The Depths of Success

Figure 1: Neera with temporary storage tanks for aquarium fishes before export.

In the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean lies Kiritimati Island, where the shimmering waters conceal a hidden gem: Willy and the Divers, a thriving saltwater aquarium fish business. At its helm is Neera Tekarawa, a woman of resilience and determination.

Neera embarked on her path with Willy and the Divers in 2018 following the passing of her brother-in-law, who along with her sister Gloria, co-owned the business. Assuming the role of manager, Neera has since skillfully overseen its operations, steering it towards continued success.

Neera packing trade fishes with some family members.

Armed with unwavering resolve and a thirst for knowledge, Neera sought to elevate Willy and the Divers to new heights. Her opportunity came in the form of specialized training programs on Kiritimati Island. With dedication, she completed courses in Maintaining Seafood Safety and Quality, as well as Establishing and Operating a Small Seafood Business. The trainings were made possible through the European Union and Government of Sweden funded USP Pacific European Union Marine Partnership project.

Empowered by newfound expertise, Neera has implemented innovative practices to ensure the health and integrity of her prized aquarium fish. From transportation protocols to meticulous record-keeping, every aspect of the business reflected her commitment to excellence.

Willy and the Divers catered to a global clientele, exporting these ornamental fishes to Asian markets like Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, as well as to the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles in the United States. Among their prized catches, the flame angel fish, the most occurring pet fish found in Kiritimati waters.

Packaging for export.

Saltwater aquarium fish trade is a rarity in Kiribati, confined primarily to Kiritimati Island. Sustainable measures implemented by the Kiribati Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources Development, limits the export of flame angel fish to 1000 per month; necessitating the careful stewardship of marine resources.

Neera navigated these with grace, leveraging her newfound business knowledge to chart a course for sustainability. She fostered a culture of environmental stewardship within her team, instilling practices that harmonized profitability with ecological responsibility.

Central to Neera’s vision was the empowerment of her community. Willy and the Divers was more than a business—it was a family affair, with Neera, Gloria, and their children working hand in hand to realize their dreams. Together with a dedicated team of divers, they braved the depths week after week, ensuring a steady supply of these exquisite marine life. They export approximately 500 of these aquarium fishes of various species on a weekly basis. The aquarium fishes range in price from US$15 to US$300 per fish.

Neera with her certificates in Establishing and Operating a Small Seafood Business and Seafood Safety and Quality

As the sun dipped below the horizon, casting a golden hue over the tranquil waters of Kiritimati Island, Neera reflected on her journey. From loss and adversity emerged resilience and triumph. Through education, innovation, and unwavering determination, Neera is incorporating these new skills and knowledge into the Willy and Divers enterprise; with further hopes of setting up her business in the near future.

USP is one of four key implementing partners of the PEUMP Programme, a EUR 45million program which promotes sustainable management and sound ocean governance for food security and economic growth while addressing climate change resilience and conservation of marine biodiversity.

It follows a comprehensive approach, integrating issues related to ocean fisheries, coastal fisheries, community development, marine conservation and capacity building under one single regional action. The PEUMP programme is housed within the Institute of Marine Resources within the School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Natural Sciences (SAGEONS).


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