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Ant Vavia: Epic opportunity to come home to reconnect

Sunday January 12, 2020 Written by Published in Outer Islands
Ant Vavia discovers the reef of Mitiaro, his family island. Ant Vavia discovers the reef of Mitiaro, his family island. 20011068

OPINION: With 2020 here, I’ve started the year with a change in scenery and lifestyle by moving from Aotearoa to the Cook Islands. More specifically, I’m living in Mitiaro – my family home island. But, along with this lifestyle shift has also come an academic responsibility.

Jumping back a few years, in 2014 when I began my marine and environmental sciences degree at the Auckland University of Technology, I didn’t ponder too much on the specifics of where my studies would take me. Now and then I would imagine working in a Pacific marine environment and doing it in the Cook Islands was only that – imagination. 

I wasn’t sure what that would look like or how to get there, and I’d usually just leave it at that and focus on what immediate work needed to be done. 

But through my undergrad years I grew less concerned with ‘how to get there’ and focused on just getting there and letting the process roll out while keeping my goals in mind.

In my final year of undergrad, I did a paper on coastal reef ecology in the Western Province, Solomon Islands. This was a big step for me as I was actually doing work in the Pacific, which was pretty choice! 

That opportunity then lead onto completing my Honours research project in the Solomons in 2017 on seaweed farming and GIS. Hop, skip and jump forward a year, I enrolled into a PhD program. 

By that stage I had already made my mind up; if I’m going to be working on a minimum three-year research project, it will have purpose, be important, involve communities, and add to the written body of marine knowledge – so I brought it home to Mitiaro.

With marine resources providing for a large portion of diet and even economy in the Cook Islands and other Pacific nations, my goal is to develop a better understanding of coastal reef fisheries. 

This will involve ageing fishes and determining their ability to reproduce which will help to understand fishes’ tolerance to fishing pressures. 

It will also involve the role of ra’ui and how these are used to manage marine resources. 

I will record what fish are being brought in over the course of a year to assess what is targeted and to highlight if there are any trends in catch. 

And lastly, I will have an ethnographic component to my research. In other words, I want to dive into traditional customs, knowledge and practices surrounding marine resource use and management. 

You cannot study a fishery just by observing the fish, because a fishery includes the people; people that actively engage with the resources. Therefore, understanding the community is critical.

The choice thing with all of this besides doing something for the Cook Islands, and the academia, is that this is an epic opportunity to come home to catch a glimpse and reconnect with where my tupuna worked and thrived; my cultural fix. 

This is me levelling up!

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