As the Polynesian Voyaging Society gears up for the Hokule‘a and Hikianalia voyaging canoes’ next worldwide voyage in May, the health and safety of the crew and of the communities the canoes visit are at the forefront of their plans.
The “Moananuiakea” voyage will span 41,000 miles throughout the Pacific and will visit 46 countries and archipelagos, nearly 100 indigenous territories and 345 ports over a period of 42 months. However, with the coronavirus pandemic still a concern, the voyage will look slightly different from voyages in the past.
“In the last year, just like everyone else, we struggled to do what we thought was best with their best available resources and the best available science,” said Seren Tokumura, PVS medical officer. “Hokule‘a, and PVS just at large, is such a huge proponent of the sciences, and really sets on this very fine line of very nicely navigating the cultural world and the scientific world at the same time.”
In March 2020 PVS’ medical crew created a scoring system to assess crew members’ risks, as well as the risks within their households, to tier out when each member could return to participate in each voyage.
“We didn’t know too much about COVID when we first were designing this protocol, but we did have these overarching values of doing what we could and using the resources available to us in order to mitigate risk as much as possible,” Tokumura said.
While vaccinations were not mandated for crew members, they were encouraged. According to Tokumura, the crew was “more than happy and willing” to get vaccinated not just for themselves, but for the sake of the rest of the crew and for the communities the canoes visit. The crew is now fully vaccinated.
“What (a fully vaccinated crew) allows us to do is to continue to go into other communities and to interact with them in an appropriate way, in a respectful way that still makes sure that at the forefront of our priorities is keeping everybody as safe as possible,” she said.
PVS is following scientific updates, resources and recommendations for the evolving nature of the pandemic. While the crew being fully vaccinated will allow them to enter communities, PVS is also intentionally limiting its docking announcements to limit the gathering of crowds.
Tokumura said loosening guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding vaccinated people being able to go unmasked among unvaccinated people is also hopeful for the crew.
“As far as moving back towards the sort of expectations of people to have us visit people and have large crowds and large gatherings, large arrival parties, I think we’re moving back towards that direction,” she said. “We’re certainly not there yet but it’s quite hopeful.”
As PVS attempts to find a balance between community health and community outreach, Tokumura said she respects the organization’s willingness to follow its values.
“There’s a lot of talk about, ‘Can we voyage?’ and ‘Maybe (we) just wave at people from offshore,’ and I think that the sentiment was that that wouldn’t necessarily be appropriate as far as what was expected of us, and until we could figure out how to do what was right and in a safe way, we’ve just kind of held,” Tokumura said. “I really respect that about the organization, that they’re willing to hold and not necessarily have to act immediately until they’re sure that what they’re doing is in line with their values.”
The values include keeping communities safe, and blending science and culture with an all-volunteer organization.
“It’s … the first time that I had a very clear intersection between the science world and the cultural world that I grew up in, and it was the first time that those two things were reconciled together and weren’t in opposition,” Tokumura said. “It’s amazing to be part of an organization that allows you to adventure, voyage, explore and do so much good, but I think on a bigger level, it’s my ability to increase my impact factor, to be involved with an organization and to facilitate their cause, which really matters and resonates very much with me.”