Local Women Creating Waves of Change in Melanesian Communities


By Michaela Farnham

Supported by the Coral Sea Foundation (@coralseafoundation), the Sea Women of Melanesia are a small group of young women, working together to advocate and enact change within their communities. This week our editor, Michaela, was fortunate enough to interview one of them, Julyne Norlie, the coordinator for Papua New Guinea.


Hey Julyne! When did your passion for the ocean start?

I believe the passion existed in me from the time I was a small child. I remember growing up, every school break I would visit my mother’s place on Rambutyo Island in the Manus Province. It is a 2-hour journey by speedboat to get there, and sometimes the weather was all calm and other times it can be very rough. But the experience is just amazing, it teaches you to be strong in both smooth and rough times when sailing through the journey of life. I’ve always wanted to give something back to my people, to help in whatever little way I can. And then it struck me, If I study Marine Biology, I would fulfill my passion, and help my people in marine resource conservation and management. That very moment, I realized that this is where my passion lies. I graduated in April 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences degree.

Sea Women in action (Photos: Coral Sea Foundation)

What are the goals of this program and HOW WAS IT FOUNDED?

The reefs of Melanesia are part of the Eastern Coral Triangle and some of the most biodiverse in the world, but there are few viable marine parks in the region, and population pressures are increasing. There is an urgent need for more marine reserves in Melanesia, but for these reserves to be successful, they must be initiated and managed by the local communities, as there is little government funding to support reserve development.

The Sea Women of Melanesia Training Program aims to empower indigenous women to be proactive in grass roots action to setup marine reserves. The program gives them the skills to dive and survey coral reefs and communicate the need for the reserves to their communities. Engaging the local communities and understanding their cultural links to the sea and traditional fishing rights is essential to this process and having women from that community as advocates that can communicate in local dialect is essential. In a broader sense, we know that educating women in developing countries leads to lower birth rates, better health, more prosperity, and better decisions about natural resource use, so the training program delivers desirable outcomes across a whole range of biological and social challenges.


The Sea Women of Melanesia with supporter Dr.Andy Lewis (Coral Sea Foundation) in Port Moresby (Photo: Julyne Norlie)

If you could describe the Sea Women of Melanesia in three words, what would they be?

United, determined and achievers.

UNITED – it is in the nature of Melanesian people that there is always a sense of unity when a special event or occasion is taking place or about to take place. Having the spirit of oneness and unity, brings about a successful and strong society.

DETERMINED – with great and unshakeable determination comes success. Melanesian women have so much physical strength to endure the everyday activities and take care of their families. If they are determined to train their minds to be focused they will surely achieve anything.

ACHIEVERS – we are highfliers, so we can soar high if we choose to be.

When we stay united and determined with our goals we get to achieve anything we want to become.

Thank you to Julyne Norlie for participating in a Girls in Ocean Science interview. Want to learn more about the Sea Women of Melanesia? Head over to Coral Sea Foundation.