In village halls or underneath breadfruit trees in season, a soft spoken i-Taukei man called Alifereti Tawake has travelled Fiji’s fourteen provinces speaking with resource owners about protecting their natural resources for future generations.

His dedication over two decades working with communities led to the establishment of the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Areas (FLMMA) network in 2000. To date the FLMMA network has aided in the setting up of 466 no take zones or traditional tabu areas which account for 76 percent of the country’s inshore fisheries area.

This has subsequently led the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) to award him as the first Fijian to receive its highest acknowledgement in the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal.

Alifereti Tawake who was brought up in a traditional Fijian village says that the award ultimately recognizes globally the power of a growing network of communities that are meeting their basic needs through effective local management and it recognizes that their cumulative efforts make vital contributions to global conservation efforts and targets.

Mr Tawake’s innovative approach to marine conservation through working with local fishermen and coastal communities to integrate cultural tradition with best practice fisheries management has advanced the practice of community-based resource management in the South Pacific.

As a University of the South Pacific (USP) alumni, Alifereti Tawake has a Bachelors and Masters degree in Science and was a Scientific Officer at the Institute of Applied Science.

As one of only two winners this year, the selection committee assessed their tremendous contribution to conservation; scientific credentials; the ability to influence further conservation achievements.

Words by Dwain Qalovaki and Image by Russell Lovo