand of one of the last craftsmen to have actually worked on full-scale Drua at the Talanoa, he is 85 and had built multiple ships during his life, but then I jumped at the chance to visit the small community nestled in behind the FNU campus that still make Moce paper products by hand and also craft traditional canoes. A scale model of a Drua was a delight to see and I thank them for their warm welcome.
After numerous meetings and an interview on the USP campus Pasifik radio, I rounded off my trip with a final trip to the Oceania Arts Centre, talking with the staff there about South Pacific culture and preserving maritime traditions and protecting indigenous knowledge. The art work on display there was fantastic and as we talked the suggestion was floated that Ali and I should be interviewed for Sky TV, soon we were whisked off and a short interview later, the broadcast was scheduled to go out on the airwaves the day after I left, a feature on the 6 o’clock news beaned across the South Pacific – a fitting end to an eventful two weeks.
The next day, as I boarded the flight for the two-day return trip, I hoped my return to the islands would be aboard a Greenheart vessel rather than a plane, it may take a few more steps and another flight to secure that, but that opportunity had been brought quite a few steps closer.