Dec 2013– Professor Bill Aalbersberg, Director of the Institute of Applied Science at the University of the South Pacific, and a co-founder of the LMMA Network, received the inaugural Pacific Islands Environment Leadership Lifetime Achievement award (PIELA) for his work in the field of community based adaptive management (CBAM) and integrated coastal management (ICM).
First moving to Fiji in 1970 with the US Peace Corps, Bill has made Fiji and the Pacific his home ever since. Although trained as a biochemist, he is best known for his work on natural resource management, in particular, working with local communities, and building capacity of Pacific Island students.
Bill has been instrumental in building and enhancing local capacity for natural resource management with innovative ideas such as the recognition of the importance of LMMAs. This has led to increased support for decentralized management and implementation bodies (ICMs, YMSTs), which encourage holistic and innovative problem solving of environmental issues by local and externally-based teams. These approaches have successfully achieved natural resource management objectives, as well as garnered further support for local management. For Fiji, this has resulted in hundreds of villages being effectively reached, and stakeholders united.
Beyond Fiji, the importance of community heart, ownership, and values is something that Bill continuously emphasizes.
Bill has earned wide respect for his leadership and understanding of the critical role local people need to play in the sustainable management of their resources, and that successful conservation efforts must be embedded in the context, conditions, and vision of local people. A pioneer of the local management movement, Bill has incorporated “in the field” community work with national and regional networking and advocacy, which has helped elevate LMMAs and the LMMA Network, now an internationally sought after approach to marine resource management.
Bill is also a dedicated professor and mentor to students from Fiji and across the Pacific, providing scholarships and education linked with practical work experience. He helped develop the innovative Pacific Islands Community Conservation Course, which has reached over 100 students from 14 Pacific countries, many of whom are in conservation and environment management leadership positions in NGOs and government today.
Bill has been with the University of the South Pacific for more than 27 years, having served as the Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader in Chemistry and Professor of Natural Products Chemistry before becoming Director of the Institute of Applied Sciences in 1999. His work in the field of community based management and integrated coastal management has earned him recognition by other awards, including the Walter B Jones Memorial and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Excellence Awards for Coastal and Ocean Resource Management in 2005 and, as part of the Fiji LMMA network, the United Nations Equator Initiative Award in 2003.
Apart from professional impact, Bill walks the talk– he speaks the local language, shows concern for the environment and especially the people, and is known for gladly taking the time to sit and ‘talanoa’ over ‘kava’ with the locals, not just to share, but also to listen and learn. He is one to speak his mind when and where needed, and when he has, it is often to encourage simple, inexpensive approaches that can be sustained and replicated easily.
Bill was joined by fellow PIELA Lifetime Achievement winners Audrey Newman for her work particularly in Micronesia and in building local capacity, and Professor Randy Thaman (advancing Pacific science, recognition of traditional knowledge research and teaching). PIELAs were also granted in three categories for work in environmental sustainability and conservation (see table below).
The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) established PIELA specifically to recognize the contributions of individuals, communities, non-governmental organizations, private enterprises, and countries towards achieving an environmentally sustainable Pacific. The inaugural awards presentation was held during the Ninth Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas, with future awards to be given every 2 years.