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  • Writer's pictureDr. Dominic Dixon

Heart of the Spirit | Sailing a traditional and sustainable path in Fiji’s tropical waters

Young people in Fiji are helping to revive indigenous cultural practices of the Pacific Ocean island while learning about sustainable transport thanks to an initiative supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

Uto ni Yalo Trust | The Fijian vessel Uto ni Yalo sailing into harbour.

They are sailing the traditional 72-foot long Fijian boat, Uto ni Yalo, which translates as ‘Heart of the Spirit’ and which is navigating along ancient Pacific trade and migratory routes to help re-establish historical ties.  It’s also reviving significant cultural links between people all over the region.

The boat is ferrying relief supplies to islands in the wake of tropical cyclones - demonstrating how low carbon sea transport can offset Fiji’s fossil fuel reliance and become a viable option for cargo transfer between remote maritime islands.

Setareki Ledua is from Naividamu village, on Fulaga Island in the Lau archipelago.

The Lau chain of islands, made up of a few tiny islands in the far east of Fiji, almost halfway to Tonga, is the Fiji not often seen by tourists.

Setareki loves sailing among the Lau Islands, and now at 26 he has lost count of the places and ports he has sailed into while on board the Uto Ni Yalo. Mr Ledua joined the Uto Ni Yalo as a crew member when he was 19.

As a navigator Setareki appreciates the fact that ‘to begin, you must know where you are and where you are heading’. Aboard the boat, the crew sees and feels firsthand the effects of climate change and the extensive threats to the ocean.

Vulnerability becomes visceral without protection from the elements. Life aboard the boat is a microcosm of life in Pacific Islands, including the lack of a margin for error. But the threats and limitations also suggest possibilities and a course set for sustainability, with a greater respect and sense of stewardship - encouraging better solutions for a healthy ocean.

‘As I put the theory into practice onboard the Uto ni Yalo, I felt as though my ancestors were right there with me, giving me the confidence I needed.’

To promote the sustainable, reciprocal relationship with nature, the Uto Ni Yalo is encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean – and gathering trash on the remote islands it visits.

On International Youth Day marked annually on 12 August, read more here about how young people are engaging with Fiji’s spiritual heart.

Copyright: UN News, UNDP stories.

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