World Oceans Day on Friday, June 8 draws attention to the 70 percent of our planet covered in water and the animals and plants that call the oceans home.
The New Frontier
While it’s been relatively easy for man to explore the terrestrial side of our world, when it comes to our oceans, exploration has been more challenging. But now, technology is finally making it possible to explore the depths, breadths and diversity that up until so recently have remained undiscovered.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), only 5 percent of the oceans have been explored. This is the new frontier for adventurers and scientists, going where no man (or woman) has gone before. In March, filmmaker James Cameron completed the deepest solo dive ever attempted, cruising the bottom of the 6.8-mile-deep (11-kilometer-deep) Mariana Trench, the deepest point on earth in his “vertical torpedo” sub.
French Polynesia recently became the site of the world’s largest shark sanctuary. As sharks play an important role in Polynesian culture, this is a landmark decision to not only protect the sharks, but to protect cultural heritage as well.
Encompassing more than 4.7 million square kilometers (1.8 million square miles) of ocean, this is double the size of the six existing sanctuaries. The announcement was made at the December 6 meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting in Manila, Philippines.
While the rest of her Girl Scout troupe collected socks for the military and made dog toys to earn their Bronze Awards, a North Carolina girl looked beyond our borders to some tiny Micronesian atolls.
When 11-year old Abbey Jaine first heard about the Lapita Navigators, the people indigenous to these atolls, her heart went out to them. She watched the documentary Someplace With a Mountain, produced by Steve Goodall and said she knew she had to do something. She saw that the community of 4,000 islanders is threatened by sea level rise, which has already caused salt-water intrusion in their drinking water and increased flooding.
With her Bronze Award project still not decided, she approached the Girl Scout Council for permission to go outside her local community to accomplish her task. Permission was granted and Abbey proceeded to put together a private showing of the documentary at her church for Save the Culture Night. Her goal was to get signatures on a petition to send to President Obama and the United Nations, asking for help for the islanders.
Sea Level Rise Reality for Lapita Navigators
Because these atolls are so remote in the far western Pacific Ocean, with no electricity, no cell phones and of course, no internet, the islanders didn’t know about sea level rise until Steve made landfall there in 2008 on his sailboat. They knew there were problems as the wells were experiencing salt-water intrusion, the crops were not flourishing and the seawater was encroaching. When they understood the dire circumstances facing them, they asked Steve to ask the rest of the world for help on their behalf. The result was the documentary that so inspired Abbey.
Abbey’s Save the Culture Night brought in 300 signatures but not satisfied with that, Abbey and her mother Becky started an online petition with the goal of reaching 25,000 people who will lend their voices to the Lapita Navigators asking for help.
Where Can They Go?
The entire community needs to be moved to higher ground before their atolls are completely swamped by the rising seas. The island of Yap has offered space for the Navigators, where they can continue to live the traditional lifestyle they currently enjoy. The Yap people recognize the importance of helping their brethren and actively support and nurture the traditions of the Lapita Navigators. The Navigators are acknowledged as the original South Pacific explorers who adventured and discovered new islands, navigating their sophisticated dugout canoes by sun, moon and stars, tides and currents and winds. There are numerous Lapita Navigator descendants in villages throughout the Pacific.
For Abbey, having completed her work for the Girl Scout Bronze Award, the real work is just starting. But already her efforts are being recognized. Her petition is on the Someplace With a Mountain website, the Facebook page is gathering followers, but perhaps the most exciting thing is the package she received in the mail from Master Lapita Navigator and Chief Rapwi; a beautiful hand woven lava lava, made from hibiscus growing on the atoll that Chief Rapwi asked her to deliver to the President, along with the 25,000 signatures they hope to gather. The belief is that a petition and plea for help coming from an 11-year old will make more of an impact than one from an adult.
The crew at Ecology Global Network hopes you will understand the plight of the Lapita Navigators, sign Abbey’s petition and share the story with everyone you know so theirs will not be a dying culture, but one that can continue and thrive on higher ground.
Some of the articles I enjoyed writing the most were the ones about “upliftment” programs. Most of these focus on the underprivileged women, either HIV/AIDS affected or infected. It was gratifying to know that the stories I did brought attention to these people. The added business helped them support their families.