Since then Tucker has made nine more trips to the Cook Islands in a seven-year period, making her current stay visit number 10.
This is also her longest visit by far – and her most important too, as the Massey University lecturer is in the middle of a four-month research trip to investigate the environmental views and values of tourists while visiting Rarotonga.
“I just love the place,” says Tucker. “I discovered the wonders of coral reefs and diving and snorkelling, so that became a bit addictive, and I had to keep coming back.”
While every previous visit has been as a tourist, it sounds like it was always only going to be a matter of time before the 43-year-old academic could figure out a way to somehow mesh her love of Rarotonga with her work in environmental sustainability.
“The sneaky part of me was really wanting to try to find a way to be able to be based here while on sabbatical (academic research leave), because I just love being here,” she admits.
“So I just brought together my interests in environmental sustainability and what that’s like on a small island nation.”
In a nutshell, the purpose of Tucker’s research is to attempt to understand, “how visitors might be better supported to make more pro-environmental decisions, while ensuring that the enjoyment of being on holiday is not obstructed”.
“As someone that’s been a tourist myself in the past, that’s the position that I found most comfortable coming from,” she says. “Which is why I focused on what someone as a tourist – like myself can do or be assisted to do when they enter to help ease some of the pressures from the more and more people that are coming here each year.”
To gather her data, Tucker has distributed 1200 survey forms around the island, leaving them mostly at accommodation providers. “Everywhere from the Edgewater through to the backpackers, and a woman that has just a couple of little villas in Muri, so it’s a big range,” she says.
The survey poses questions relating to why people decide to visit Rarotonga in the first place, environmentally-friendly activities or actions they might have engaged in while here, and how environmentally concerned people are when visiting Rarotonga versus being at home.
While Tucker says it’s too soon to draw any definite conclusions, she has observed some early trends in her research.
“The recycling/rubbish thing is definitely coming through as being something that people seem to be wanting to be able to do more here,” she explains.
“And the other thing is concerns around water as well. That links back to the plastic water bottles, and buying water, and I don’t know that people are necessarily aware of the water stations where you can get water as well.”
Tucker hopes her research might eventually be used to help effect some sort of real change. “I don’t like to do my work without there being something tangible that comes out of it,” she says. “That’s just the way that I do things.”
Thinking along these lines, Tucker points to the fact that 93 per cent of her respondents so far have said that they would either definitely or probably use a reusable shopping bag if they were issued one. Ninety-one per cent said the same thing with regard to reusable water bottles, and 87 per cent for coffee cups.
“It would be wonderful if you could arrive at the airport as a visitor and there was a decent quality reusable bag, a decent quality reusable water bottle, and maybe a mug or something,” says Tucker.
“That would be the most practical kind of thing.”