Propelled by the wind and waves, guided by the stars and inspired by a message of hope and conservation, three ocean-voyaging canoes have at last arrived on the Gold Coast.

Griffith University is a sponsor of the Mua Voyage project’s visit to the city, just one of the ports of call for the traditional “vakas” which left their Pacific Island homes on September 24 to begin a 6000-nautical mile journey across the ocean and down the east coast of Australia.

More than 100 dancers and drummers from the Gold Coast’s Cook Islands’ community performed a traditional ceremony at Southport this morning (October 29) as part of an official welcome organised by the City of Gold Coast and Griffith University in conjunction with local Pacific Island and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Sydney is the ultimate destination for the three 16-man crews of the Marumaru Atua(Cook Islands),Gaualofa(Samoa) andUto ni Yalo(Fiji). The vakas will sail into the famous harbour to open the International Union for Conservation of Nature Sixth World Parks Congress (IUCN) on November 12.

About 5000 delegates from 160 countries will attend the November 12-19 event.

Traditional Pacific islander ocean-voyaging canoe

One of the traditional ocean-voyaging canoes, or vakas, moored at Southport

Skipper of the Marumaru Atua,master navigator Peia Patai, says that as much as sailing the vakas is an adventure and a challenge, the motivation for the Mua Voyage project carries greater significance.

“We are raising awareness of the vulnerability and the preciousness of the Pacific Ocean environment and the communities that call it home and depend upon it,” he says.

“We have to do something to make people aware of the effects of climate change, rising oceans and shrinking resources.

“The time to do that is now. We see the effects every day and we don’t want to be blamed by our children for having had an opportunity to spread this important message and then failing to do so.

“This is about our legacy, our tradition and our future.”

Uto ni Yalo skipper Angelo Smith says the vaka crews will be on the Gold Coast until early next week and will spend that time spreading their message to the community.

“We’re coming with the voice of the Pacific Ocean,” he told the Gold Coast Bulletin.

Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Professor Brendan Mackey, says there is enormous value to be drawn from learning about the role of traditional knowledge regarding the oceans, climate change and marine life.

“It’s an astounding feat of endurance and skill for these crews to navigate across the ocean in these traditional sailing vessels. However, the message they are carrying is the profound driving force of the voyage,” says Professor Mackey.

“That message conveys the importance of managing our ocean environments with diligence and care to mitigate the undeniable impact of climate change.”