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The Climate Challenger Voyage: The Journey Begins

The Climate Challenger Voyage is a community initiative inspired by The Nature Conservancy‘s Manuai Matawai, who dreamed of building a traditional long voyage canoe and sailing around the Pacific to connect communities grappling with climate change through culture and conservation.

Two years later, Manuai and nine other crew members—members of the Titan tribe of Papua New Guinea—are manning the Pere outrigger canoe that they built to travel more than 10,000 kilometers. Follow their journey here on NationalGeographic.com, and on ClimateChallengerVoyage.net.

The Official Climate Challenger Voyage Launch
August 30, 2012

The people of Manus and all honorary guests gathered together yesterday at Lorengau Town’s NBC Beach to wish us well before our long and risky journey around the Pacific.

The Climate Challenger Voyage begins.
Climate Challenger and crew depart. Photo: Kat Gawlik (from video)

It started out as a fine and sunny morning with a mix of traditional and contemporary entertainment. 2 Degrees, an electronic six-piece band, played upbeat island-style reggae, the Mix Mates String Band played their acoustic guitars, and traditional dance team Green Frog, a mixture of young men and women, danced to the traditional garamut drum beat.

Green Frog Traditional dance team
Green Frog Traditional Dance Team. Photo: Noah Jiwaibae

We decorated our canoe, raised the Win Neisen flag and sailed in to the beach where everyone was waiting. There we were welcomed and heard speeches from Piwen Langarap of Manus Environment Community Conservation Network, Theresa Kas and Robyn James from The Nature Conservancy and The Governor of Manus, the Honorary Charlie Benjamin.

Manus governor
The Governor of Manus. Photo: Noah Jiwaibae

During the speeches, although the rain came, support for the crew did not waver. All of the speakers and people gathered showed their utmost support and gave their blessings to us for our voyage before Governor Charlie Benjamin officially cut the ribbon signifying the beginning of the voyage.

The honorary guests were taken for a short sail on the Climate Challenger before being returned to the beach before we set off. The wind picked up, and even blew the guest’s tent down – a good omen. We’ll be seeing all you Pacific brothers soon!

Manuai says goodbye
Captain and skipper of Climate Challenger, Manuai Matawai waves goodbye to supporters, friends and relatives at Lorengau, Manus Island. Photo: Kat Gawlik (from video)

Paddling to Kavieng
September 11, 2012

Two days ago, we reached the tip of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, so we are now in Kavieng fixing our rudder, doing minor repairs, charging batteries, checking emails and doing some sightseeing. Yesterday we made a convoy with 8 other boats from the Manus community living in Kavieng to the local market where we put on a show for local NGOs, government officials and the public. We blew our tapur (cone shell), beat the garamut and danced in our traditional attire. It was an exciting day and all the crew were buzzing. A few days before, we were not so enthusiastic….

After leaving our home villages of Pere and Baluan Islands, saying sad farewells and summoning the spirit of Sir Paliau Maloat, the late Win Neisen leader, to guide us on this voyage, we encountered a very strong wind about 50 nautical miles from Baluan Island. It was dark and we were maneuvering well, but all of a sudden, our rudder snapped off. From there, we had no choice but to use the outboard motor. For the next day and a half we battled with strong wind and rough sea, sailing when we could. Tingwon Island was ahead of us, but by that time, we had exhausted all fuel and water reserves. We had to change our plans to push on through to New Hanover Island while the wind was favourable.

Just before we reached New Hanover, the wind changed direction so we got the paddles out and paddled in the dark, putting the sails up whenever the winds turned.

Once we reached the western side of New Hanover, we searched for petrol and water. We were first greeted by a man called Manase in his small outrigger canoe– a godsend to us– who saw us coming and guided us back to his village, Namaseleng, where we were warmly greeted with Buai from a community that had never seen a canoe as large as the Climate Challenger before. After restocking our water and fuel supplies, we set sail arriving at Kavieng on Sunday afternoon.

Once everything is in order (including a new rudder) we are expecting to depart Kavieng for Lihir Islands, New Ireland, tomorrow.

Climate Challenger at Lihir Island
September 18, 2012

After Kavieng, we set sail for Lihir Island, a small island with a large gold mine operated by the Australian based mining company Newcrest, which at this time are also prospecting for gold on our own island of Manus.

Enroute to Lihir
On our way to Lihir Island, New Ireland Province.
Satellite phone
Modern meets traditional: Manuai testing the satellite communications gear.

We arrived at Lihir Island late last Thursday night, and were greeted with dinner made by the Manus community.

During our stay on Lihir Island, we shared our experience of climate change adaptation in Manus and performed our traditional garamut dancing at Lihir International School to coincide with 37th Papua New Guinea Independence celebration.

Traditional dress
The crew in traditional dress.

On a less positive note, when the we saw the scale of the gold mine on Lihir Island and the impacts it is having on the people and environment, it really hit home for us. This could soon be a reality on our own island of Manus where Newcrest is currently prospecting and proposing to open another large gold mine.

When crew member Pokakes Pondraken saw the mine he commented with “It is a monster. I hope it does not happen in Manus (Worei), as it will destroy our reefs and spawning aggregation sites.”

aerial shot of mine
Photo: Panoramio by user Petadel

The tailings are dumped out at sea and as you can see from this picture, there is a lot of sedimentation and runoff, which invariably affects the coral and marine life. It is a disaster for the environment. We also noticed a lot of steam and gases rising out of the mine which is attributed to the geothermal activity of the volcanic island, and most probably contributes to climate change too.