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Observing the ocean
– from a waka!
an interview with
by Don Long
How is the Pacific Ocean
doing? Is it in good
health? The crews of
seven voyaging canoes
have been finding out.
What did they observe?
text, and multimedia
for download →
Table of contents →
For thousands of years, voyaging canoes – double-hulled ocean-
going waka – have been exploring the Pacific. In fact, people first
came to Aotearoa on voyaging canoes.
Recently, a fleet of seven voyaging canoes, Te Mana o te Moana,
spent 2 years criss-crossing the Pacific Ocean, observing its health.
Kāi Tahu and Ngāti Kahungunu researcher Teone Sciascia sailed on
one of the waka, the Haunui. Don Long spoke to Teone Sciascia
after he returned to New Zealand.
Don: What’s your relationship with the ocean?
Teone: I was brought up next to the ocean. I love what it has to
offer. I want my children to have the same opportunities that I’ve
had. And I’ve been a research diver for the Department of
Don: When did you first think that all might not be well with the
Teone: There were fewer and fewer fish. Then I heard that the
coral on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia was bleaching. On
dives, I found rubbish on the ocean floor, so I took part in cleanup
dives. I couldn’t just stand by while things got worse.
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Te Mana o te Moana
Don: Tell us about the purpose of the voyage.
Teone: We are giving Te Moananui-a-Kiwa, the Pacific Ocean, a
voice. Someone has to do this. If we don’t, who will? That’s the
Don: Did you observe any more signs of problems with the ocean
before the fleet set sail?
Teone: On training sails, we observed rubbish floating in the
ocean. Some of it looked like it had come from fishing boats.
Some of it looked like it had come from the land. None of it
should have been there.
Haunui is named after Tainui
kaumatua Hōne Haunui.
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Don: Tell us a bit about Haunui, the
waka that you sailed on.
Teone: Haunui is a double-hulled,
ocean-going voyaging canoe. It is 22
metres long and 6.5 metres wide. It has
two masts (tira) and two mainsails (rā).
Don: Which part of the voyage were you
Teone: I was a crew-member on
Haunui from Suva, in Fiji, to Honiara, in
the Solomon Islands. On the way, we
stopped at Port Vila, in Vanuatu. It took
20 days to sail that part of the voyage.
Honiara Solomon Islands
Te Moananui-a-Kiwa /
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Don: What did you observe?
Teone: When we were a long way from land, the ocean looked
pristine. As soon as we got close to land, we started to see
rubbish. When we saw plastic rubbish and bits of sawn wood
floating past us, we knew we were getting close to an island.
Don: Did the crew take samples of the rubbish?
Teone: It is hard to manoeuvre (say man-oo-ver) a waka, so it is
hard to take samples. We took photographs of what we
observed instead. The Fijian waka in the fleet found a marine
turtle tangled in plastic rubbish. The waka managed to stop, and
the crew freed the turtle. This was videoed.
Don: What do you think these observations tell us?
Teone: People don’t understand that the ocean’s health affects
us all. For example, think about the fish we eat. And we saw
dead sharks floating in the sea. Fishermen had caught them, cut
off their fins, and dumped their bodies. This is so wasteful.
Plastic can kill.
Shark fins for sale –
they are used to
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What’s the proof?
Don: Were your observations systematic?
Teone: Systematic observations are very expensive. You need satellites and research
ships crewed by scientists. We have shown that there is a problem. Something is
happening out there. Something is wrong and we are pointing this out.
Don: So, in your experience, what is the value of people sailing into remote parts of the
Pacific to see what’s going on?
Teone: When we report what we have observed, it gives Te Moananui-a-Kiwa a voice.
We give talks and describe what we have seen on websites. We show people our
photographs from the voyage. These photographs are a wake-up call. We have
discovered that things need to change within ourselves, within our communities, and
within our countries too. Hopefully, our observations will lead to further research and
some good changes.
bleaching – when coral loses all its
colour and turns white
fleet – a group of ships
kaupapa – purpose
manoeuvre – move around
pristine – clean
systematic – in a well-organised and
fair way, making sure all the parts are
treated the same
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