Tuesday, May 14, 2002

El Nino fears
may force delay
of Hokule‘a trip

By Rita Beamish
Associated Press

Traditional Hawaiian voyagers may have to postpone a planned canoe journey to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands because of likely El Nino conditions that could put them at risk, the president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society said yesterday.

New weather data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that the El Nino phenomenon could extend the hurricane season and also make storms move faster and create more severe conditions on the high seas, master navigator Nainoa Thompson said.

In that case, the sailors piloting the voyaging canoe Hokule'a would not have enough time to get out of harm's way, said Thompson, who spoke yesterday at the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy's Hawaii and Pacific Islands Regional Meeting.

"What we don't know is what is the risk," he said.

The society's steering committee could decide by next week whether to postpone the trip, which is planned for September, Thompson said.

Even if the trip has to be postponed, Thompson said he would spend the year raising awareness and educating people about the importance of the voyage, whose purpose is, in part, to explore the ecological importance of the islands' reef system, and also to rebury the bones of ancestral Hawaiians that have been in the custody of the Bishop Museum.

The group plans to visit the two islands closest to the main Hawaiian Islands -- Necker Island and Nihoa Island -- for Hawaiian history. The canoe then would travel to the other eight islands to inspect the coral reefs, he said.

Hawaii already has been feeling the effects of the latest El Nino, with unusually heavy winter rainfall and a lack of springtime tradewinds.

Scientists from the University of Hawaii said last month that could signal more than the normal number of Pacific storms this season.

Since it was launched on March 8, 1975, the Hokule'a has used traditional Hawaiian navigation techniques to cover nearly 100,000 miles of the vast reaches of Polynesia.

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