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Tepoerau Mai

May 1, 2021

Announcing the First Two Sue Taei Ocean Fellows: Tepoerau Mai and Te Aomihia Walker

The Sue Taei Ocean Fellowship is a new education and professional development opportunity for Indigenous Pacific Island women seeking to improve the lives of their communities through ocean guardianship. The fellowship was established by the Taei family, together with Conservation International and Nia Tero, in honor of Sue Taei, a tireless ocean champion and advocate for Pacific Island communities and the engagement of women as leaders and problem solvers.

Tepoerau Mai and Te Aomihia Walker both bring the insights of Indigenous knowledge to some of the most pressing challenges for sustainable development in the Pacific region.

Tepoerau Mai has transformed her lifelong interest in traditional herbal medicine into a career focused on understanding how the chemistry of the natural world can help bring sustainable social and economic development to her home in Oceania. Originally from Tahiti and of Tahitian and Marquesan descent, Tepoerau holds a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry, physics and analytical chemistry with a specialty in the chemistry of natural products. She has published research on the chemicals produced by marine sponges that help fight bacterial infections in fish farming—a potential alternative to the use of antibiotics which can harm the environment. Currently based in Kanaky/New Caledonia, Tepoerau has expanded her professional experience through participating as a scientific guide for a local non-profit and supporting the restoration and protection of a marine reserve. The fellowship will allow Tepoerau to further research on micro-algae, focusing on the risk of toxic and harmful micro-algae on human health and shellfish farming. Ciguatera fish poisoning affects up to 200,000 people in Oceania annually—a significant threat that further study may help prevent.

Te Aomihia Walker

Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Te Aomihia Walker (Ngāti Porou) has a deep passion for the ocean and her Māori heritage and culture. Through her work and studies, she seeks to support the aspirations of whānau (family), hapū (sub-tribes) and iwi (tribes) to achieve their collective vision of political, social, cultural, environmental and economic self-determination. Currently, Te Aomihia works as a Policy Analyst at Te Ohu Kaimoana, the Māori Fisheries Trust established in 2004 to protect and advance the interests of Māori in the marine environment. In this role, she brings together the knowledge of government, kaitiaki (Māori environmental guardians who hold Indigenous knowledge), and fishing industry representatives to provide policy and fisheries management advice to iwi and the wider Māori community. Te Aomihia holds a degree in marine biology and statistics, as well as a diploma in Te Pinakitanga o te Reo Kairangi — Māori language and protocols. The Fellowship will support Te Aomihia’s participation in the UNESCO Fisheries Training Program in Iceland where she will develop her understanding of fisheries management, industry and resource economics. While there she will develop a research project to implement on her return to Aotearoa, using Indigenous knowledge and practices to inform good fisheries management at a local and national scale.

The Sue Taei Ocean Fellowship is being managed by the Taei Family, Nia Tero, and Conservation International.