Antony Vavia spoke on the need to incorporate both contemporary science and indigenous knowledge to a crowd of over 500. Photo: Supplied/22050407
From Mitiaro to Palau, marine biologist Antony Vavia shares his experience at the Our Oceans Conference last month and speaks about the relationship between contemporary science and indigenous knowledge.
Vavia says the atmosphere at the conference held on April 13 and 14 was exhilarating, filled with global leaders throughout the Pacific and the world.
“You’ve got all these people from
different professions, from having a scientific background, a policy
background, sustainable blue economics, marine engineering, all of these different
parties coming together to network and build these relationships to hopefully
create solutions,” Vavia says.
Vavia, 26, was invited to speak on the indigenous led conservation panel, where he gave a 30-second message on the importance of integrating indigenous knowledge and contemporary science - which he says was a trip highlight.
“The reality is especially in the Pacific
and other indigenous communities, they are both incredibly important,” he says.
“You cannot survive in a rapidly evolving ocean climate with just one or the other, we need to find ways to incorporate both of them.”
Vavia says a fishery couldn’t exist
without the people, so it was crucial to engage the community who are the main
resource stakeholders - especially in the Pacific.
“That certainly involves looking at and
investigating traditional knowledge but also using science to understand it so
you can take it to the next level.”
He says some people viewed either
traditional or contemporary scientific practices as superior to the other.
“But at the same time, I am seeing that
both of them are slowly being recognised (as important), particularly in a
Pacific Island nation.
“That’s how I feel just looking at the
whole marine sector throughout the Pacific and that’s really exciting, it’s
just trying to bring it more to the fore so that we can make some bigger
actions to improve things like sustainability.”
Vavia says it’s a waste of time choosing
one method over the other because the focus becomes on strategies instead of
desired ocean solutions.
“Let’s try and use both forms of information to create some real positive solutions.”
An Auckland University of Technology
marine biology PhD candidate, Vavia spent nearly two years in Mitiaro from 2020
to the end of 2021, spending a lot of his time working in a makeshift kitchen
lab, dissecting fish and collecting samples.
His primary focus was collecting data on
reef fish, but also pelagic fish species, looking specifically at how much was
being caught, fish size, frequency, and how much effort is required to catch
Vavia’s experience has placed him in a
unique position between contemporary science and indigenous practice.
The Republic of Palau was the first small island developing state to host the Our Ocean Conference. It was the seventh conference and had the theme of “Our Ocean, Our People, Our Prosperity” which was designed to draw on Palau’s rich tradition as an ocean society.
It concluded with 410 commitments made
which were worth over $16.35 billion. The conference attracted over 600
participants representing more than 70 foreign delegations and 150 non-state
One of the press releases that came out of
the event says: “the role of Indigenous and youth leadership in protecting
ocean health came to the forefront throughout the conference”.
President of Palau, Surangel S. Whipps,
Jr. said: “Island nations are on the frontlines of the dual ocean and climate
challenges. By hosting the meeting, Palau was not only able to show the world
just how vulnerable we are to these crises, but also the many solutions
available to tackle the problems today if we just choose to use them.”
Before attending the conference, Vavia
told Cook Islands News he hoped tangible changes would come from it and said in
previous conferences he had felt disappointed with what was actually achieved.
However, Vavia says after being going to
the Palau meeting he found the “magic” happened behind the scenes.
“The solid networking and building
partnerships happen afterwards, between talks,” he says.
“The stage is a great platform to
advertise problems and solutions and what’s working in their country or
whatever, but really it’s what happens behind the scenes that is really