BirdLife: The Magazine Apr-Jun 2018 - Page 62

SEVEN QUESTIONS “ENTERING MISS WORLD PUT NATURE ON THE WORLD STAGE” We chat with Alanna Smith, Conservation Project Officer for the Te Ipukarea Society (TIS - BirdLife in the Cook Islands), who last year was crowned Miss Cook Islands and competed in the semi-finals of the Miss World competition. As part of the competition, you wore a spectacular costume inspired by the Rimatara Lorikeet Vini kuhlii (Endangered), known locally as the Kura. Why did you choose to celebrate this bird? In prehistoric times, the Kura was found throughout the southern Cook Islands. But because of its beautiful red feathers, the bird was over-hunted and was lost except on Rimatara in French Polynesia, and Kiribati. It wasn’t until 2007 that 27 Kura were brought over to re-establish the once- thriving population. Within the Cook Islands, it now only breeds on Atiu—and Atiu is the island I am from. Your “beauty with a purpose” video, highlighting a social or environmental cause you’re working for, got you into the semi-finals. Which cause did you choose to showcase? I focused on the invasive species eradication plan the TIS has put in place to conserve the endemic Mangaia Kingfisher, the Tanga’eo. I also featured my work with schools, introducing students to the idea of composting to produce organic fertilisers, rather than burning organic waste and then relying on chemical fertilisers. Why is it important to educate people about waste management? Here in the Cook Islands, our people have been brought up on the bad habit of burning our rubbish, be it general waste, organic waste or even plastics! We need to remind 62 our people of the harmful effect burning plastics has, not only to our environment, but our own health. Are there any other pressing environmental issues in the Cook Islands? We have a lot of unnecessary plastic wasted on the island. I see people buying plastic water bottles on a daily basis and using plastic straws, without even realising the life span of that plastic product is a lot longer than the time it is used. How do you feel about your experience in the Miss World competition? Although I didn’t win the Miss World competition, I feel my efforts were still very worthwhile. I put the Cook Islands on the world stage as a country striving to develop, yet still maintain the environment that is so vital to the future of the country. How do you think your exposure on Miss World will help your future work? I feel as though my people might now actually take an interest in what I’m practicing and teaching, and hopefully follow suit with those methods I teach, especially with our youth. What will be your next project? I am still determined to continue my quest for a total ban on plastic bags and straws throughout the Cook Islands. My hope is that, if the Cook Islands lead by example, neighbouring Pacific islands and nations will follow suit. birdlife • apr-jun 2018