Meet Jacqueline Evans, the conservationist responsible for helping to protect over 763,000 square miles of ocean from environmental degradation. Five years ago, she began a movement in the Cook Islands to protect the territory from pollution, seabed mining, and large-scale commercial fishing. Thanks to her efforts, new legislation — Marae Moana — has been passed. The victory is the first for the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands are spread among 15 small islands. As GoodNewsNetwork reports, the territory is rich in biodiversity and is home to an array of species — whales, sea turtles, manta rays, seabirds, migrating humpback whales, and several species of endangered sharks. Though traditional Polynesian culture relied on subsistence fishing and a deep cultural tie to the ocean, the industry has since changed.
When Evans was 15-years-old, she moved back to the Cook Islands with her native mother and English father. After starting her career as a fisheries surveillance officer for the Ministry of Marine Resources, she worked for the Cook Island News, the World Wildlife Fund, the Ministry of Health (where she addressed the impacts of wastewater on the marine environment), and as the director of the Te Ipukarea Society. The organization is the first NGO in the Cook Islands.
The conservationist has traveled great lengths with a team of government, NGO, and traditional leaders throughout the Cook Islands to develop the “Marae Moana” (“Sacred Ocean”) plan. In addition to having to overcome public scrutiny, she and other conservationists had to convince Cook Island government officials of the plan’s merit.
On July 13, 2017, following years of overcoming challenges, Evan’s five-year campaign succeeded. The Marae Moana Act was enacted by the government. The plan mandates that large-scale commercial fishing and seabed mining is banned within 50 nautical miles of the 15 Cook Islands.
For her efforts, Evans is being honored with the 2019 Goldman Prize for Islands and Island Nations.
“She will continue to work as the director of the Marae Moana Coordination Office regulations and a national Marae Moana spatial plan to ensure that Marae Moana is implemented and that the whole of the Cooks’ ocean territory is sustainably managed,” says the statement.
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