The man who teaches for nature

04 July 2011 | News story

Nobody knows better the importance of shaping young minds to value their islands natural bounties then Professor Randy Thaman who has spent over 37 years teaching at the University of the South Pacific (USP), an IUCN Member.

The university has served the region for 43 years and prides itself as the premier institution for higher level education. As one of the longest serving academics at USP, Prof Thaman was a co-founder of the Environmental Science Studies Programme which he has passionately taught under for a long time.

As a teacher he believes that his most compelling project is to inspire.

I work to inspire local students and communities to have a passion for learning the best, most up-to-date modern science while also being careful to protect their traditional knowledge and skills""

 

Thaman has lectured in biogeography, rural and agricultural geography and environmental science. During this time he has taught, supervised and mentored countless graduates and their children, some of who are now leaders in the fields of conservation and sustainable development in the region.

 He has conducted research in all of USP’s twelve member countries as well as in Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and French Polynesia. In much of this work, he has worked and published in collaboration with his students, fellow staff and people from local communities and other regional and international organizations.

A project he is currently involved in allows him to work with postgraduate students and local village fishers (both males and females) in the surveying of a marine protected site located in the Navukavu area near Suva, Fiji. Their findings so far indicate that over 300 species of eels, finfish, crabs and other crustaceans, shellfish and other marine organisms have returned to the area. These species were thought to have disappeared and threatened due to over fishing, habitat degradation and use of unsustainable fishing practices over the past 40 years.

Name it or lose it,” he says referring to the need to protect, record and enrich “ethnobiodiversity”. “Without this knowledge, we will not be able to conserve biodiversity in the long-run”.

 

Also recently, Prof Thaman spearheaded a tree planting campaign at the university’s Laucala Campus in Suva bringing together students, community members and members of the Econesian Society, the university’s regional environmental student action group, which he is also Co-Patron and advisor. They planted 1,300 trees during the campaign as a contribution to the government of Fiji’s Plant 1 Million Trees Initiative.

 Driven by his passion to teach and influence for nature, Prof Thaman says that his greatest satisfaction comes from seeing committed graduates working with local communities, governments, educational and regional institutions to continue the good work in promoting environmentally sustainable development for their people and islands.

Rather than using their ‘degrees’ for their own self interests, there are those who genuinely believe in the efforts to safeguard biodiversity,” he says. “Without good, committed local graduates and increased awareness of the current human-induced biodiversity crisis, all our outside funded projects and local initiatives will probably ultimately fail in the long run”

 

In his years of work, Prof Thaman has published widely in the fields of island and marine biodiversity, botany, ethnobiology, agrobiodiversity, agroforestry, food and productive security, invasive organisms and field research methodology. He is a founding member of the Pacific Islands Roundtable for Nature Conservation and founder and first Chair of the South Pacific Action Committee on Human Ecology and Environment (SPACHEE) which pioneered early conservation efforts before the first arrival in the 1990s of WWF, Wildlife Conservation Society, FSPI, Conservation International, BirdLife International, IUCN and other environmental action groups. He has also published numerous articles on “Island Life” in the local media and has always made himself available as a resource person to promote awareness on environmental issues that plague island and ocean biodiversity. In 1997 he was invested as a Member of the Order of Fiji for his service to Fiji.