Crew Blog | Manuel Mejia: Hikianalia’s Learning Voyages along the Golden Coast
Crew Blog by Manuel Mejia
Just like the productive ocean waters off California, our learning journey along her beautiful coastline has been deep, wondrous and amazing. Thick kelp forests, frolicking sea otters, barking sea lions, diving pelicans and feeding whales abound everywhere we looked. Add to that riot of wildlife the very warm community welcomes that Hikianalia has received at every port, and the meaningful exchanges we’ve experienced with our hosts and you have the perfect storm of inspired and profound learning.
Leg 2 of the Alahula Kai of Maleka (frequented ocean path to America) voyage started in San Francisco where we shared our dock with a raft of sea lions. It was a cold and foggy night at Hyde Street Pier and the large bulls expressed their displeasure at our late-night arrival and our noisy luggage cart rattling on their creaky wooden docks by barking all night long.
The following day, we sailed past Alcatraz Island and across San Francisco Bay and into Richards Bay in Sausalito where it was surprisingly sunny and a lot warmer. We tied up next to the community-build tall ship, Matthew Turner, and enjoyed the microclimate here and the very welcoming community that hosted us. As we said goodbye to our new friends and the Marin headlands, we blew our conch and sailed south under the Golden Gate Bridge and the fog lifted as Hikianalia re-entered the open ocean.
As if that moment was not magical enough, we saw breaching whales and seabirds feeding on schools of fish as if to signal that we were now outside the city’s realm and back in the wild ocean. We continued to sail south in cold fog and following seas with big swells but were ultimately received with heartwarming welcomes in Half Moon Bay, Monterey, Ventura County and the Channel Islands. Our learning journeys were guided by three recurring themes—Nature, People and Hope for the Future.
The rich ecosystems along Californiaʻs coast is due to its unique confluence of ocean currents, estuaries, deltas and deep sea canyons. In San Francisco Bay, we learned through the US Army Corps of Engineersʻ Bay Model that the gold rush from 1848-1855 drastically altered the landscape and the bay’s ecology by silting up its many tributaries from the mine tailings as the land was scoured by powerful water hoses in the prospectors’ search for gold.
The Bay Model was constructed as a tool to test the impact of proposed changes to the Bay and related waterways and is now an educational center highlighting the natural and cultural history of San Francisco Bay. In Monterey Bay, we learned of once-rich fisheries and how a network of marine protected areas today are helping California protect its economically important fisheries by bringing back the ocean’s abundance. Monterey Bay is bisected by a deep sea canyon whose nutrient-rich upwelling waters attract sardines and anchovies, which in turn bring in the sea lions, seabirds and lots of cetaceans (whales, orcas and dolphins).
In the past, peak whale migration and feeding seasons did not coincide with the crab fishery, but in recent years these activities now collided and resulted in a lot of reported whale entanglements in fishing gear. Through a science-based and collaborative approach, The Nature Conservancy worked with researchers and fishers to better understand this problem and find ways to reduce and prevent whale entanglements. Working together, conservationists, harvesters and managers created and implemented a new early warning system to track entanglement risk and identified a suite of actions to take when the threat of entanglement was high, including changing how fishers were setting gear and removing gear from an area. The goal is to ensure thriving fisheries and healthy whale populations.
To protect California’s fisheries and marine life, many stakeholders worked through many issues together to establish a network of marine protected areas with varying levels of protection along its northern, central and southern coastlines. Today, Monterey is a hotbed of marine conservation organizations including the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, The Nature Conservancy, NOAA, Oceana, and Seafood Watch are all doing their part in caring for our oceans. Out of necessity, California had to pioneer their leadership in clean car emission standards, which much of the country now follows. In the ocean realm, they are figuring out how to work together to protect their marine resources wisely. California is progressive in its stewardship of its marine resources and the whole world can learn a lot from how we can all better balance nature and the economy, for they are one and the same and as the oceans thrive, so do our communities.
Everywhere that Hikianalia visited, she was warmly received by the beautiful coastal communities. As we spread the mEessage of mālama honua and shared the spirit of aloha with everyone we interacted with, we make it a point to honor the people and places we visited. Our first order of protocol is to always ask the indigenous people of a place permission to come to shore and set foot on their land.
Each welcome was a joyous and moving celebration as the communities see in our voyaging canoe that the ocean connects us rather than separates us. We all share a maritime heritage and seeing the waʻa come over a long distance to their shores reawakens this spirit of connectedness in their communities. Be it with the Native Americans, expatriate Hawaiians and Polynesians living on the West Coast or the larger community of our wonderfully diverse nation, there were many outpourings of love for Hikianalia and the message that she brings.
A special moment for us crew was sailing around Point Concepcion, which can never be taken lightly since the weather there can be unpredictable and seasoned sailors know that this area can go from flat to 30 knots with big seas in no time. This point is where the mostly north-south coastline of California takes a sharp east-west orientation. We rounded this point which delineates the beginning of southern California at around 4:00am. We were confident in our canoe and our Captain who was familiar with these waters. A yellow crescent moon was rising and the milky way was brightly lit above us. As we sailed past the lighthouse, we blew our pu (conch shell) to honor this most sacred spot to the Chumash people. They call this place Humqaq and they consider it their Western Gate—a sacred leaping off place for spirits to leap off into the spirit realm. After blowing our pu 4 times, we rounded the point and our sailing became smoother and the ocean swells gracefully carried our canoe swiftly to our next destination. As part of the TNC ‘ohana, I am very proud that this place is being managed to honor the cultural and natural richness of this very special place and made my personal voyage extra special.
Hope for the Future
In each community that we visited, we made it our topmost priority to visit schools and give canoe tours for the public. We visited many schools to share our message of mālama honua (Caring for our Earth) and we were inspired and filled with hope to see the next generation of ocean stewards so aware and ready to step up to the challenge of cleaning up our oceans. We engaged with students by sharing what ocean plastics the Leg 1 crew saw in its voyage from Hawaiʻi to California as it sailed through the North Pacific gyre. It is estimated that globally there are 5 trillion pieces of plastic and 1.8 trillion is found in the great garbage patch of the Pacific. Humanity can no longer use the ocean as an endless receiver of our trash and pollution and the students we met were full of bright ideas and doing the right things to help care for our oceans.
Sadly, we are now past planetary boundaries on how much pollution our oceans can take and must now collectively take action to clean up our oceans. How this touches back home in Hawaiʻi is that a lot of our windward shores receive a lot of this marine debris. Just like the keiki back home, a lot of the school children we met did ocean cleanups and reduce their use of plastics. We were so impressed with the students’ environmental awareness and learned a lot from them about the actions they are taking to help our oceans. Today, the 4th graders from Hollywood Beach School left us a hand-written poster on recycled cardboard with their signatures and laid out their manifesto:
“We pledge to protect our Island Earth. We will be thoughtful consumers. We will advocate for clean energy. We will reduce our carbon footprint by using non-motorized forms of transportation. We will take responsibility for keeping our environment clean. We will refrain from purchasing plastic water bottles and refuse plastic straws. Thank you for your message of Mālama Honua and for your visit to our community. We love Hikianalia.”