Please tell us about yourself
My friends have always known me to be a “fishy” person, just because my one of personal favorite quotes has been “what the fish”, and I cannot stop talking about the world’s fisheries and issues whenever I am around them…
Being born and bred in Fiji, my weekends were often spent at the beach. There would be times, especially on Sunday, when my dad would be napping and I would forcefully wake him up to take me to the beach—that is how much I loved being in the salty blue.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?
My dad has always been my inspiration to work towards a career involving conservation of our marine life, not because he was into conservation, but because of his love for the consumption of fish! He is the man who will drive to the jetty at 5am just to get fresh fish, and it is always like Christmas to him whenever he brings fish home. I was not the biggest fan of the fishy smell, nor of finding the fridge being stocked up with fish (my ice cream always got squashed to the back). However, this did make me realise how much fish and sea food in general is going to be in demand, and the need for conservation and sustainable harvesting for our future.
What did you study?
My first real step towards this goal came when I ended up doing an undergraduate degree in the field of marine science New Zealand. It was something I never saw coming, but the best and also the most ironic thing that ever happened to me: best because it completely changed my life, ironic because I was a commerce student in high school.
I completed my Bachelor’s Degree in Aquaculture & Fisheries at the University of Otago, New Zealand. It wasn’t until university that I learnt the secrets of the blue jewel, the ocean. Those years ignited my passion for the marine science, ecology, conservation, science communication and much more.
How was the experience at University of Otago?
My first year of transiting into science was challenging. I found myself in a totally new country, in a different environment (a very cold one), and also science had its own terminology which sounded like gibberish to me. Therefore, I had to teach myself or learn from others, including loads of videos, the very basic things. The learning curve was steep in my first year. Often during lab sessions, most students would recall doing similar experiments in high school, but to me, it was all for the first time, so my nervousness soon turned into excitement about discovering science. One of the key motivating factors that kept me going and still keeps me going is support from family, friends and people I met along the way, together with tons of self-belief.
I also believe that it is important to have mentors in life. A lot of my mentors have been my lecturers, and other Pacific scientists such as the late Lui Bell. Their work and research surely left a positive impact on me and truly ignited my passion for following in their footsteps. One important thing that I really took away, and saw with my own eyes, was the difference that their research actually made in the lives of the people. That is something that has always stuck with me and what I would like to do for the people of Fiji.
Tell us about your future plans
Currently, I am undertaking my masters focusing on seagrass, at the University of the South Pacific. I hope that through research, I can contribute towards filling in the missing gaps on the status of our ocean resources and more importantly assist in making sound management decisions.
Growing up and being in the Pacific, I have always realised how fortunate we are to be blessed with the wealth of marine resources and the need to protect it. This fact formed the foundation for me to come back to Fiji after my studies and give back to the communities. Along the way, I have always appreciated the support from people. Occasionally I do get the big words of “Nam, keep doing what you do and save our oceans”. I do know that I may not be Disney’s “Moana” to magically save the ocean, but I do know that together we can be an ocean of strength. Therefore, every individual effort counts, and it’s a very rewarding feeling to be involved in this field.
Your advice to students?
My journey began from being a person who did not know the ABC’s of science, to a becoming a marine enthusiast. It is not necessary to be involved in sciences from a very young age to end up in the field of ocean science. But yes, it is important to have self-belief, enjoy the process and seek support. I stand for changing mindsets, going against the “can’t” and showing that “I can”. There will be critics along the way, there will be mindsets who will not agree with your path, but just like the water, keep flowing.
The blue jewel is truly the best office one can ever have.