Lysa Wini: My Experience at the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance

My name is Lysa Wini-Simeon and I come from the Solomon Islands, an island archipelago of approx. 900 islands spread across the vast expanse blue continent. I am a marine scientist by training.  I have a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in Marine Science and a Postgraduate Certificate in Diplomacy and International Affairs from the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji Islands.  I was a United Nations NIPPON Fellow on Oceans and Law of the Sea and completed my fellowship at the University of Strathclyde in December 2018.

The day I received news that I was accepted for the United Nations NIPPON Foundation Fellowship program, I was ecstatic. The first phase of the fellowship was a 3 months stint in New York and in the 2nd phase I was required to spend 6 months at a University to complete a research thesis. I had already been to New York but I had always wanted to return to the “city that never sleeps”. I admit I had hoped that my 2nd phase would be in Australia or somewhere closer to home and family. Unfortunately, the stars never aligned like they do in the movies and it seemed like the gods conspired to thwart those expectations. My heart sank when I saw that I had been placed in Glasgow at the University of Strathclyde. A simple search of ‘Glasgow’ on Google showed me how far away from home I was going to be - the island girl in me wanted to go home! I was not Moana!  I wanted to go home or at least be closer!

But life throws you a curve ball when you least expect it!

I arrived in Glasgow on an unusually bright sunny summer day, the first of many, in my exhilarating experience in Scotland.  Almost everything I had read on Google did not prepare me for the amazing learning experience I was to get.

I was placed at the Strathclyde Center for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG), led by Professor Elisa Morgera (my supervisor) and Dr Francesco Sindico. I was able to immediately settle into the SCELG program, made friends, and became part of the SCELG family. The active interactions with my peers and supervisor challenged me to carefully review my research objectives. I came to Strathclyde with a policy focused research, but that changed as I became aware of the strong legal environment I was in, everyone was working on a legal aspects of the environment. Besides, my 10 years of active work in ocean management in Solomon Islands made me realize that Solomon Islanders’ reliance on the ocean and coastal areas has become the “pacific” way of life. And this ‘Pacific way of life’ is critical for us to make progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal 14. This way of life is complex and is at threat from contemporary governance systems, especially national laws that are fragmented and most times do not recognize traditional rights and knowledge of local communities. Solomon Islands provides a good example of such disconnect: about 80% of the land, coasts and natural resources are under customary tenure. My research titled ‘‘Wane i asi’ - Our people, the sea and the law’ examined a local sea dependent community on Funafou Island in Lau Lagoon, Malaita Province who have applied customary law to secure their sea tenure and critically look at how their rights are recognized in the Fisheries Management Act 2015. A key finding in my thesis is, this local communities’ traditional rights over their resources and tenure is under threat, and they lack participation in formal processes, therefore it is uncertain how long they will persist in the rapidly changing legal environment today. This research has enabled me to return to my country with a sense of urgency and sensitivity on how we approach local communities and their critical role in ensuring ocean governance is inclusive of our people.

I completed my UN fellowship in December 2018. But my journey didn’t end there.  I am excited to be given an opportunity through the One Ocean Hub to pursue a PhD in law with Strathclyde University. In January 2019, a One Ocean Hub workshop was organized in the Pacific and I was invited to attend, the conversations at the meeting emphasized on the disconnect between states and local communities and their ‘voicelessness’ in ocean development aspirations. I realized a significant gap in the literature is that research has yet to offer a multidisciplinary perspective on contemporary customary marine tenure issues, which is anchored in the history and evolution of the current situation of legal plurality. Therefore, the topic I will pursue is ‘ The ‘Imola e asi’ (People of the Sea): The influence of the British Empire on the ‘Imola e asi’ during the Protectorate era and the traces of imperial legislation on current ocean-related laws in Solomon Islands’.  I will apply a multidisciplinary approach (history and law) to critically look in depth into the disconnect between people and national ocean laws. Because this connectivity is critical for small island states such as Solomon Islands who are in the process of building a robust ocean governance framework, and ensures our people are included in the decisions and the development of our ocean resources. In that way, local communities will be able to gain the best out of their reliance and utilization of this finite but very important resource - our ocean and safeguard their ‘Pacific way of life’.

Lysa recently featured in the UNESCO-IOC blog series in the lead-up to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.