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Love the Ocean: Teens hear the call of the Arctic

Saturday 8 July 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Features, Weekend


Love the Ocean: Teens hear the call of the Arctic
Winton Herman and Siana Whatarau on the Peace Boat. SUPPLIED / 23062331 / 23062332 / 23062333

The Kōrero o te 'Ōrau's 'Ātui'anga ki te Tango students Siana Whatarau and Winton Herman held the Cook Islands flag high during their recent journey to the Arctic.

Last month the teenagers sailed on the Peace Boat US through the Arctic for the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science’s Youth Sustainable Development programme among 11 other youths.

The duo became youth ambassadors for the Blue Planet Alliance with the goal to get island countries to transition to renewable energy.

They said they “loved it”.

Herman who is currently in New Zealand said: “What I absolutely loved was the moment we arrived at what was basically the North Pole on the Archipelago of Svalbard.

“As we arrived, I had the thought that wow, I was basically and literally on top of the world.

“It was also very awesome as I called my family and had the opportunity to say good evening from the North Pole, a sentence I never thought I’d say in my life. It was midnight but my family’s morning and the atmosphere and emotion I felt was surreal.” 

He said something he learnt while on the journey was there are many youths around the world that are doing very similar work to what they are doing here in the Cook Islands, and that they too are facing a shift in environment.

“The youth of today need to start making a change and caring for our environment.”

He said other things of great interest were the geothermal power plant in Iceland, and their ability to turn carbon dioxide produced by the country into pyrite through natural processes, effectively reducing their carbon footprint to almost zero.

“This is also leading into what Blue Planet Alliance is trying to do with making island nations 100 per cent renewable energy.”

He said the trip gave him a wider understanding of climate change on a global scale, learning that the Arctic Circle has warmed up eight degrees in the past years.

“It is an ominous sign that our planet is changing. And that little changes to regions like this can mean massive changes to small countries like us. We as Cook Islanders need to advocate for more sustainable and renewable living. We are a small nation, which means we can make the loudest noise.”

Herman has called on Cook Islanders to appreciate the ocean.

“To admire it in all its beauty and charm, the ocean is our lifeline as an island nation, it has been more than resourceful in giving us what we need, and it is time for us to start giving back. Love the ocean.”

He said other things he learned that stuck with him is that Iceland is still a whaling country and that there is only one man still hunting these animals, which even at a loss of 2 million every trip he takes, he still continues these hunts.

“However recently the Icelandic government has put a ban on this practice which was an amazing thing to hear.”

Herman is planning to continue his studies as his work with Korero o te Orau involves advising other youths to broaden their horizons.

“We are voyaging people and that means we have a natural propensity to explore and learn, make use of our natural curiosity and explore our oceans.   

“With representing the country is pretty simple, don’t forget your roots, smile and always be proud to be a Cook Islander. I mean I was walking everywhere in the Arctic and on the boat in a Mangaian singlet, which earned me some pretty cool nicknames from many of the passengers and staff,” he added.

For Siana Whatarau, she said: “I love the connections I made the most, especially with the other youth who are leading in sustainable development in their countries.”

Whatarau said the trip was fairly long with a lot of different activities where they learnt a lot of different things along the way.

She said she was most interested in the studies at Svalbard University in Svalbard, Norway.

“It is the world’s northernmost university research centre. The scientific study opportunities are really unique there because of the environment, geology, ocean chemistry, biodiversity, weather and climate. We also went to the Marine and Freshwater Research Institute in Iceland, which I really enjoyed.

“Iceland has commendable fisheries management and the research institute we went to offers a six month programme to mature professionals working in fisheries, especially for developing countries.”

She said the programme enabled her to connect with people from around the world, to learn and understand how climate change is impacting different parts of the world.

“I think it’s important to have a wider understanding of what’s going on in the world so that you know where you fit into the solution, especially if it’s a global issue like climate change.

“We also learnt about locally driven issues in other countries that are not directly linked to climate change, but are worsened by climate change. We didn’t just learn about the problems though, we also learnt about some of the solutions and work happening around the world to combat these issues.”

She said each of the youths in the programme conducted a workshop to share some of the initiatives they have led or been involved in and what she and Herman wanted to do was raise the awareness of the Cook Islands and just small islands in the Pacific in the space of ocean science, sustainable development and climate change. 

“Did you know climate change happens three times faster in the Arctic Circle than the global average. This is because of the albedo effect, where higher temperatures cause the snow and ice to melt, and this reveals darker underlying surfaces with lower albedo. The lower albedo means more heat energy is absorbed which causes more melting.

“And the cycle continues. I often only think of climate change in a local or regional context so I didn’t know this before going to the Arctic. It’s actually important to recognise the issues in the Arctic because the Arctic is important for regulating the global climate.”

Whatarau, who is working at the National Environment Service (NES) here in Rarotonga said she is fortunate to be working for NES.

“Of course, I intend to bring everything I have learnt back to the office.”

And through NES, she said she is fortunate enough to be representing the Cook Islands at the 45th open-ended working group for the Montreal Protocol later this month in Thailand. 

She added: “To other young Cook Islanders I would say, there is power and value in being a youth.”

 “So if you ever get an opportunity to lead or to share your views and ideas, don’t feel out of place, because you’re the one that’s going to deal with the outcomes of today’s decisions.”