From the land of Iakwe

[Iakwe (or Yokwe) is a greeting in Marshallese]

With 5.5 hours in 3 different aeroplanes travelling from Majuro in the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) back home to Suva for what will take just under 12 hours altogether I figured I’d do some writing.

The Marshall Islands has always been one of my favourite places to work in since I started going there in 2013. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve visited the atoll since then but this past week has been my second time this year to travel over to work with the great team at the Marshall Islands Marine Resource Authority (MIMRA) who I’m engaged as a consultant for. It’s definitely the people that I get to work with in different countries that make what I do enjoyable. Although, it’s not fun spending time away from my family and so I prefer to keep my visits short.

MIMRA’s new headquarters

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MIMRA HQ

Part of what I do for MIMRA is to help them design and set up their ICT infrastructure in their new headquarters and am personally responsible for designing their surveillance centre within the building which will play a central role in their fisheries Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS) activities.

Essentially, I complement their team on the ground working to set up their ICT infrastructure – Ron (their hardworking IT guy) and Pacificore, their local ICT contractors. While they all have great ICT knowledge and skills my role provides a bigger picture view of ICT and specific to the fisheries ICT domain having worked at Pacific regional organisations for the past decade and the last 6 years in fisheries.

National fisheries surveillance centres

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Everyone imagining the surveillance centre

It’s great to see another national fisheries administration take the lead and set up their own surveillance centre. PNG and the Cook Islands are the only other countries that I know of who have their own fisheries surveillance centres. Typically, surveillance centers are state-of-the-art facilities with a lot of large screen monitors and high-end computing gear with impressive capabilities largely to monitor fishing vessel activities and support MCS activities. The folks that work in these centres often deal with a lot of fisheries data (vessel track information, licenses, catch information, compliance, prosecution and violations data, etc) and should have the means to analyse all of that to ensure that fishing vessels in their EEZ and their vessels, licenses and flagged, operate within the rules that guide fisheries in the Pacific. It’s been an exciting area to be in over the last few years that I’ve been involved because of all the technology that’s used – satellite technology for near real-time data collection, mobile apps and tablets for data collection, drones, satellite imagery for surveillance, national and regional database systems, machine learning algorithms for predicting fishing behaviour, and so much more.

Taking up the Database Administrator role at the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in Honiara in 2012 I had no idea how that role and my involvement in fisheries would shape my future. 6 years later and having led the ICT team at FFA from 2014-2017 I’m now, according to my friend and fellow consultant Francisco Blaha, one of the youngest fisheries consultants in the region albeit with a technology angle.

I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more of us Pacific Islanders using our expertise as consultants in the region.

Meeting old friends and colleagues
You get to know a lot of people in fisheries from all over the Pacific. There are so many workshops and meetings in the region that fisheries folks are like the highly migratory tuna that they talk about.

On the way over to RMI it was great to meet my good friend Cook Islander (Papa PJ) Peter Graham of FFA on the plane heading to Pohnpei. To meet me in Majuro was Helmar Lejjena from MIMRA who recently served with the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) in Honiara and was even a bodyguard to Prime Minister Sogavare! That last bit always amazes me.

I got to meet my former FFA colleagues, Yolanda Elanzo who now works for the World Bank project at MIMRA as well as Dr. Filimon Manoni (F2) who is the Attorney General of RMI. MIMRA is an interesting organisation which is like a smaller version of a regional organisation in that there are several different Pacific Islanders working for them – Maria Sahib from Fiji, the two wantoks Bernard Fiubala and John from the Solomon Islands, Francisco and me as advisors/consultants.

Through the course of the week I also met fellow consultant Wez Norris who was the Deputy Director-General (DDG) for FFA and was also the one to farewell me on-behalf of FFA. Was also pleasantly surprised to meet Agnes Kotoisuva who was my boss at USP when I was responsible for the uni’s Human Resources Management Information Systems. I even got to meet Dr. Theresa Koroivulaono the President of the College of Marshall Islands and Ludwig Kumoru the CEO of the Party to Nauru Agreement (PNA) office. Bumped into several other Fijians working for the Pacific Communty (SPC) who were on island to do work too. All these amazing people in Majuro at the same time. Wow!

It was especially pleasing to have dinner with Francisco and his host family before I left. He’s one of those people who when anytime you meet them you always leave a little more knowledgeable and I got some fantastic advice from such a seasoned fisheries professional as he is. I’m grateful to folks like him and many others in the region who have helped me learn about fisheries. Many of the opportunities I’ve had working in fisheries wouldn’t have come if I hadn’t bothered to learn the business side of fisheries and just stuck to the technology only. It’s a lesson that I like to share often with university students whenever I get to give talks to them. Learning about ICT is one thing but it becomes even more useful when you learn and apply it to whatever sector you’re working in. It has certainly worked for me.

Our future Pacific fisheries people
This coming week is the final assessment phase for one of the cohorts of the Fisheries Enforcement and Compliance (FEC) course which is run out of USP’s Pacific TAFE as a Certificate IV level course. It was set up to give fisheries officer’s pathways and recognised qualifications and will likely be expanded over time.

FFA plays a big role in this course having developed it and so I join my former colleagues to give the students a refresher on their online learning material and conduct assessments. The section I’ll be covering is on Data Systems in Pacific fisheries which I had authored when we started this course in 2014. Looking at the content it doesn’t seem like much has changed since then. The students are all staff of their national fisheries administrations who have been doing this course online from their home countries and now come together for the final assessment in Fiji. It used to be a four week face-to-face intensive course when we developed and ran it a couple years ago but costs, time constraints, and the accessibility of technology now make it more suitable to be run the way it is now.

Great challenges ahead
Excitingly, on Monday (11 June) I join around 2,000 other developers chosen from around the world in the ConsenSys Developer Academy Program 2018 where we’ll learn how to develop in the Ethereum blockchain platform. Don’t know about blockchain? Well, that’s a whole series of blog posts to explain it but what you should know is that it forms the basis for cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, but with other exciting properties and use cases. It is touted as one of the technologies that is set to revolutionise many industries across the World. Some think it’ll be as revolutionary as the Internet was when it was introduced.

Luckily, I was offered a scholarship (otherwise it’s US$1,000 to register) after successfully getting through a short online test. This is an 11 week program and is only the second year it has been run. Of the 1,300 developers that started in the 2017 program only about 150 completed it successfully and 40 of the top developers were hired by ConsenSys which is one of the biggest blockchain companies in the World.

Now, I have no doubt that I’ll be one of the more “mature” developers in this cohort where the majority of developers will likely be in their 20s. The recommended time to spend on the course a week is 15 hours and it is self-paced with everything done online. That might be 15 hours for a 20-something year old programmer but double that for me!

I love a good challenge! Doesn’t help that I’m reading Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography Finding my Virginity right now where his entrepreneurial sense of adventure is infectious!

Over the course of the ConsenSys Developer Program I’ll aim to blog weekly on my experiences which may be useful to others thinking of taking this program in the future.

Until next time.  Moce mada.