Antony Vavia

Antony Vavia

Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Bachelor of Science (Honours)
Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology

Deciding to study marine biology was easy, says Antony Vavia who came to AUT to do a Bachelor of Science and is currently enrolled in a PhD.

“It was all about the adventure. I wanted a career that involved a bit of exploration here and there, discovering new things and potentially helping to solve something, so my dad suggested becoming a marine biologist. And here I am.

“I would recommend AUT’s science programme because of its community feel. You get to know your peers, but also your lecturers as they take a keen interest in your learning and progress. The highlight for me was the community that I surrounded myself with. Learning was one thing, but being able to do it with others who shared the same energy was what really made it enjoyable.”

After thoroughly enjoying his bachelor’s degree at AUT, Antony jumped at the chance to continue into postgraduate study.

“The opportunity to be part of an exciting project presented itself, so I’m going all in because my mum didn’t raise a quitter! But there are other incentives too. Firstly, I wasn’t content relying on a Bachelor of Science to pivot on for the rest of my career, and secondly, there aren’t many Pacific Islanders in this space. In fact, I’m the first and only Pacific Islander doing a PhD in marine science at AUT.”

A better understanding of Pacific Island fisheries
For his PhD, Antony is exploring how to ensure long-term sustainability of coral reef fisheries in the Cook Islands by doing a case study on the island of Mitiaro.

“I’m from the Cook Islands, and if I’m going to be doing a PhD project, I want it to be something that I’ll love and enjoy, and that will ultimately benefit my community. The focus of this research is on the ecological integrity of coral reef ecosystems which are intrinsically linked to the nutritional and cultural wellbeing of Pacific Islanders surrounding ocean-dependence, and ecological and cultural sustenance in the Pacific.

“A significant component of this research concerns the integration of ethnography with fisheries science in order to gain a better understanding of Pacific Island fisheries, as opposed to solely relying on a standard quantitative approach. This requires an interdisciplinary approach which is seldom practiced within the marine sciences. We can understand the science of the marine environment, but if we don’t understand the people and the local cultures that interact with that environment then the science will be inadequate. We don’t manage the fishery by working with the resources, we manage the fishery by working with the people that influence the resources.”

What was supposed to only be a year, Antony has spent almost two years on Mitiaro collecting his fieldwork data due to the pressure caused by COVID-19. He hopes that his research will be another footstep for the Cook Islands and the wider Pacific in terms of fisheries; an industry many subsistence communities and livelihoods depend on. His research is supervised by Dr Armagan Sabetian from AUT’s School of Science.

Supported to thrive
Throughout his studies Antony has had a number of achievements he is particularly proud of.

“In 2015, I received the Prime Minister’s Pacific Youth Award – I was the first awardee in the field of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). I was also awarded a number of scholarships to support my studies, including the New Zealand Institute of Pacific Research Scholarship for my PhD, New Zealand Institute of Pacific Research sponsorship for my Bachelor of Science (Honours) research and the Toloa Scholarship from the Ministry of Pacific People.”

He already has a clear idea what he wants to do when he finishes his PhD.

“Besides eventually travelling, I’ll be returning to the Cook Islands to disseminate my research findings and immerse myself in more marine-based communities. Having already experienced ocean navigation from New Zealand to the Cook Islands on the vaka, Marumaru Atua, I want to continue my passion for traditional navigation as soon as I can because it really adds to the lifestyle of being ocean oriented.”

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