‘Decolonizing conservation’: Q&A with PNG marine activist John Aini

‘Decolonizing conservation’: Q&A with PNG marine activist John Aini

KUCHING, Malaysia — In 1993, fisheries scientist John Aini founded the conservation group Ailan Awareness in Papua New Guinea’s New Ireland province to help his community and others nearby reverse declines in the marine life they depend upon. The organization helps communities around the province’s islands develop marine resource management plans that are based on local customs and designed to sustainably improve their livelihoods. Aini grew up in New Ireland and is a traditional leader of the Malagan culture in the province’s northern region. He has received numerous international awards, including the Seacology Prize in 2012, for his work in marine and fisheries conservation. The Roviana Solwara Skul, or Saltwater School, is a key project that Ailan Awareness established in 2010 to teach local people about the marine environment, emphasizing both traditional knowledge and Western science. Aini co-founded the school with his brother, Miller Aini, and frequent collaborator Paige West, an anthropologist at Columbia University. Aini believes equal partnerships between indigenous people and researchers in both designing and implementing projects lead to better conservation results in local communities than do projects heavily controlled by foreign practitioners. He gave a plenary talk titled “Communities Matter: Decolonizing conservation management” on June 26 at the International Marine Conservation Congress, held in Kuching, Malaysia. Mongabay caught up with Aini after the talk. John Aini. Image by Basten Gokken/ Mongabay. Mongabay: Your speech highlighted this idea of “decolonizing conservation.” Can you explain what exactly that means? John Aini: Historically, we were colonized. All the ideas…

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