Interview with Cherie Whippy-Morris, Fiji
I am currently an Assistant Lecturer, Marine Sustainable Development, at the Institute of Marine Resources, University of the South Pacific. I work on program development for fisheries professionals at the vocational level and supervising research on marine-related topics in the Pacific region.
You could say the Ocean’s literally in my blood. My grandfather, the late Walter Whippy was a boat builder of old school wooden boats, like his father the late Charles Whippy. Great Grandpa Charles began Whippy’s Boatyard Ltd and handed it to my grandfather Walter. My Dad, Mitchell Whippy – was a boat builder and took over the business, though he is currently retired. Both my dad and Grandpa Charles are my key role models. They introduced me to the sea and that’s where my curiosity began. I am now 54 and well into my career in the marine/ocean space. I love the work, and the satisfaction that comes from striving to make a difference, the empowering of people through the skills they gain, especially young women in the fisheries field.
Lots is said of the gender dimension to this work. For myself, I was always encouraged by Dad. He would constantly get my sister Sydel and me to participate in a variety of activities during our upbringing.
The most common question I face in this line of work is “How do you do it?” I tell them “I tackle tasks and problems as soon as I can so that it is dealt with and sorted ASAP – and then I move on with the next!”
My standout memory and lightbulb moment in this field came from my USP mentor, who was well known for his energy and passion for teaching at the Institute of Marine Resources (IMR) and the Marine Studies Programme. The late Johnson Seeto would tell me not to be intimated by others, especially when teaching students – as I know more than they do. It helps me step into my role on those days when I need a bit more strength in my step, I guess.
I am drawn to the wide cross-sections and interests in this work. It is not monotonous as teaching is not my core role. I am involved in program development and training in various marine-related subjects.
As for the future of fisheries and where it’s going to be in the next ten years, I think climate change has really flipped a lot our generation and made more of us rethink the future. As much as I love seafood, the future of fisheries is bleak as there are so many environmental threats mainly caused by humans at all levels (local to global). These are increasingly becoming more frequent and intense. This is not the fisheries we want. I know it’s not the future I want for my Pacific Ocean heritage. As I get older, the trends and impacts of actions now on the future become more important. I do see some fish species becoming endangered and even extinct. People who fish for food are going to be competing more in the same zones against people who fish for profit – this will happen as fishers have to further from the shore to find fish, due to climate change and over-exploitation along coastlines. More people will get seafood-borne illnesses due to poisons and contaminants like plastic – or the link between what is being dumped in the ocean and ends up being served back to us as food, is going to become clearer.
On the positive side, thanks to the ranks of women excelling in education and branching out in their career choices, I see women advancing in fisheries as more will venture beyond the reef. They will not only be the fishers, but they will also be the ones leading and excelling in small scale fisheries businesses and the Blue economy.
As I look back on all the advice that is given to me, what would I tell my 20-year-old self? Or share with other youth looking at career choices? Strive to do your best, challenge yourself, find a mentor to help you through the tough times and if something doesn’t work, try a different approach. Also find time to reflect on your actions. Then take the time to make amends, to go back and correct anything – especially if it upsets or offends others. We may live in the world’s biggest ocean, and our Pacific people-to-people connections are extraordinary – but sometimes, this big ocean can feel like the world’s smallest village!