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Iro wins top ocean prize

Tuesday 20 September 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Environment, National

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Iro wins top ocean prize
Kevin Iro has been named the recipient of the 2022 Seacology Prize. Picture: Seacology/22091903

Ocean advocate and former rugby league star Kevin Iro has been named the recipient of the 2022 Seacology Prize for his commitment towards the world’s largest multi-use marine park, Marae Moana.

The prize is awarded annually to an islander for exceptional achievement in preserving island environments and culture.

Seacology is an environmental NGO based in California with its mission to protect threatened island ecosystems all over the world.

Iro said it was a privilege to win the award.

“This is sort of representing Cook Islands, the government and Marae Moana, so it makes it pretty special,” Iro said.

“Marae Moana is a major part of Cook Islands culture and our ocean, so it’s good to have it acknowledged on the world stage in any capacity.” 

Marae Moana is the largest multi-use marine park in the world – spanning about the size of Mexico. It became a reality in July 2017 after a unanimous vote in the Cook Islands Parliament. The marine park bans commercial fishing and seabed mining within a 15-mile radius of each of the country’s islands.

Iro was heavily involved in its formation.

Iro had a rugby league career playing for teams in New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom from the late 1980s to early 2000s. After Iro retired he returned to the Cook Islands and was alarmed by the environmental damage he saw. From around 2010 he started the journey of helping create Marae Moana.

The Marae Moana team continue doing advocacy work, with the painting of the Nikao seawall being one of the projects.

“We want to keep going into the schools speaking about Marae Moana,” Iro said.

“The importance of the ocean, the sovereignty of our oceans, not just our particular Marae Moana but also the region…. there’s a whole lot of stuff that we can talk to our kids about.”

Iro said he hoped the younger generation would be inspired and be involved with the ocean.  

In 2021, Saw John Aung Thong from India’s Andaman Islands won the Seacology award. A media release from Seacology said Saw John, who is a member of the islands’ Karen community, exemplified the NGOs vision of locally led island conservation.  

In 2020, Omar Abdallah Juma from Kenya won the award. In a release the organisation said Juma had brought communities, governments, and fishermen together to protect Kenya’s great marine biodiversity.

The award comes with US$10,000 cash prize and normally a trip to the United States for the prize giving.

However, due to the pandemic the event will be livestreamed instead.

Iro said the money would go back into Marae Moana to continue the organisation’s outreach.

Iro found out about the award a few weeks ago. He said a person from Seacology came to the Cook Islands to make a short film about Iro and what had happened since Marae Moana was established in 2017.

The film would come out when Iro gets the award on October 6.

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