|Maria Tuoro (Taarua Rangatira-traditional title)
|Director, Marae Moana
|Office of the Prime Minister
|Rarotonga, COOK ISLANDS
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Auckland, New Zealand and brought up in Rarotonga. My father is Cook Islander and my mother comes from Kaitaia, New Zealand. As a half-caste child, I grew up learning maori and then English to communicate between both parents. I am their only child and grew up in the village of Arorangi.
I aspire to all things, people and have an affinity for my cook island people. I am fluent in Cook Island Maori and use this as a communications tool to help bridge the gap between development in the modern world to our traditional customs and traditions.
Family is very strong for me as well as my faith. I am not religious however, I hold strong values and virtues taught to me by my elders and community. I am your exemplary, “it takes a village to raise a child”.
I love to experience cultures, undertaking challenges as well as getting involved in projects that benefit the community. I believe in self-belief and that one can do anything one puts their mind too. My work experience has seen me travel the world, work for UN-FAO in Apia Samoa for 6 months, do things I would never think of doing as well as be able to put my stronghold in national development and empowering people to better themselves at every opportunity.
I am a strong believer in learning from the past and use this opportunity to advocate always for precautionary principles without compromising what could be beneficial for all. The environment holds a special space in my life and one I cherish, I dream of green and lush waters and mountains always until the end of my days.
As Director or Marae Moana, the Cook Islands multi-use marine park, I believe there is hope for the future to not only utilize our greatest resource but also be a part of sustaining our country and our people. Respect for the land and ocean is in my blood and lineage, I will always aspire to be a legacy for my ancestors.
Why did you become involved with Pacific Ridge to Reef?
I was the former Project Manager for the Cook Islands R2R STAR project housed within the National Environment Service. Opportunities led to supporting the Pacific R2R project and programme in country as well as the region. I enjoy the different learnings provided at all levels within this project as we implemented the national programme. I have enjoyed the experience so much that it provided the stepping stone I believe to my current role today.
What have been your key contributions?
Key contributions have been to support different ministries involved in implementing the national R2R project. Being able to communicate to all the agencies to ensure harmonization of activities to achieve the same goals is one of the highlights for me. Ensuring that commonalities led to partnerships in developing activities together to achieve the same outcomes has been the most satisfying in the role. Support to the national planning process. Understanding that everyone has different lens that they see through provides a key combination to achieving implementation.
Why is this important?
Integrated ridge to reef approaches are not new to our people(s), so the new methodologies that are available to us simply enhance their capacity to better understand land-sea planning. All they require are tools to understand the potential outcomes of their work. If your people understand what needs to be done then they will support the project and all other plans that will benefit their own processes also.
What have been your key learnings?
I have learned that not one single approach to any issue or challenge is adequate. One has to accept mixed approaches to be able to implement and work together with communities. I have also learned that nothing can compromise communication. Also when leading any project to do with land, the protocols of land is to be respected and that there is always a place for traditional customs and traditions to support modern planning and methods. Always take the time to learn everyday about who you are.
How will these experiences help you or provide opportunities for you/your community/your country in the future?
I know that people when they are a part of any project, will rise to the occasion. The need to seek ownership from the get go is important for any project of any kind. When it involves, land and sea, our people having had the history of ocean navigation and migration bring with them all aspects of survival, and knowledge embedded into their lives. One must never forget that in order to move any ideals or outcomes, people need to be the centre of this.
What is a key message you would like to share on the importance of Ridge to Reef for people know?
Our pacific peoples are masters and survivors of nature. The very nature and connectivity of land and sea highlights resilience and understanding of nature unsurpassed by other countries in the world. Our small countries can and should share lessons learned from our history and our past, as we face climate change threats of sea level rise and the modernization of our islands, we all still must consider that these connections are vital to our very survival going forward.