A passion for people and the ocean: Marine Science student bound for Timor-Leste

Monday 14 November 2016, 12:42PM
By Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology


As a young child, David Zencominierski always had a love of the ocean. During high school he ‘lost sight’ of that passion, but while on a soul-searching OE he found himself back-packing around New Zealand and eventually enrolling on a course that would change his trajectory and help him rediscover his childhood dream.

“I’d finished an apprenticeship back home in Germany,” David recalls. “But it wasn’t what I really wanted to do. A friend suggested I go travelling first because travelling is when you get good ideas.”

While in New Zealand, the 24-year old called into Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology’s Tauranga campus to find out about the Diploma in Marine Studies.

“I showed up on campus with my back-pack. One of the tutors gave me a campus tour and told me about the course; I was hooked and signed up on the spot.”

Now almost at the end of his first year of study, David is about to undertake another intrepid journey - this time to Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) on a self-funded trip to research the fishing habits of native fishermen as part of his second year Marine Studies research project.

“The assignment we’ve been given is to make our own assignment,” David says. “It has objectives, and we stick to marine science of course, but it’s very flexible, allowing students to focus on what they’re passionate about.”

What David is passionate about is sustainable fisheries management and working with people to help them understand why those practices are important.

“Timor-Leste is one of the poorest countries in the world and one of their biggest problems is food sustainability,” David says. “I really want to do something with the people there.”

A large part of David’s project will focus on interviewing the locals who rely on fishing to survive - the information he gathers will feed back into Conservation International’s larger goal of creating successful marine reserves in an area where the coral reefs host some of the world’s most bio-diverse marine environments but where over-fishing is a large problem.

“I have spoken to Conservation International and I have their support for this project. They’ll feed me and provide me with accommodation while I’m in the field and give me access to information I need.”

It won’t be an easy ride - Timor-Leste is a country with a difficult and violent past; it only gained independence from Indonesia in 1999, after decades of occupation. But the young student is knowledgeable about the country and realistic about the difficulties he will face - including salt water crocodiles, lack of infrastructure and language barriers. 

“I’ll be working with students who will be my interpreters. There are 32 languages in 13 districts on the island but we’ll be using Tetum, Fataluku and English.”

David’s partner, Alex Scrivner, will also help him navigate the language and the locals. She already works in Timor for NGO’s that aim to strengthen women’s rights and work with victims (mainly women) from the times of war in the country.

“Alex has played a big part in inspiring me to do my project in Timor,” David says. “She also plays a big role in making this possible.”

Toi Ohomai Academic Staff Member Dave Guccione says David exhibits the best of what the institution wants for its Marine Science students.

“With this project, David is taking his compassion for people, his love of the environment and his zest for travel and creating a better future for the fisheries and coral reefs of Timor-Leste," he says. "He conceptualised a project, and we’re able to guide him to make it scientifically rigorous as well, through his training here.”

“I’ve worked very hard this past year,” David reflects. “But it doesn’t feel like work because it’s what I love doing. I want to have an impact. My objective for studying marine science was to make changes that contribute to a better world, and a more sustainable life where people work in harmony with the environment and with each other.”

David plans to travel to Timor-Leste in late November to begin his research. You can watch his &feature=youtu.be">short documentary, or contribute to his Go Fund Me campaign which will help pay for his flights and support him while he conducts his research.