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Changing minds one trip at a time

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, February 04, 2018

WHEN I was the given the assignment to cover the Uto ni Yalo's maiden voyage to Macuata in Vanua Levu last month, I took it as just another assignment. What I didn't expect was that I would come away changed and a lot more open-minded about environmental issues affecting us.

We visited some of the most remote and pristine places in Macuata and it was always breathtaking to wake up to some of the most gorgeous sunrises and even sunsets.

But despite the beauty of the islands, it was worrying to see some of the beaches strewn with broken bottles, glasses and even plastics. Some even had batteries which were thrown carelessly by fishermen out at sea and later got washed up on shore.

While collecting debris along the coastline of Raviravi Village, the Uto ni Yalo team discovered fabric to be the most collected weighing up to 128kg followed by pieces of glass at 15kg.

The data report observed the lack of waste management or improper waste disposal techniques in some of the villages.

Most of the waste products had washed up on shore like batteries which weighed at 9.40kg and steel at 13.15kg.

Plastic bags weighed in at 14.40kg which alarmed project officers as this product suffocates marine fish and are also consumed. The tiny pieces of plastic are then consumed by us who catch these fish.

It is an issue that is not only prevalent in Fiji but around the world. According to reports, in Europe alone, people consumed unknowingly 11,000 pieces of plastic through their seafood last year.

It is a message the Uto ni Yalo hopes to advocate strongly in their visits around Fiji including their environmental stewardship.

The two-week voyage was second to none. We were led by skipper Rupeni Fabiano whose words of encouragement and practical advise proved crucial during the trip.

The 70-year-old has been sailing our waters including overseas for many decades. He knows the ins and outs of sailing and captained many vessels in his 40-year sailing career.

For the two weeks we travelled, the 17-member crew were witness to some of the friendliest welcomes from the people there.

Despite the limited resources available to them, the villagers came all out to welcome us.

While visiting Raviravi Village, core crew member Areki Dawai pointed at a plate of pie, cakes and scones and whispered at how this dish was hard to come by in the isolated village. These families gave from their heart.

At times, a fibreglass boat would pull up alongside us bearing root crops and vegetables. While invites to go ashore for a freshwater bath was always assuredly a pleasant welcome for the seven female crew members.

When we reached Yaqaga Village in Bua, we had villagers come out with the best they had during the qaloqalovi — an event that has never happened in the village in more than two decades.

The Uto ni Yalo Trust has a significant role in voicing our living treasure. Across the Pacific, the voyaging canoe is said to represent genealogy.

"Pacific Islanders trace their origins to certain canoes, for each is a sacred and living treasure that connects people to their ancestry," an article once read.

It tells the heritage of a people and a reminder of their islands. It embodies teamwork and harmony.

That is what we experienced. For a trip that included many first timers, it was a trip that was memorable.

The Uto ni Yalo Trust endeavours to educate and raise awareness over the degradation of our environment.

Even while travelling, some of the villagers were with us throughout.

Special thanks goes to Areki Dawai, Aporosa Dainiteri, Mariana Waqa, Setareki Ledua, Setareki Tawake, Temalesi Ratumaimuri, Alumita Talei, Makelesi Raciri, Lambert Ho, Kalisiana Marama, Monifa Fiu, Dwain Qalovaki, Rupeni Fabiano, Georgia Gremore, Monifa Fiu, Reverend James Bhagwan and Metui Tokece.

Thanks for opening my eyes to the work that each of you do and your conservation efforts.

"Our responsibility for the Earth is to care for our home as though the planet is on loan to us from future generations yet to be born …" — Wayfinding Leadership: Ground-breaking Wisdom for Developing Leaders by Dr Chellie Spiller, Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr and John Panoho.

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