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Evans earns Masters and Honorary Doctorate

Saturday 22 June 2024 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Education, Environment, Features, National, Weekend

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Evans earns Masters and Honorary Doctorate
Cook Islands marine conservationist Jacqueline Evans graduated with a Master’s in Public Administration from her year-long studies at Harvard University, late last month. Photo by Marino Evans Vakatini/24061804

Renowned Cook Islands marine conservationist Jacqueline Evans had a double celebration recently – graduating from her year-long studies at Harvard University and receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale (ULCO) in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France.

Evans, the recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, described as the Green Nobel Prize, joined Harvard University in June last year,

Late last month, she graduated with a Master’s in Public Administration, with her son Marino Evans-Vakatini attending the ceremony.

Two weeks later, on World Oceans Day (June 8), she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale (ULCO) in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France.


Evans received an Honorary Doctorate from the Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale (ULCO) in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. SUPPLIED/24061803

Evans, who founded Moana Foundation after receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize, said her year at Harvard was probably the best year of her life.

Before leaving the Cook Islands for Harvard University, Evans said her studies would focus on sustainable development.

“It’s already a privilege to be a university student because I love learning, getting to know other students and the pressures of meeting deadlines and pushing myself to get organised,” Evans told Cook Islands News.

“The experience at Harvard was at the next level because the other students are normally the top in their class so it’s more competitive. Also, the experience is like attending a year-long conference but with assessments. Harvard holds a lot of events where you can network and use their resources to achieve the goals you want to achieve.”

Evans, who played a key leadership role in the seven-year campaign to establish Marae Moana marine reserve in the Cook Islands, said the thing she loved most was spending time with the almost 240 students in her Master in Public Administration programme.

“They are not only smart but each of them tries to make the world a better place somehow. Some address poverty, others work on democracy, others focus on gender issues. They are good people.”

Graduation was an enormous celebration with hundreds of other students parading the streets of Harvard, she said.

“I was elated to have my son Marino there.”

Evans said she was contacted by Université du Littoral Côte d'Opale (ULCO) about the Honorary Doctorate through her Moana Foundation website.

“They first heard about me when I won the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2019 and they had been following me since then. They also read about the work I did before the Marae Moana Cook Islands Marine Park project,” she said.

“At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a hoax because anyone can make contact through a website, but after checking them out I realised it was for real.”

While at Harvard University, Evans reaffirmed that marine research was her greatest passion.

“I have always been passionate about it even when I started working at the Ministry of Marine Resources in 1989. In fact the reason I left there in 1992 was because I was stuck in an office managing information on foreign fishing vessels, and the Conservation Service was looking for someone to design and lead a coral reef research programme.

“So, I jumped at that opportunity. I went to USP to complete my Bachelor of Science degree but when I came back to work for the Conservation Service in 1996 the government went through a financial crisis and our research programmes were cut.

“I’m pleased to see that the Ministry of Marine Resources now has a permanent marine research programme.”

Evans is hoping to use the connection she has with Université du Littoral Côte d’Opale to develop marine research partnerships for the Moana Foundation.

She said that collaborating with French marine scientists, leaders in this field, had been a lifelong dream.

“Now is an opportunity for a wonderful partnership between the Moana Foundation and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences at ULCO that researches topics such as plankton and the carbon cycle, microplastics, marine microbiology, climate change, remote sensing, fisheries, coastal geography, marine geology, oceanography and many others.

“ULCO is beginning new areas of study including technology for decarbonisation and artificial intelligence.

“I haven’t yet decided what type of marine research I want to do. I just want it to be helpful to the Ministry of Marine Resources and the rest of the Cook Islands government and community.”