The Goldman Environmental Prize, which is also referred to as the Green Nobel Prize, is awarded to people who make a sustained and significant effort to protect the environment, often at personal and professional risk. The award provides international recognition and visibility, as well as financial support for a specific environmental vision.
The prize is awarded annually to one person from each of the world’s six geographic regions. Evans was recognised in the islands and island nations category.
The decision was made by an international jury, who selected from nominations made by a global group of environmental organisations and champions.
Evans is currently in the United States to receive the award and meet with international leaders and media.
“I was surprised to hear that I’d won the prize,” she wrote via email. “I didn’t know I was nominated… I really think it was a team effort. People that played a critical role were Kevin Iro, Tou Ariki Travel, Maria Henderson, Paul Allsworth, the late Eruera Nia, Noeline Browne, and those at Te Ipukarea Society and on the Marae Moana Task Force. The prime minister also drove this at the political level.”
Evans was heavily involved in a five-year grassroots campaign to protect the Cook Islands’ oceans, which led to the passing of the Marae Moana Act in 2017.
The Marae Moana Act legislates sustainable management and conservation of the Cook Islands’ ocean territory, and protects more than 323,000 square kilometres of ocean from large-scale commercial fishing and seabed mining. Evans has been director and sole employee of its administrative unit, the Marae Moana Coordination Office, since the law came into effect.
Before becoming its director Evans, 48, worked as a fisheries surveillance officer for the Ministry of Marine Resources and then as a conservation officer at the Cook Islands Conservation Service.
Subsequently, she worked for Cook Islands News, the World Wildlife Fund, the Ministry of Health (where she addressed the impacts of wastewater on the marine environment), and as director of the Te Ipukarea Society, the country’s first environmental NGO.
In addition to acknowledging the team of people and community leaders she collaborated with to make Marae Moana a reality, Evans wrote that she intends to use the award to support the environment that so many Cook Islanders depend on and that so many tourists pay top dollar to experience.
“The award will be really good for the Cook Islands and for Marae Moana,” she wrote. “During our time here in San Francisco there are already people searching the Cook Islands online and telling me they want to come for a holiday. There are also people who have asked to meet to see how they can help with Marae Moana.”
- Rachel Reeves