He received the award during a ceremony held at the Bernice P Bishop Museum in Hawaii on September 4 as a part of the IUCN World Conservation Congress.
He was selected for the award by the CEPF (Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund), a global organisation which provides grants to non-government and private sector organisations to help protect biodiversity hotspots which are threatened by development or other issues.
The island of Atiu is a perfect example of a biodiversity hotspot as it has the highest number of native Cook Islands birds of any island in the country, living up to its Maori name of Enua Manu, or ‘Island of Birds’.
Mateariki has dedicated much of his life to the conservation of birds on his island of birth. Work he has been involved with includes running Eco-Tours of Atiu, which have a special focus on the birds of the island.
Mateariki has been actively involved with the conservation of several of these birds, including the kopeka (Atiu Swiftlet) which is endemic (meaning found nowhere else in the world), and lives in caves on Atiu. He has helped with establishment of the kura (Rimatara Lorikeet) which had been extinct on Atiu but was re-introduced to Atiu from Rimatara in French Polynesia in 2007.
He was also involved with the kakerori (Rarotonga Flycatcher) recovery programme. The kakerori was nearly extinct on Rarotonga in the 1980s but has since recovered well on Rarotonga and there is a trans-located population on Atiu.
Mateariki has also been involved more recently on the Atiu Myna Bird Eradication Programme. There he worked alongside project manager Gerald McCormack of Cook Islands Natural Heritage Project and professional shooter Jason Tuara.
Myna birds were introduced to Atiu in 1916 to eat the stick insects (‘e) which were damaging coconut palms on the island. After the reintroduction of the kura in 2007, two nests were found in 2008 and both were being seriously harassed by myna birds, which a survey showed numbered about 6,000 at the time. In June 2009 a CEPF-funded project was started by the Natural Heritage Trust to reduce the mynas to give the kura a greater chance of thriving. George implemented this 18-month project using a biodegradable bird-toxin.
When this project finished in late 2010 the island council and residents asked that the project continue to completely eradicate a bird they considered to be a major pest around homes and in gardens. The trust accommodated the request and over the next five years George continued poisoning and trapping while Jason undertook an extensive shooting programme.
No myna has been recorded on Atiu since December 2015 and they are probably eradicated. One of the results of the removal of myna birds is that stick-insects have increased dramatically and suitable actions are under consideration.
The World Conservation Congress is organized every four years by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This is the world’s largest conservation organization, consisting of 1,300 member organisations, which include states, government agencies, non-government organisations (NGO’s), scientific and academic institutions and business associations. Te Ipukarea Society is the only member of IUCN in the Cook Islands.