3 December 2013, Suva, Fiji - Dressed in his traditional Papua New Guinea outfit, climate change activist Mr. Manuwai Matuwai walked up the podium to receive an award from Fiji's Minister for Environment Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum on Monday night.
Mr Matuwai's sacrifice and contribution in promoting climate change in his country and the region was recognised when he was given a special award named in honour of the late Fijian chief Ratu Aisea Katonivere, who passed away earlier this year.
Mr Matuwai sailed from PNG to the Solomon Islands in a canoe that he built to promote awareness on climate change. His tribesmen sailed with him on that journey.
The award is a great boost in his campaign towards climate change.
Mr Matuwai, a fisheries officer, decided to change his course in life and advocate for something he believed in.
"I think I got this award because I worked in organisations that encouraged nature conservation and I think people voted for me based on the qualities they see in me," he said the day after he received the award.
"This award would not have been possible without the help and support of my colleagues, AusAID Climate Change, people of America and to the people of the South Pacific," he said.
"It will make people recognise me in terms of getting financial support and it is an opportunity to encourage donors to support us on what we are undertaking."
He is committed to educating people on climate change, exploring local solutions around the adaptation of nature conservation and in search of answers for those who lose their cultural identity.
He plans to continue his journey next year around the Pacific region and hopes to educate people who he comes across. He hopes to visit Palau, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Fiji.
"I hope to tell people that we need to work together because at the end of the day it is our life," he added.
He urged everyone to conserve what they are blessed with.
"They should not wait. It's about time they respond to the changes that are taking place and not be spectators because we are responsible."
Manuai Matawai, Papua-New Guinea, awarded the Individual Category Ratu Aisea Katonivere Award for Excellence in Community Leadership in Environmental Sustainability and Conservation
Mr. Manuai, who comes from Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, joined The Nature Conservancy in 2006 to coordinate and facilitate conservation and climate change activities in Manus Island. Before joining the Nature Conservancy, he served almost 14 years with the Provincial Fisheries Office as Research Officer after graduating from the National Fisheries College in 1988.
Mr. Manuai's work with the communities of Manus has focused on sustainable fisheries and climate change adaptation. In 2004, he spearheaded the first Marine Management Plan in his home village of Pere which eventually lead to the development of the first Environment and Conservation Law for the Nali Sopat Penabu Local Level Government in Manus Province. This formed the basis of TNC's community engagement before establishing an office in Manus in 2006.
The success of Pere today as the first community in Manus to have a marine management plan enforced under its own environmental law, can be seen in their reef and fish stock recovering, thus contributing to improving community's livelihood. The success stories about marine management on Pere are now replicated to other coastal communities around Manus.
To promote community action and raise awareness about climate change impacts Manuai built a traditional seagoing canoe named Climate Challenger. With a crew of 9 he sailed the canoe more than 5,000 kilometres over 3 months throughout Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. The team visited 20 communities, many schools and overall spoke to more than 10,000 people about climate change issues and adaptation.
Mr. Manuai is planning another Pacific voyage next year to continue to spread his message, sailing from to Palau then to the Marshall Islands before returning to Manus.
Wati Talebula is a member of the Media Team providing coverage of the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas from 2 to 6 December in Suva, Fiji. This is a partnership between the Fiji National University (FNU), University of the South Pacific (USP), SPREP and Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) whereby a team of 10 journalism students are mentored by senior reporters as they cover the conference. This activity is funded by the Pacific Assistance Media Scheme (PACMAS).