Advancing ocean governance research in the Solomon Islands through the UN-Nippon Fellowship Programme

By Senia Febrica

Marly Muudeni Samuel (Glasgow School of Art), Lysa Wini (University of Strathclyde), David Wilson (University of Strathclyde), and Christian Tutui Manepolo (UN-Nippon Fellow, University of Strathclyde) photographed in Glasgow. Photo: Marly Muudeni Samuel

Under the ongoing partnerships between the Hub and the UN Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UNDOALOS), the Hub has hosted two researchers from the Solomon Islands as United Nations-Nippon (UN-Nippon) Fellows to focus on critical themes for sustainable and inclusive ocean governance. One of the Fellow has then become a Hub PhD researcher and contributes to a variety of international knowledge-exchange initiatives under the Hub. In parallel, our partnership with UNDOALOS has also contributed to share our latest research insights with the international community of former UN-Nippon Fellows – ocean professionals in 80 developing countries.

Integrating indigenous and local knowledge in the Solomon Islands’ ecosystem approach

This year the Hub’s team at Strathclyde University (Glasgow, UK) are hosting a United Nations-Nippon (UN-Nippon) Fellow, Christian Tutui Manepolo, who is a marine scientist from the Solomon Islands. As part of his fellowship, Christian is conducting research on the ‘Governance for sustaining coastal ecosystems: community-based resource management and integration of indigenous and local knowledge as part of an ecosystem approach in Solomon Islands’ under the supervision of Hub Director Elisa Morgera. Christian previously worked as the National Coordinator of the Marine Spatial Plan programme at the Climate Change, Disaster Management, and Meteorology, Environment and Conservation Division within the Solomon Islands Ministry of Environment.

Drawing from his experience as a marine scientist, Christian is also reflecting on indigenous knowledge as part of his upbringing, although he has never meaningfully acknowledged and studied it until now. To quote Christian:

Like “moana” who embarks on a journey to return the heart of goddess, Te Fitti from Maui, after the plants and the fish on her island start dying due to a blight, I will also take a journey back to my indigenous self, to understand and learn about how our ancestors managed and looked after the ocean and resources we enjoy today.

In the future, Christian is planning to pursue his PhD in Law at the University of Strathclyde University.

Understanding colonial legacy on Solomon Islands’s ocean laws and communities’ rights to sea tenure

The previous UN-Nippon fellow hosted by the One Ocean Hub, Lysa Wini is also from the Solomon Islands, and is currently conducting her PhD research, on a Strathclyde scholarship linked to the Hub, on ‘How has the interplay between British maritime law and Solomon Islands customary law during the Protectorate era (1893-1978) impacted on contemporary ocean-related laws and the protection of communities’ rights to sea tenure?’. Her PhD thesis is inter-disciplinary and is supervised by Hub early-career researcher Dr David Wilson (History) and Professor Morgera.

During her UN-Nippon Fellowship, in 2018, Lysa completed a study titled ‘‘Wane i asi – Our people, the sea and the law” under Professor Morgera’s supervision. Lysa examined a local sea-dependent community on Funafou Island in Lau Lagoon, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands, who have applied customary law to secure their sea tenure and critically look at how their rights are recognised in the Fisheries Management Act 2015. A key finding of her research is that the local communities’ traditional rights over their resources and tenure are under threat due to their lack participation in formal decision-making processes (Wini, 2022).

According to Lysa, research carried out as a UN-Nippon Fellow has contributed to developing her ‘sense of urgency and sensitivity on how we approach local communities and their critical role in ensuring’ inclusive ocean governance (Wini, 2022). Drawing from her experience and findings, Lysa will apply an indigenous and decolonising lens to respond to her PhD research. She incorporates traditional methods of engaging and creating conversations (tok stori’ or ‘unu’unu’) with locals and policy makers to enable them to come to a common understanding on the impacts of colonialism on contemporary ocean laws and rights to sea tenure. Recently, Lysa also carried out her archival research at the National Archives in London. Having accessed documents from the British Solomon Islands Protectorate Government, she observed that the records were written from a ‘very western perspective’. Her research provides ‘an alternative perspective, a perspective that had been silenced for a long time by western influence’ that recognise indigenous value in ocean governance.

In June 2022, Lysa represented the Solomon Islands Government at the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal and contributed to the Hub event ‘The future and ocean WE (ALL) want: Inclusion and integration for strong, sustainable and equitable blue economies’ that was held on 28th June 2022 to distil relevant lessons learnt for innovative approaches to inclusivity, human rights protection, and non-discrimination in sustainable ocean-based economies.   In addition, Lysa organized the Tok Stori side-event by the Solomon Islands Government at the UN Ocean Conference to highlight the need to recognise indigenous values in policy and law-making processes. Lysa continues to collaborate with the Solomon Islands Government and provides inputs to national ocean governance, with a view to mainstreaming recognition of indigenous values in ocean management and conservation.

Expanding peer-learning opportunities with UNDOALOS

The UN-Nippon Fellowship is funded by the Nippon Foundation and implemented by UNDOALOS in collaboration with academic host institutions, such as the One Ocean Hub. It enables the fellows to carry out individual research towards a written thesis. The fellowship is aimed to provide government officials and other mid-level professionals from developing States with advanced training on ocean affairs and the law of the sea, and other related disciplines that are important in supporting inclusive and integrated ocean conservation and management (UNDOALOS, 2022).

In partnership with UNDOALOS, the Hub has also sought to engage the broader community of former UN-Nippon Fellows. In 2020, the Hub developed a series of eight online sessions in partnership with UNDOALOS which engaged the UN-Nippon Fellows and Alumni network of government officers and ocean professionals from 80 countries. These sessions covered an array of themes related to ocean governance including science and policy interface, gender mainstreaming, domestic customary law, small-scale fisheries, and climate change.

In 2021 Hub researchers contributed to four capacity-building sessions as part of the UNDOALOS led ‘UN-Nippon Foundation Fellows and Alumni Pilot Series on Science for Ocean Sustainability on ocean science, science-policy interface, data challenge, and challenge to integration of science in governance process. The list of the capacity building sessions for the UN-Nippon Fellows and Alumni and their recordings that the Hub has produced in partnership with UNDOALOS are available here.

In 2022, UNDOALOS and the UN-Nippon Fellows and Alumni are collaborating with the Hub in a number of joint activities for the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture that the Hub co-organised with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Environment Programme and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Furthermore, this collaboration has supported the Hub in becoming a partner of the UN World Ocean Week celebrations since 2020 (see here, here, here, and here)

Dr Katy Soapi (Secretariat of the Pacific Community), Lysa Wini and Prof Elisa Morgera (University of Strathclyde) at the UN Ocean Conference 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal.