On 14 November 2017 at the 23rd UN Conference of the Parties (COP23) in Bonn, Germany, His Excellency President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of Republic of Palau, Her Excellency President Hilda Heine of Republic of Marshall Islands, His Excellency Vice President Yosiwo George of the Federated States of Micronesia, Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, and Overseas Environmental Cooperation Center, Japan co-hosted the official COP23 Side Event, “Sailing the Past into the Future: Building Upon Traditional Knowledge, Pacific Islands Take the Lead in Sustainable Sea Transportation.”
Among the many victories coming out of Fiji-led COP23, the first ever to be held by a Pacific island nation, the highlight of this particular evening came from Pacific Ocean leader President Remengesau, who continued his progressive conservation with the announcement of a regional Green Climate Fund proposal for a network of Okeanos Vaka Motus. President Remengesau invited all Pacific island nations to join together in collective pursuit of traditionally designed, sustainable sea transportation.
Okeanos Vaka Motus are traditionally designed sailing canoes built with modern materials and propelled by fossil fuel-free technologies: solar and biofuel (coconut oil).
At the Side Event, President Remengesau said of Okeanos vakas that, “we have a winning technology […] that would save millions of dollars” and would “have a very big impact on the way our resources are appropriated. It can eliminate fossil fuels that harm our waters.” Announcing the proposal to the GCF, President Remengesau said, “This is something worthwhile to present to the Green Climate Fund. Hopefully, we can work together to make sure this is implemented for island nations who can make it their mission to have clean energy in their transportation. With your blessings, we can make this happen.”
President Heine noted that “between 2012 and 2017, the international communities have pledged more than 2 billion worth of projects across the Pacific for reducing our dependency on diesel imports. To date they have almost exclusively targeted the electricity sector […] Transport, which uses more than 70% of [diesel] imports, has been ignored.” Her Excellency said “I would be remissed if I didn’t have appreciation to Okeanos and its proposal to provide training and opportunity for building more vakas to the RMI, engaging youth, in maintaining and building additional canoes. We look forward to supporting this endeavour and look forward to achievement in real time.”
Vice President George expressed that he is “impressed by the vision and mission of the Okeanos Foundation of the Sea and the use of vaka.” The Vice President shared his support for President Remengesau’s vision for the Green Climate Fund proposal. “This project provides the opportunity for us to take the best of the past with the technology of today.”
Co-hosts were joined by Pacific Ocean Commissioner Dame Meg Taylor, OECC Senior Researcher Dr. Emiko Matsuda, Okeanos Foundation for the Sea CEO and Founder Dieter Paulmann, and Fijian Voyager and Okeanos Skipper Iva Nancy Vunikura under the moderation of Director General of Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme Kosi Latu.
Pacific Ocean Commissioner Dame Meg Taylor congratulated Dieter Paulmann, the founder and CEO of the Okeanos Foundation, and expressed her support for the use of Okeanos Vakas. “What this does now is it takes us back. It’s the renewal of ancient craft for the modern age. It emphasizes our identity […] It’s what’s needed for the inter-island transport that most of the countries want, so together this submission is really important.” Dame Meg Taylor remembered Cyclone Pam, one of the worst natural disasters in Vanuatu’s history, and Okeanos’ disaster relief effort: “I’m fascinated when I see how […] islands were able to draw on the use of the vaka to immediately transport cargo to the islands when they needed this kind of assistance.”
Okeanos Foundation for the Sea CEO and Founder Dieter Paulmann expressed his gratitude to the Pacific leaders for hosting this event. Mr. Paulmann said of the Vaka Motu “we made 20,000 miles of sea trials across the Pacific over three years and we kept improving her design – so she is really the product of all the experience of all the voyagers who brought her to life. The Vaka Motu is truly the creation of the entire Pacific.” Mr. Paulmann went on to say “each boat in each island in each state is so empowering that to see the boat, the tradition coming back releases in so many people so much power and hope, you cannot imagine what that means for the societal change that we need for climate change.”
Fijian Voyager and Okeanos Skipper Iva Nancy Vunikura concluded the speaking segment of the event. Ms. Vunikura was greeted by enthusiastic applause from the audience when introduced as the first and only woman to reach 60,000 miles sailing on the open ocean on a traditional canoe. She has worked for Okeanos since 2011, as crew for Uto Ni Yalo, Okeanos Aotearoa, Okeanos Vanuatu and now Okeanos Marshall Islands. “It brings me such joy when we bring our vaka to their shores and teach the youth how to sail and talk to them about their ancestors navigating the oceans. To see the hope and wonder in their eyes is worth every nautical mile I’ve sailed.”
Click here to download an activities report of the entire event.