Voyaging for the Future: Great Barrier Reef

Voyaging for the Future: Great Barrier Reef

The Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage visits the Great Barrier Reef and crewmembers learn about the collaborative management plan for this ecological wonder of the world and the lessons it has on how they care for their own environments.

“My name is Haunani Kane, I’m from Kailua, Oʻahu. I am currently at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and I just finished the first year of my Ph.D., which focuses on island environments, learning about the coastal zone how it has changed in the past and how it may change in the future due to climate change,” said Haunani.

“Haunani Kane was actually selected to sail Hikianalia back from Tahiti to Hawaiʻi. She was on the crew. I pulled her off and said you need to go to the Great Barrier Reef,” said master navigator Nainoa Thompson.

“We’re here in beautiful Townsville. We arrived yesterday morning, and we are docked outside of Reef HQ, which is the center for education for the Great Barrier Reef. And we’re going to be working with the folks at Reef HQ and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to learn more about the work that they’re doing to conserve the Great Barrier Reef,” said Haunani.

“What we’re doing here ties in really perfectly with the mission of Hōkūleʻa: engaging people and communicating the importance of our oceans and the need for its protection,” said Fred Nucifora, the director of Reef HQ.

“It’s really great to be here for the first part of our voyage. We got to meet with the community and really see their excitement about learning about the reef as we learned about the reef at the same time. We got to learn about the specific area we’re going to visit as well as what we might anticipate seeing on the dives Reef HQ set up for us,” said Haunani.

“The Great Barrier Reef is one of those spotlights that we shine onto the importance of the ocean because it’s the biggest and oldest ecological system living on the earth. It becomes our school, so we intentionally and strategically took the mission under water,” said Nainoa.

“Ever since I was younger, I’ve wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve wanted to see all the different coral, see the fish. And to be able to do that with Ruth, who is a well known coral researcher back home, as well as with Nainoa who is somebody I’ve always looked up to as far as learning in the ocean – it was a dream come true. I got paired with my dive buddies – I was with Ruth first. It was cool to be with her just because I knew she spent so much time on the reef that her perspective is so sharp, so she was pointing out things that I think many of us probably overlooked,” said Haunani.

“I think for many of the crew, it was the first time being exposed to a reef as diverse as the one we were on,” said Dr. Ruth Gates, a researcher at the Hawaiʻi Institute for Marine Biology.

“To see these healthy reefs, it was just mind blowing. And then there’s the other side of me that sees this from a geologic standpoint. So I saw these tall reefs and I was thinking how much sand those reefs could make, how that sand could be transported to shore for beaches and off-shore islands,” said Haunani.

“The dive itself was fun, but in having fun, it created the opportunity to have a much broader and perhaps a more impactful discussion: what the reef is and why it’s important to people; what the threats to the reef are and the type of solutions that are out there in terms of protecting the reef. As we’re burning off fossil fuels, we are increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – that reflects in the increasing parts per thousand [of carbon dioxide] in the atmosphere that we’re detecting,” said Ruth.

“Spending time with Ruth was really special. And one of the amazing things about her as a researcher is she sees the importance of engaging a community and working with the community to reaching a common goal,” said Haunani.

“We’re asking the question: if we can understand why [coral] individuals are doing so well, can we harness that knowledge then breed corals that are better able to withstand future climate change?” said Ruth.

“By visiting a lot of these different islands and places, they have really helped me to see the broader impacts of my research and it has really pushed myself to see the bigger meaning and the value of the work we do. This experience in Australia and being around the Great Barrier Reef, it has impacted me personally in so many ways. We’ve done just about everything from going to the top research stations and how they’re understanding the world through that perspective, then engaging with the native communities and seeing how they view the world and how they use their understanding of the reef and its resources and to understand themselves personally.

“From this experience, what I’ve learned is, if I can impact the world in any way, I hope it’s by being part of this movement; to integrate two different mindsets, and hopefully somewhere along the line, we’ll get to a place where we no longer have to have this discussion about western knowledge or this discussion about indigenous knowledge because our children, or the future generations, they’ll get it. Eventually, we’ll get to a point where it won’t be one or the other, it’ll just be science,” said Haunani.

“Haunani becomes not just a geoscientist, she becomes a leader of tomorrow. And Haunani pulled Tahiti out of the sea last year. How many people on the planet can have that kind of resumé. She at the core has the kinds of values that in the end we to make the connection of their professionalism in their work to communities, and to environment, and to place. That’s probably the most important part of this voyage, it is the people who are going to be able to realize real dreams that we never believed could happen. And that will change the world,” said Nainoa.

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