NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK (HawaiiNewsNow) - By the time Hokule'a heads home from the World Wide Voyage next June, the Polynesian voyaging canoe and crew members will have been away 37 months, visited 28 countries, stopped in 82 ports and covered more than 50,000 miles -- all while spreading a message of "Malama Honua," or the importance of caring for island Earth. That incredible effort was honored Wednesday in New York as Hokule'a took center stage for World Oceans Day.
There is no greater authority when it comes to global initiatives than the United Nations -- and UN officials recognized Hokule'a and her crew for their ongoing work to protect our precious ocean resources.
Hokule'a officials called the honor the pinnacle moment of the Worldwide Voyage.
"This is a big event for the Polynesian Voyaging Society and especially Hawai'i, because it's Hawai'i -- our home state -- that is carrying this message to the world," explained Kalepa Baybayan, Pwo navigator and Hokule'a captain.
Officials described it as especially meaningful because it was World Oceans Day and crew members have sailed through five oceans to promote their sustainability initiative.
"On World Oceans Day, ladies and gentleman, let us renew our resolve to protect these marine treasures for generations to come," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon during a ceremony Wednesday morning at Gantry Plaza State Park.
With a backd rop of the Manhattan skyline and the United Nations Headquarters, Hokulea made her way across the East River to Queen's. The pier was filled with world dignitaries, Hawai'i political and community leaders, and crew members' family and friends.
"Oceans may seem endless, but there is a limit to how we should use them and we are dangerously close to breaking that limit. The way we treat our oceans effect their future," said Ki-moon.
The UN Secretary-General described Hokulea's journey to New York as a testament to the wisdom of traditional navigation and island people, and congratulated the crew for their courage.
Polynesian Voyaging Society President and Pwo navigator Nainoa Thompson admits it is a dangerous voyage, but says their mission outweighs the risks.
"The great risk is not on the canoe. The great risk is ignorance. The great risk is apathy and the great risk is inaction. That's why we have to do it. We have to get up and stand up and do what we can and protect the things that we love and believe in," said Thompson.
Two years ago when Hokule'a made her stop in Samoa, Ki-Moon gifted the crew with a message in a bottle. On Wednesday, crew members returned it to him along with messages of hope and declarations from communities around the world who have pledged their commitment to a more sustainable future.
Recognition for the canoe and her crew continued in Manhattan with a special "Talk Story" presentation at the United Nations Headquarters.
"Every single one of you have the power to navigate the world's most powerful governments in the right direction. Your youth will stand behind you and support you as you navigate us toward a better, brighter future," said Uilani Hayes, a Halau Ku Mana student who traveled from Hawai'i to address the world dignitaries.
Hokule'a was credited for helping to facilitate discussion between oceanic nations who are now working more closely to share best practices for sustainable living.
"Let us show what we have always said -- the oceans do not divide us, they connect us together in a common cause for all mankind," said H.E. Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., President of the Republic of Palau.
Before wrapping things up at the UN, Hawai'i delegates and their guests were treated to a mahalo concert with Jack Johnson, Paula Fuga, Uncle Chucky Boy Chock and Brother Noland.
Hokule'a is docked in Newport, New Jersey. Crew members will be in New York for another week hosting various educational workshops.