On March 29, just a month ago, Typhoon Maysak ripped through the islands of Chuuk and Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia. Radio communication was knocked out in the outer islands of Chuuk, and it was many days before first-hand reports came in from Onoun and other islands of western Chuuk, where Conserventures Board members Steve Hayden and Diane Boyer have been working for the past decade, helping revive the local sailing canoe traditions. (Steve was a Peace Corps Volunteer on the island of Onoun in the Namonuito Atoll in the 60s).

The reports were both good and terrible. No one was killed.  Most buildings were not damaged beyond repair. But essential subsistence food crops were utterly destroyed—breadfruit trees stripped of new fruit, and heavily damaged by salt spray; all coconut trees stripped; banana plants trashed; and salt water intruded into taro swamps and the fresh water lens under the island.  The islanders will be dependent on imported food relief for several years to come.

Onoun is an island of 450 acres, 12’ in elevation at its highest, and home to 500-600 hardy souls.  It is isolated – 160 miles of open ocean separate it and the other islands of the Namonuito Atoll from the nearest source of aide, in Weno, the capital city of Chuuk. There are no stores or utilities on the island.

The islanders are dependent on a couple of 24’ fiberglass motorboats, powered (when working, and there’s gas) by a single 40 HP outboard, for transportation to the capital.  In the past 7 years, they have built and are using 10 traditional outrigger sailing canoes, both for transportation and fishing.

This is where you can help these brave souls directly:  there are no stores, and no money, for such essentials as GPS to keep the sailors safe at sea.  Through Conserventures, we have taken GPS and boat compasses to Onoun over the years, but the life span of electronics in those tough conditions is short.  If you have a working hand-held GPS that can operate on AA or AAA batteries, please consider donating it to Conserventures—it is the kind of aide that is hard to come by through official aide relief efforts.  If you are coming to OX15-West, Diane Boyer will be at the Oasis Tent and can receive your donation, and fill you in on the latest from Onoun.

[see the article on the canoe revival in Terra, Vol 1, #2) 

Photo by Brett Willhelm


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