John Aini
Aini leading Malagan ceremony honoring the souls of the dead
2022

John Aini

Ecologist

Continuing the Ways of Our Ancestors

meet john

John Aini is founder and director of Ailan Awareness, a marine conservation and Indigenous empowerment-focused NGO in New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. He is a Maimai—a chief in the Malangan culture in northern New Ireland, a Ainpidik in the Tumbuan Society from southern New Ireland, and a Merengen from his own Tungak culture from Lovongai, New Hanover. He has worked as a community-based resource management expert and lecturer at the National Fisheries College of Papua New Guinea. He is the co-founder of The Ranguva Solwara Skul, a former member of government, and recipient of the 2012 Seacology Prize.

Continuing the Ways of Our Ancestors
Nominated by: Paige West FR’15
Class of 2022 Location Papua New Guinea

I was born and raised in Lavongai, a small coastal community on the island of New Hanover. In 1993, together with my late brother Miller and our cousin Michael, I founded Ailan Awareness an NGO focused on the strengthening of Indigenous sovereignty with regard to both biological and cultural diversity in my home of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Since its beginnings, Ailan Awareness has engineered a unique approach to what we now call decolonial marine conservation. We empower coastal communities to manage their marine and cultural resources using a mix of traditional and scientific methods, giving primacy to strengthening Indigenous conservation methods. Working at a grassroots level, we address a major gap in the efforts of the national government and big international NGOs. We give the people who are directly affected by declining biodiversity and the loss of tradition the support and tools required to design and carry the conservation of biological diversity and traditional cultural practices.

John Aini views Malagan materials at the Met, Manhattan
John Aini views Malagan materials at the Met, Manhattan

“This is my lifes work. In the end, what I want for the future is for our children to be able to live on our traditional lands, fish our traditional seas, and continue the ways of our ancestors.”

- John Aini
Aini leading Malagan ceremony honoring the souls of the dead
Aini leading Malagan ceremony honoring the souls of the dead

The potential impact of our work is the preservation of the reef as a viable source of food, income and beauty for now and future generations, and healthy reefs with abundant and sustainably managed resources. The coastal communities and ecosystems of New Ireland are being destroyed at an alarming rate by overfishing, pollution and degradation. If current trends continue, neither the reefs nor the communities that depend upon them will be able to recover from the declining fisheries stocks and reef degradation. Without the work we do, future conservation initiatives will have little to protect and local communities will be forced to abandon traditional lands and livelihoods in order to survive.

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