It was a David Attenborough documentary on marine life that set Yolarnie Amepou on the path to become a Marine Biologist.
Raised by her mother and siblings to believe that she could pursue any dream that she desired, Yolarnie graduated from the University of Papua New Guinea in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Marine Biology and the following year undertook her honours studies.
It was whilst completing her honours degree that Yolarnie volunteered to work on the Piku Project – a research and conservation program run by the University of Canberra and funded by ExxonMobil PNG (EMPNG), that was established to protect the threatened pig-nosed turtle of the Kikori.
Impressing researchers with her enthusiasm, Yolarnie was offered a permanent role with the team and was encouraged to complete her master’s degree through the University of Canberra with the support of an EMPNG scholarship.
Today, Yolarnie leads the team working on the Piku Project in Kikori and will soon complete her Master’s program.
This team has achieved remarkable results in terms of the data they have been able to capture, the research recorded and the engagement with the local community.
Yolarnie and her team have built a close working relationship with the community through their school education program as well as their ongoing work to educate local people on the importance of environmental awareness.
Her work on the Piku Project has also taken Yolarnie around the world. From the Oceania Conference in Suva, Fiji, to the Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Arizona in the USA and more recently to the 8th World Conference of Herpetology in Hangzhou, China.
In 2015 Yolarnie was named a recipient of the CPL Pride of PNG Women’s Award in the environment category. These awards recognise the efforts of ordinary PNG women working in their communities who are considered good role models for other women and girls.
Enormously proud of the award Yolarnie is conscious of the fact that she hasn’t followed the traditional cultural expectation that is often placed upon young girls and women in PNG.
Acknowledging that she finds it challenging to accept these cultural expectations, as she did not experience them as a child, Yolarnie sees this award and her work with the Piku Project as her opportunity to raise awareness about the professional options that are available to all women in PNG today.