NOAA presents master navigator with Umu Kai Award
  • Thursday, January 17, 2019
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NOAA presents master navigator with Umu Kai Award


Polynesian Voyaging Society master navigator Bruce Blankenfeld was presented Sunday with the 2018 Papahanaumokuakea Umu Kai Award for inspiring the next generation to take an active role in ocean sustainability and reviving the art of traditional wayfinding.

The award, established by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries for Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, is presented to a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner who invokes the spirit of traditional fishing practices and management while adapting to modern fishing environments. Papahanaumokuakea staff presented the award at the World Oceans Day celebration at Ko Olina.

“It is an honor to present Bruce with this special award,” said NOAA superintendent for Papahanaumokuakea Athline Clark in a news release. “He embodies the true spirit of a mentor, who inspires our next generation to actively be involved in learning about and caring for our ocean.”

In addition to being one of Hawaii’s five “pwo” (master) navigators, Blankenfeld served as crew training coordinator and captain on the Hokulea Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage. A long-distance paddler, fisherman and coach, Bruce began his association with the Polynesian Voyaging Society in 1977 and was part of the 1980 crew that sailed from Tahiti to Hawaii. Since then, he has sailed more than 70,000 miles using traditional, non-instrument methods.

The late Uncle Eddie Kaanaana was the first recipient of the award in 2006. Other recipients include Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson, former Department of Land and Natural Resources Chair William Aila Jr., Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ranger and traditional ulua fisherman Clarence “Aku” Hauanio, and Uncle Mac Poepoe, a fisherman and community leader on Molokai

“Bruce exemplifies all of the important values behind the Umu Kai Award,” said Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. “He has an exceptional, very rare, deep relationship with the ocean that is both learned and instinctual that has allowed him to become an extraordinary deep-sea navigator and a strong leader. We would not have been able to successfully complete the Worldwide Voyage without him.”

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