Espy Log: The Cook Islands

29 June 2009

It’s been a busy week for crew on Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza (the Espy). It’s currently touring the Pacific to help send a message to world leaders about climate change impacts in the region.

Aboard the ship is Emily, who’s sent us this report on what they’ve been doing.

Greetings from a finally sunny, but still very rolly, Saturday on the Esperanza. We’re heading north to the atoll of Pukapuka. We’ve finished our time in Rarotonga, and had short visit north to the island of Aitutaki.

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

After a great welcoming from locals and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, we got to speak with some climate activists in the Cook Islanders.

Teava Iroa is a local organic farmer/fisherman who’s trying to educate his community about self reliance and biological farming. As a boy, Teava’s father taught him how to fish the lagoon, where a vibrant coral garden attracted an abundance of colourful fish.

Today, Teava doesn’t even bother fishing. The coral is bleached and fish stocks are depleted, and sometimes poisonous. Instead, Teava spends his long working days setting up food security projects. He farms fish inland, grows organic vegetables, bottles noni juice, and educates his community about self-reliance and biological farming.

We also met Ulamila Kurai Wragg, a mother of four living in the Cook Islands. Ulamila is frustrated with the lack of awareness of climate change issues in her region. So much so, she has set up a media network that aims to be a platform for sharing stories of the impact of climate change across the Pacific.

Both Teava and Ulamila ask that regional and global leaders listen to these stories ahead of the December meeting in Copenhagen where a new global treaty on reducing emissions will be decided.

Departing Rarotonga

Last Tuesday was the day of our departure from Raro. The morning was spent with the local climate change team and Red Cross folks loading the Esperanza with supplies to take to Paukpuka (food, equipment, medical supplies etc). Then the campaign team, Keisha, Captain Vlad and a few of the crew were invited to a lunch with the Prime Minister at a local restaurant where we talked about the upcoming Pacific Island Forum meeting, as well as a range of local issues.

In the evening, and with some local folks on board (a total of 37 people), we headed off for the overnight transit to Aitutaki to the north. The weather was rather wet with a pretty big swell … so most people disappeared off to their bunks pretty early.

Aitutaki Island

The next morning brought slightly clearer skies as we approached Aitutaki. We arrived at the island’s small harbour by inflatable … and to another beautiful welcome. All the island elders were there to meet us with a dance group.

We were invited into a local hall for some speeches, singing and a very moving poem written and read by an 11-year-old girl about the environment – how we need to enjoy it today but look after it for tomorrow. In the tradition of Pacific hospitality, it was all followed by an enormous feast. People in the Pacific take welcoming their guests very seriously and we all feel very honored to be so embraced by the local community.

It’s also amazing to see how strong the reputation of Greenpeace is here among both the political elites as well as the ordinary people. The legacy of all the work we have done here since the first days of protests against French Nuclear testing in the 1970s onwards is alive and people remember every ship visit or campaign.

The rest of our time in Aitutaki was spent running around collecting stories from local people about their experiences of climate change on the island. We were taken out on the reef by Robert Story, the local Marine Officer, who showed us the extent of coral bleaching in the lagoon and the impacts this is having on the ecosystem. Again, the toxic algae is poisoning the fish. He had a friend who had died from eating poison fish a few years ago.

Keisha Castle Hughes was also on Aitutaki collecting stories with us.

In the late afternoon, we collected all our people from shore, said our goodbye and prepared our journey to the next destination — Pukapuka tomorrow (we’ll be there Monday, AUstralian time in Oz).

We’ll be sharing some of these testimonials with you soon, so keep an eye on our blog for some videos and photos.

The team aboard the rocking and rolling Esperanza