Great navigators of this island we call Earth

There were warm alohas all round at the weekend, when the crew of the Hōkūle‘a dropped by Moskito Island in the British Virgin Islands. The legendary voyaging canoe – a traditional Polynesian sailing boat, created from the design of the double-hulled canoes that brought the first Hawaiians to their island – is sailing around the world with the mission to connect cultures and communities and bring attention to the critical need to protect Earth’s natural resources.

Richard Branson Hokulea

Richard Branson Hokulea

Richard Branson Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Half way through its voyage, Hōkūle‘a made the special stop at Moskito; giving me an opportunity to catch up and talk about ocean conservation with master navigator, Nainoa Thompson. As members of the OceanElders, we’ve worked closely over the past four and a half years to use our collective influence to drive ocean conservation efforts, such as regulation of the high seas and the creation of marine protected areas. Critical to our progress has been awareness raising initiatives like the Hōkūle‘a journey.

Richard Branson Hokulea Nainoa Thompson

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea  Nainoa Thompson

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea, Nainoa Thompson

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea, Nainoa Thompson

The ocean is so incredibly important to Earth’s ecosystems and economies. It gives us oxygen for every second breath that we take; locks down 25 per cent of the carbon dioxide that we emit; and provides food for millions of people. It also holds 97 per cent of all the world's water resources. But while the ocean covers 80 per cent of all the living space on Earth, less than one per cent of it is fully protected. Science suggests that this must be increased to at least 30 per cent by mid-century to prevent us from experiencing an environmental catastrophe.

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

The tide, however, is turning, with regions like the Caribbean leading the charge. In 2013, nine Caribbean governments, 15 corporations and about 30 partner organisations met on Necker Island, and made a series of bold commitments to preserve and protect the region’s marine and coastal environment. Since then we’ve seen great action. The Bahamas announced a major expansion of its marine protected areas late last year, and in September 2015 Saba and Bonaire established shark sanctuaries throughout their full exclusive economic zones – following similar efforts by the British Virgin Islands and Honduras. 

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

In fact, thanks to awareness drivers like the Hōkūle‘a voyage, people and leaders from Arctic to the Antarctic, and everywhere in between, have begun to recognise the importance of the ocean as a planetary life system. Since departing Hawaiian waters in May 2014, Hōkūle‘a has sailed more than 21,000 nautical miles and made stops in 12 countries and 55 ports, weaving a "Lei of Hope" around the world, promoting sustainability and environmental consciousness, as well as exchanging ideas with the countries it has visited. So far, crew members have connected with over more than 45,000 people in communities across the South Pacific, Tasman Sea and Indian Ocean including Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia, Mauritius, South Africa and Brazil.

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

While the crew were visiting us on Moskito, Nainoa bestowed me with one of the most touching honours of my life, calling me a “great navigator of this island we call earth”. The team sung us a beautiful song and gave me a special fish hook, which Hawaiian legend says helps people "pull islands and life out of the sea” and encourages collaboration.  

During the emotional ceremony, Nainoa told us the story of former Hokule’a sailor, Eddie Aikau who lost his life trying to save his fellow crew members when the canoe capsized in 1978. Eddie’s courage, kindness and compassion are legendary in Hawaii and amongst the Hokule’a community; and my team and I were so moved by the story that we decided to dedicate the Moskito watersports building to Eddie, to help remind everyone who journeys to this island to navigate through life with deep compassion and kindness. 

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

Richard Branson, ocean conservation, Hokulea

As we waved off the Hōkūle‘a from Moskito Island, the crew pointed the canoe towards Cuba – guided only by the stars, the winds and the waves, setting sail for a better future for us all.

You can track and follow the Hōkūle‘a’s remarkable journey online.

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