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Oceans of change for Tonga

We celebrated Hulita Lamasialeva Fa’anunu’s achievements on World Maritime Day last year. She embodied the 2019 theme—empowering women in the maritime community.

Last year, Australia was pleased to have provided financial support to the World Maritime University (WMU) to assist with funding 10 fellowships for maritime professionals from the South Pacific region to undertake the WMU’s 14 month Master’s program in Maritime Affairs. Australia remains a strong supporter for the maritime interests of South Pacific nations and AMSA views this contribution as an ideal way to enhance the technical, professional and leadership skills in the region.

Born and raised on Neiafu on the island of Vava’u—the second largest town in Tonga, life for Hulita always gravitated around family and the ocean. For her, the ocean sustains her community and provides a vital source of international trade for Tonga both locally and internationally.  

Hulita works for the Ministry of Fisheries in Tonga and is one of few women working in the maritime industry. In the future, she is determined to empower women of all ages and as well as educate people on the value of Tonga’s vital environmental and international trade resource—the ocean. 

Hulita Lamasialeva Faanunu

‘The main issue in the Pacific in terms of capacity building, is people do not care enough about the importance of the ocean,’ she said. 

This presents an obvious concern for Hulita and the opportunity to study at the WMU in 2018-19 allowed her to focus her research on theoretical concepts to build capacity and awareness regarding fisheries management and ocean sustainability. 

Back home in Tonga, Hulita’s professional expertise, Special Management Areas (SMA) of the surrounding oceans of Tonga, inspired her to pursue studies at the WMU. Hulita plans to apply this research to mobilise the local community of Tonga to have a more vested interest in ocean sustainability within the maritime industry.

‘I would like to build capacity in terms of fisheries governance in my local area in Tonga and to help enhance and strengthen awareness of communities and all the people of Tonga regarding the importance of oceans,’ Hulita said.

And for Hulita, encouraging women to take a lead when it comes to education and management of Tonga’s oceans will be necessary. As part of her studies at the WMU in Sweden, Hulita was able to view gender inequity in the maritime industry in Tonga through the prism of global standards—specifically the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (UN SDGs). Goal 5: Gender Equality and goal 14: Life Below Water, specifically guided her interest. Hulita wears the UN SDGs pin proudly—a visual reminder of what remains close to her heart personally and professionally.

Hulita's award

‘I would like all the women of Tonga to be aware of the opportunity for women in the maritime industry and I would like to empower and build strength for all women and to do this, we should work together,’ Hulita said. 

In Sweden, Hulita’s dissertation focused on marine special planning – this refers to ecosystem based management for conservation of ocean resources. And as mentioned, Hulita plans to drive capacity building and motivate the local community to observe and respect Special Management Areas in Tonga. Hulita would like to apply her studies by implementing measures to build a sustainable ocean management plan for the region.

‘I hope to educate people on the importance of Special Management Areas in Tonga by engaging with local communities to build capacity. I think it is important to raise awareness in terms of fisheries governance in Tonga,’ she said. 

Hulita intends to apply her theoretical studies garnered from Sweden in fisheries management to foster a sustainable ocean management plan for local community and importantly for Tonga’s international trade.

‘Fish supplies are a key export for Tonga, particularly tuna fish so there is a dependency on this industry for trade to Japan and China—sea cucumbers are also critical for Tonga’s trade and economic development.’ Hulita said.

Hulita is grateful for her time in Sweden and the insights gained from experiencing a different culture and she recognises the value of the scholarship she received from AMSA to study at the WMU and what this has meant to her family.

‘I really want to thank AMSA for the opportunity, without them I would not be here. AMSA have been generous and kind to all the WMU scholarship students. I would also like to thank the WMU for all the great experiences and our host families for showing us their culture in Sweden. And my family, for all their sacrifices, support and advice,’ she said. 

And finally Hulita thanks herself, a well-deserved sentiment she confidently imparts before she returns to her home country. And most importantly, she is aware of the original purpose that inspired her to apply for the AMSA academic scholarship—to raise awareness and promote gender equity and build capacity for ocean management in Tonga and within the Pacific region for future generations.  

Last updated: 3 May 2022