Anyone who had the deep privilege of meeting, working, diving or fishing with Steven McLaren Lee could not help but feel hopeful about the future. Steven brought so much life and energy to everything he did. He was fearless, willing to try anything, giving a hundred percent to any task he set himself.
I first met Steven when he turned up on the doorstep of the Wildlife Conservation Society to discuss ideas for his Master of Science degree. Steven wanted to find a topic that would have real impact in Fiji, and would help communities better manage their fisheries resources. At the time, the declines in the sea cucumber fishery in Fiji and the wider Pacific was a hot issue.
And so he embarked on a Masters at the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Research and University of Bremen in Germany. He decided to look at how the removal of the sea cucumber known locally as dairo (Holothuria scabra), affected the health of marine sediments.
This is an important question, as evidence from other places in the world suggested sea cucumbers played a critical role in recycling of nutrients and keeping sediments aerated. He got community agreement to work in Natuvu Village in Cakaudrove Province and in 24 months, he completed all his fieldwork, and submitted his thesis.
Steven was keen to return to Fiji and began an internship with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Using his new knowledge and skills he worked with other WCS staff to help two communities draft up management plans for their sea cucumber fishery. At the same time, Steven had two manuscripts for an international journal and for the Pacific Community’s (SPC) fisheries bulletin submitted and accepted.
Steven very quickly became sought after and started doing consultancies in Fiji and the wider Pacific region. For someone so young, he was landing contracts to do summaries of Fiji’s top 44 fisheries, desktop reviews for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), fisheries analyses for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and for SPC. Despite being in high demand, he managed to join us for the 2017 expedition we did in the northern Lau group with the Vatuvara Foundation. He kept us thoroughly entertained with his free-diving and fishing stories, while entering data with the team late into the evenings.
It is with great sadness that the WCS family farewells Steven Lee who passed away just over 2 weeks ago. Although we all feel his loss so keenly, we are grateful to have been a part of Steve’s journey in life and to share in the joy he brought to everyone around him. Rest in peace Sitiveni.