AUT Marine Biology student, Antony Vavia, was selected by the Aotearoa Youth Leadership Institute to attend the first United Nations Ocean Conference in New York last month.
Days later, he boarded a Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing with Prime Minister Bill English to join the Pacific Mission – a delegation of New Zealand’s Pacific community leaders, iwi and business representatives that travelled to the Cook Islands, Niue and Tonga.
The Ocean Conference championed one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals – #14: To conserve and sustainably use the oceans and marine resources for sustainable development.
Countries, businesses and civil society groups have made the commitment to address issues ranging from protecting coral reefs and strengthening sustainable fisheries, to reducing plastic pollution and climate change.
Vavia says life in the Pacific Ocean is vulnerable to exploitation, due to overfishing, sea-level rise and waste management.
“There is a major drive for ocean conservation throughout the Pacific islands. If anything, the Large Ocean Island States are the leaders for ocean conservation, as they have a love for the ocean that provides life,” he says.
“It’s a matter of making the right policies, promoting better use of resources and taking action from what science has shown.”
In 2015, Vavia received the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award for excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).
Now, his experience with the Prime Minister’s Pacific Mission has helped him understand New Zealand’s economic role in different Pacific nations.
“I learnt as much as I could and was introduced to new concepts, while developing my own ideas and goals,” he says.
“The trip has inspired me to better my game – to continue in my education and personal development. I’m at the stage where there is so much I want to achieve."
“One of my goals is to start a seaweed farming industry in the Pacific. This would help clean excess nutrients from the ocean, as well as being a source of income and food for local communities.”
Vavia, who is of Cook Islands and Fijian descent, is currently completing the third-year of a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in Marine Biology at AUT.
“I’m on a progressive path. Not only because of the field I’m in, but because of my Pacific heritage,” he says.
“I believe my experiences are evidence that we as Pacific peoples have the capacity to achieve. Working for the ocean is my part.”
Click here to watch a video of Antony's experience.