Mr Environment And Adventure: Winston Cowie
Winston Cowie, son of Matakana locals Mike and Sue Cowie, grew up at Campbells Beach, Tawharanui Peninsula, before embarking on a successful career in environmental policy, film, writing, rugby and adventure that has taken him to over 40 countries. He currently works as the Marine Policy Manager at the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, where he is settled with his wife, Lucy, and four children.
It was during his upbringing in the Kawau Bay region that his love for the environment really developed - sailing and fishing on the Kawau Bay side of Tawharanui and surfing at Anchor Bay and at Pakiri and Mangawhai further up the coast. Winston completed a law degree from Otago University, before being awarded a law scholarship to work at New Zealand law firm Russell McVeagh. Wanting to have a positive impact on society and the environment, Winston applied and was awarded academic and sporting scholarships to complete an MSc in Environmental Policy at Oxford University.
He has spent the past ten years in the Middle East where he works as the Marine Policy Manager at the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. To give this context, his portfolio covers a marine area nearly half the size of the North Island, a population of 9.7 million people interacting with it and covers the sustainable use, environmental management and conservation of fisheries, protected areas, endangered species and habitats, biodiversity, eco-tourism, climate change, and development of the aquaculture sector.
But life isn’t all high level meetings with Ministers and the like, he still gets to do grass roots conservation - this involves tackling gently Green Turtles which weighs 100kg and putting satellite tags on them.
Winston is considered a thought leader in the international environmental policy and climate change field where he has been awarded two Al Dana Pearl awards by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan of Abu Dhabi for his contributions to the Emirate, and more widely his work won ‘best sustainability communication’s campaign’ in the Middle East Region earlier this year. He was the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi Ambassador on the world record single use plastic free flight between Abu Dhabi and Brisbane on Earth Day this year. “I am able to have a positive impact on the environment and people both in the Middle East region and globally. And this is really what I am about – energizing positive outcomes for people and the environment.”
His innovative approach of using film in marine policy and to drive environmental outcomes and behavioural change has won international acclaim. In 2018, he was chosen as an Ambassador of the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi and environmental champion Dr Jane Goodall to complete the Sir Robert Swan Leadership and Climate Change Course on the International Antarctic Expedition. Sir Robert Swan was the first person to walk to both the north and south poles. From 90 international leaders in government, private practice and entrepreneurship from 20 countries, Winston was awarded the supreme Sir Robert Swan Leadership Award for his contributions to the expedition, notably for his use of solar energy to deliver a message of unity, hope and action to the world in solar lights from Antarctica.
The film that Winston directed and co-presented on the Antarctic expedition – ‘Zayed’s Antarctic Lights’ won a World Medal at the prestigious New York Festivals TV and Film awards.
Winston’s interest in film goes back to his time in New Zealand where his first documentary – Mystery at Midge Bay – premiered at Matakana Cinema. He also worked as the Dive Supervisor on the New Zealand underwater series ‘Our Big Blue Backyard’ with locals Brady Doak, Dave Abbott and Steve Hathaway, finding a Maori taonga whilst underwater at Tawharanui which he gifted back to local Maori. It was found under the same reef he had grown up surfing on.
Liking to keep busy, over the course of his journey, Winston has authored two New Zealand history books. The first is a historical fiction set during the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s, 'A Flame Flickers in the Darkness'. It has been praised by the descendants of the Maori and Pakeha heroes he wrote about. His second book entitled Conquistador Puzzle Trail proposes that the Portuguese and Spanish were the first Europeans to discover New Zealand. After sparking a national debate, it has been added to the encyclopedia of New Zealand as the key source on this subject, translated into Spanish, and with the support of the Spanish Embassy in New Zealand over 300 copies were sent to all secondary schools and universities in New Zealand.
In addition to leading a good will charity rugby mission to Seychelles and Madagascar, which screened on World Rugby TV, Winston represented the UAE Rugby National Team at the World Cup Qualifiers in 2017. The team is ranked 62nd in the world and he is one of the Mahurangi region’s most recent rugby internationals.