Wade Doak – New Zealand’s Underwater Knight

Sad to hear of the passing today of New Zealand marine conservation legend Wade Doak. Wade was a real inspiration to me – his relentless passion, commitment and advocacy for the marine environment was infectious. Recipient of the Queens Service Medal for marine conservation,  in the early days he and Kelly Tarlton and others went spearfishing and treasure hunting – the stories of them collecting gold sovereigns from the Elignamite shipwreck at the Three Kings Islands are part of New Zealand folklore.

Wade Doak – New Zealand’s Underwater Knight. Left: Kelly Tarlton and Wade Doak – the pioneers of New Zealand underwater adventure.

Later came his advocacy for protected areas – the Poor Knights – that magical ecosystem close to Wade’s home on the Tutukaka coast. And it worked – the Poor Knights is now one of the underwater wonders of the world. I had the privilege of working there with Wade and Jan’s son Brady, both New Zealand underwater champions, whilst filming Our Big Blue Backyard.

There were books – Wade was a prolific author – his stories of the underwater world and adventures around the Pacific – the Auckland Islands – the interactions he recorded with sea creatures – with whales and dolphins – were such good material for a kid who loves the sea. They showed what was possible – and with no fear.

Recently there was Wade’s writing in respect of kina barrens and the ecosystem being out of balance with too much pressure on the crayfish fishery in Northland. And his ongoing advocacy with his friend and peer, the late Roger Grace – another champion, for appropriate management of the Hapuka fishery – their traditional knowledge and advocacy on this species will inspire change. The knowledge of the underwater world he had was incredible.

Wade was an incredibly positive online presence in my life – his posts on social media were always informative and interesting and with a good environmental message. For me, he was up there with Jacque Cousteau, Steve Irwin, and Peter Blake – a real conservation hero – New Zealand’s Underwater Knight. We emailed on marine issues and interacted regularly on social media – but you know what – I never had the pleasure of meeting him face to face. If I did, I would have given him a big hug and said thank you. You are a hero.

A mighty totara has fallen. Rest in Peace and love to Jan, Brady and the family.

Mr Environment and Adventure

Proud of the recent article in the chic and venerable Junction Magazine, the local magazine of my home town Matakana, Northland, New Zealand. Growing up in the Matakana, Warkworth and Rodney District with the wonderful community and beautiful coastline really shaped me and developed my passion for marine conservation.

You can read the full article at Junction Magazine by clicking here.

Excerpts of the article below:

Mr Environment and Adventure

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.



Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society – Winston Cowie

Humbled to be made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the UK’s learned society and professional body for geography, founded for the advancement of geographical sciences. 

Former fellows include the likes of Charles Darwin, David Livingstone, Robert Falcon Scott, the rugged Ernest Shackleton and many other explorers and geographers. Quietly inspired. 

Learning about the world and working hard at balanced outcomes between nature and society has always been a passion, ever since my father’s geography lessons out on the boat in the Hauraki Gulf as a kid. When I told him, a geography teacher, about the RGS I think he was pretty chuffed. May have got a smile from the old fella. 

Looking forward to engaging with this international group of fellows on international environmental and geographical issues (so much to energise and not enough time), contributing, learning and growing – with a few adventures thrown in. Forwards.

Edwin Grandcourt. Poetic Tribute.

Edwin Grandcourt

Of the sea


Way out deep in the Indian Ocean

At dawn on a new day

A set of waves feathers on the horizon

One wave taller than them all


As the set approaches a palm tree laden island

The wave grows and grows

Tall and majestic

It crashes upon the sandy shore


A seed springs up

In the tropical island forest

A young sapling unfolding its branches

Supple, slender, handsome and strong

Reaching up and out

Towards the sunlight

Growing young and sturdy

About to set sail

And challenge itself in the world


From this island archipelago

A bird flies

A seabird of course

To the isles of the north

The birth place of that swell


It explores far and wide

Further north and then south, east and west

Seeing lands of red earth

Islands with crocodiles and old shipwrecks

Green fields

Great whales

Blue skies and rain

Never far from the sea


At the southernmost tip of Africa

The Cape of Good Hope

The wind changes

A tap on the wing

Destiny calls

An adventure awaits


The wind blew from south to north

And the bird flew

Crossing an ocean and a mountain range

To the land of the golden sands

To the wake of the dhow


The bird dives in to that bountiful sea

The Arabian Gulf it was called

A dolphin swims past

Glistening and glowing and growing

Shining brightly in the golden sun

Mighty and quivering with energy

Larger than life

That dolphin


Swimming from east to west and west to east

Gliding gently above the dugong and turtles

Studiously looking at all the fish

But always driving and diving forward

Growing and glowing


Happy and Laughing

Living a dolphin’s dream



The Kingfish and the Queenfish

Of the Coco de Mer

Their home was always near the coast

And being from the sea

Their young grew up amongst the mangroves

Al Gurm.

They then moved on to the coral reef

And as they waited to grow strong enough

To brave the currents of the sea

The Kingfish heard a call

A message in a shell


It was time for this star

This light so bright

That had flickered so brilliantly for a moment

To take its place in the night sky

Where it would forever burn bright


Way out wide in the Indian Ocean

At dawn on a new day

A set of waves once again feathers on the horizon

There is not one but two waves growing

Heading towards that sandy beach.


Edwin our dear friend.

Of the sea.

And of the Seychelles, England and the UAE.

When we look around us.

We know where you will be.


With love.

Your friends.



Iceland. Land of Ice and Fire

Iceland. A land of ice and fire. Land of the Gods.

Glaciers and volcanoes; lava fields with regenerating growth; powerful waterfalls and rivers, mighty glaciers; volcanoes and mountains; boiling hot pools and steaming geysers and sulphur pools; puffins and arctic foxes. At night, in winter, the strange green lights flickering in the night sky. And an incredibly welcoming and hospitable people, the Icelanders.

I can imagine the first Viking settlers to Iceland back in the late 800s and early 900s, looking around with wonder at the incredible landscape. It is the landscape that gets you – it is like nothing I have ever seen. It is like the earth is in constant upheaval, which it is, with Iceland situated on top of the Eurasian and North American plates, which are pulling apart at 2.5cm per year.

‘What is this place we have come to?’ the first Vikings must have thought. Gustaf Skarsgard who acts as the historical character Floki in the History Channel’s Vikings series (best series on telly with Game of Thrones) does a fantastic job of acting out the ‘wonder’ that the first Viking explorers must have had when they first landed on this new shore.

It is one of the most fascinating places I have ever travelled and I highly recommend you travel there at some point. Some highlights and photos below (keeping it short and pictorial). We did the south and south-east for 7 days – a good period of time to fit it all in but also relax.

  • The Geyser at Geysir – every 6-10 minutes boiling hot water and steam sprays from the ground – a real reminder of how volcanic this place is and how as humans we need to be thinking a long game when planning our future settlements and energy sources.

Geysir, Iceland

  • The Gullfoss waterfall – the power and wisping spray of this waterfall gives an eery and supernatural feel to the place, which coupled with the northern lights – I can completely understand why the first settlers referred to Iceland as ‘Land of the Gods.’

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

  • Thingvellir and Silfra – where the Eurasian and North American Tectonic Plates are being pulled apart at 2.5cm a year – and my personal favourite – Silfra – you can dive at Silfra between two tectonic plates – the clearest water you have ever seen at 100m plus, simply stunning. I put together a short go-pro clip for You Tube on the Silfra dive, you can check it out here

Thingvellir, Iceland. Where the North American and Eurasian Plates are pulling apart at 2.5cm per year.


Silfra, Iceland. Diving between two tectonic plates

  • Vestemann Islands. Westman Islands. These are incredible and a great puffin viewing place replete with a hide where you can relax and take photos of these endearing birds at the south of the island and the hike back – around 3km is magnificent.

Vestemann Islands (Westman Islands), Iceland


Puffin watching, Vestemann Islands, Iceand

  • Vik and Surrounds: Plenty to do at this lovely coastal town – hiking up to the lighthouse and puffin watching, to walking along the black sand beaches, to spending time at the Selfoss waterfall and history museum.

Vik and Surrounds, Iceland


Selfoss Waterfall, Iceland


Puffins, Vik, Iceland

  • The DC Plane wreck: A round walk of 7km across scoria fields takes you to the DC Plane wreck where a US cargo plane ran out of fuel in the 1970s and crash landed on the black-sand, with all on board surviving. The walk itself is quite repetitive (it is the middle of the scoria field), but worth it when you get there – particularly for photography where the white of the plane and black of the sand and blue of the sky creates some nice contrasts. The walk is do-able as well, my four year old did it, so it is definitely walkable.

DC Plane Wreck, Sólheimasandur, Iceland

  • Jangalverson Glacier and Iceberg Lagoon. This is a real highlight – icerbergs that have broken off from the glacier float in the lagoon and get grounded on the beach where the river runs out to sea. The crystal shapes the icebergs take are amazing.

Making sandcastles, Jangalverson Glacier and Iceberg Lagoon, Iceland


Jangalverson Glacier and Iceberg Lagoon, Iceland

  • Staying on a horse farm. We stayed at horse farm – highly recommend it – a great ride for the kids and an excellent breakfast.

Icelandic Horse

Getting around: Easy. Hire a car and follow the ringroad the ‘1’, with all major attractions off this.

Recommended Accommodation: Around Vik: The Farmhouse or Steig. Near Selfoss: the Horse Farm (the kids had so much fun here).

Food and beverage: From nice restaurants to roadside diners to my favorite ‘the Bakery’ (the biggest chelsea buns around); some nice local craft beer; something for everyone.

Activities: Amazing. From geology to geography to history to hiking to wildlife viewing.

Iceland. Amazing place, people, activities and wildlife. Ten out of ten. A highly recommended travel destination.

Enjoy it. Thank you Iceland. Onwards.

Reflections on Antarctica

It is hard to put the most magical place you have ever had the privilege of visiting into words, yet here goes.

Magnificent. Beautiful. Colossal. Vast. The grandeur and scale of this lost world is beyond comprehension. Twice the size of Australia. 14,000,000 sq km. You could fit the United Arab Emirates into Antarctica 168 times, New Zealand 52 times. From the tumultuous waters of the great southern ocean, past the furious fifties and shrieking sixties, rises this magical land – the highest continent on earth, which is covered in ice up to 1.9 km thick. It towers above the sea, majestic, with huge glaciers and sheer cliffs guarding its plateaued interior, these giant walls of ice slipping into the sea on occasion with a thunderous roar.

It is the coldest, driest, yes driest, windiest continent on earth, and the highest in terms of average elevation.

Antarctica is dynamic, always changing, the sea ice around it growing and shrinking with the seasons, glaciers calving, clouds moodily shrouding it then releasing its beauty to the sun at the whim of the wind.

It is the most spectacular place I have ever laid eyes on.

And then the eyes wander, to the sea in front of this great southern land, the mid range of a man or woman’s eyesight, to a sea covered in icebergs, like crystals, the most beautiful pieces of natural art alive. And then they wander to the near range of human eyesight, where smell and hearing are also useful allies, for in the near range, some of the largest beasts in our world, the mighty whales, gently glide, communicating through song, every once and a while diving into the depths to feed on krill, the shrimp like creature that is the nourishment and lifeblood of this lost world. There she blows. And another. And another. Families of whales, in relative abundance, all enjoying the summer riches of this kingdom of kingdoms.

The biodiversity is like I have never seen. The whales, the seals – sleeping and barking and jostling for dominance, the penguins, those loveable creatures whose antics can’t help but make one smile. Never have I seen anything like it in my lifetime.

Antarctica is magnificent. It’s biodiversity is like a portal to another world. In the unknown sphere, it has a mystical aura that is difficult to explain – yet you can sense it. On an ecocsystem nature-society level, it carries 90% of the world’s fresh water.
Our Antarctica is fundamental to the human race’s survival.

Paddle boarding in Antarctica. Day 1.


The whales are returning to Antarctica after being hunted to near extinction.

The Mission. The ClimateForce International Antarctic Expedition 2018.
Ninety environmental ambassadors from over 20 countries took part in the two week expedition to Antarctica, the purpose of which was to learn about the continent and climate change through the Explorers Passage and polar explorer Sir Robert’s renowned ‘Leadership on the edge Programme,’ with each leader then charged with the responsibility to return to their respective countries to ignite the change to a low carbon economy. Sir Robert was the first explorer to walk to both the south and north poles and has since become a fierce environmental ambassador and advocate for the ongoing protection of Antarctica. In 30 years’ time, when the Antarctic Treaty and its environmental protocols are able to be reviewed – which preserves Antarctica for non-military use and scientific research, those that took part on the expedition will be charged with re-negotiating it for the greater good of nature and society. I personally pledged that in 30 years, at age 65, if lucky enough to still be here, that I would somehow be at the negotiating table. The word of the 90 2018 ambassadors is our bond.

ClimateForce International Antarctic Expedition 2018

The people
Never have I met such a talented and inspirational group of people in one place. Every single one of those 90 people from 20 countries. There were explorers, government officials, master film makers, scientists, rock stars, executives in business, entrepreneurs, authors, and youth. Every single person had an interesting story, had had challenges in their life, but had persisted on their path to work in a field of their passion, and overcome those challenges. And all were committed to working tirelessly in their respective countries and fields, to be change makers working toward a low carbon economy. Antarctica needs them. And we need it.

A period of two weeks, with no internet, no cell phones, embedded in nature, with an incredible team; there really was something fundamental to the concept ‘disconnect from the world to reconnect.’ There was nothing better. Everyone getting out of their comfort zone and engaging with people – having a conversation – sharing challenges past, lessons learned, debating theory, getting insights, reflecting on it all, and making friends for life.

Reflection. There was time for reflection and journal writing. And from those conversations, so much was learned about the world, about people, about motivations, about beliefs, about what we need to change as a society.

One concept was ‘graduation of mindset’, where a person removes themselves from their day to day routine, immerses themselves in nature with like minded people, and broadens their horizons from the narrow to the broad. From the phone to the horizon. From the dream to the reality. From the ‘I’m not sure if I can’ to the ‘I will make that happen.’ And ‘I will do that,’ whilst sharing it with others, because the best things in life are shared.

Open your eyes. Turn off your phone. Talk to the person next to you. You may be surprised to find that they have a lot to offer. Laughter and friendship even.

Team Zayed and the Solar Lights – Our message to the world.
Team Zayed was a team of three representing the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots, in honour of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the UAE, in this 2018, a celebration of his life, the Year of Zayed. The team consisted of the Environment Agency’s communication’s specialist Mariam Al Qassimi; Scientist of Mammalogy, Rashed Al Zaabi; and myself, Winston Cowie.

Team Zayed representing the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi. Left to Right. Rashed Al Zaabi. Mariam Al Qassimi. Winston Cowie.

We were incredibly privileged to represent the agency and grateful to our inspirational Secretary General, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, for the opportunity to take on the challenge of bringing the stark reality of a global issue – climate change – the challenge of our time – back to the UAE for further discussion and debate.

Whilst in Antarctica, Team Zayed led an initiative where with 102 solar lamps, with all delegates, we held a solar lights show, making words with the lights in the cold and dark of the Antarctic night, and sending them to the world.

Our message, that of 90 people from 20 countries, was: ‘Hi World – from Antarctica. Please listen: climate change and plastics are our challenge. Let’s change. All of us. Individuals and countries. Stop. Think. Act. Energise. Be the Change. #ClimateForce.”

Team Zayed Solar Lights Show

The launch of the Zayed Solar Lights Show. From the Ocean Endeavour. Antarctica.

As we lit up the Antarctic night, one of our colleagues on the expedition, Inch Chua from Singapore, a talented musician, sang our message in the Antarctic night. We could hear whales surfacing as we sung, in union. It was one of those incredible unforgettable moments when time stood still.

Inch Chua. Singer / songwriter from Singapore. Inch was one of the awesome people on the expedition. Jamming here in a volcano and old Whaling Station. South Shetland Islands

The full message to the world and UAE leadership will be released soon. 

If we can send a message to the world from Antarctica using renewable energy, if Robert and his son Barney, a 23 year old champion, can walk to the South Pole using only renewable energy, we can transition towards a low carbon society. Please! Heed the words – on the individual level. Stop. Think. Act.

Graduation of mindset. ‘Why’ is the question. Why are we doing what we are doing as a society?

Do we really need that plastic bag that we will use once and throw away? Do we really need that straw? Do we really need to have that take away coffee twice a day and throw away both cups? Stop. Think. Act. Be an energiser or change maker in your peer group and community is the summary.

As a society we have got too comfortable with using something once and throwing it away. It’s not ok any more. It wasn’t in our parent’s generations, so why is it in ours?



With the lights we also honoured our visionary UAE leadership, the Environment Agency, inspirational woman, service men and women and some global environmental heroes like Dr Jane Goodall, and Sir Rob and Barney Swan.

It is important to say thank you.

Two other names I would like to mention.

Steve Irwin is one.

What an amazing man he was – passionate, caring and determined. He really did inspire a new generation of environmental ambassadors globally and it is wonderful to see Teri and Bindi and Robert doing the same. The agreement from those completing the solar lights show was unanimous – in honour of Steve and his family, we lit up the Antarctic night with the word Steve.

The second name. Well it was before we headed back across the Drake Passage, the waterway that the late New Zealand yachtsman Sir Peter Blake had travelled around numerous times, that he was foremost in my thoughts. It may have been that I grew up a Kiwi kid, looking up to this role model who sailed the world’s oceans doing good things; it may have been the wandering Albatross that followed the Ocean Endeavour, it may have been his environmental legacy on his last voyage, the Seamaster, it may have been the way he passed too early, killed by pirates in the Amazon. Regardless, the group on the deck of the Ocean Endeavour had a moment and wrote his name, in honour of all he achieved and for his family.

They were quiet moments in the dark and cold of night, when we wrote those names.
And all in solar lights. Lighting up the great southern ocean sky. Blinking in the wind and the spray of the waves. Looking to the past to inspire the present and the future.

What’s next?

More on how Antarctica is being effected by global warming in another post – and what we as individuals and what countries can do to reverse the melt. It will be a huge challenge, but on leaving Antarctica, my overwhelming feeling was optimism. It really was and still is.

I do feel optimistic for the future of Antarctica, optimistic because it is a place where we got things so wrong in the past – hunting whales nearly to the point of extinction, only for the global community to come together and protect them, and the Antarctic continent for science and peace. And they now live in that magical place, still recovering, but noticeably there. We can get it right with global warming and plastics too. I am sure. With good people and motivation.

Each of the 90 persons on the expedition received a ‘Zayed Torch’ from the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi – one of the solar lamps that we used to send the message to the world with, from Antarctica. Each person, now friends for life, will go back to their respective countries and with their passion and energy, with their metaphorical Zayed light, make positive things happen for nature and society – rise to the environmental challenges of our time – plastics and global warming. For Team Zayed in Abu Dhabi we will be doing the same.

Personally I think I had a graduation of mindset moment on the Ocean Endeavour in Antarctica. It was on the last evening as we rounded Cape Horn. As we sat there and shared lovely moments with our new friends, and in Sir Robert’s final speech, with my new good friend and an inspiration, rock star Inch Chua from Singapore, we were awarded the Sir Robert Swan Leadership Inspiration Award for outstanding contributions to the expedition. It came as a surprise – an award from the legendary polar explorer. On reflection I was incredibly grateful and humbled but also motivated by it to deliver and make the candle burn bright. It is motivating and the Zayed and Sir Rob Swan torch will be burning bright, working hard, seeking positive outcomes, rest assured.

Sir Rob Swan Leadership Inspiration Award. International Antarctic Expedition 2018. Winston Cowie. United Arab Emirates.


Sir Rob Swan Leadership Inspiration Award. Inch Chua. Singapore.

From the narrow to the horizon. From the dream to the reality. From the I’m not sure if I can to the ‘I will make that happen.’

Together we will. All of us. Including You. Because deep down you know what is right, that we need to change. That we can, with a little motivation. So You, reading this: Stop. Think. Act. Energise. Be the change. Climateforce.

In the words of Sir Robert Swan, ‘The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.’

Not on our watch.

W J Cowie. Reflections on Antarctica. March 2018.

Antarctica calls: Meeting Jane Goodall and the launch of the ClimateForce Challenge

On Thursday the 25th of January 2018, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) was privileged to host Dr Jane Goodall and 12 schools from around the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the Jane Goodall Institute Roots & Shoots UAE Annual Awards.

The awards doubled as the launch of the #ClimateForce Challenge, a collaboration between EAD, the Jane Goodall Institute, and polar explorer Sir Robert Swan’s ClimateForce 2041. Sir Robert Swan was the first person to walk to both the north and south poles.

The challenge encourages everybody to consider their individual and everyday behaviours that impact the environment, and pledge to change their behaviour for the ‘greater good,’ with a collective target of reducing carbon emissions by 326 million tonnes by 2025!

As part of the ClimateForce challenge, it was unveiled that EAD and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots are sending three Ambassadors, Rashed Al Zaabi, Mariam Al Qassimi, and Winston Cowie, to Antarctica to take part in Sir Robert Swan’s International Antarctic Expedition 2018. The team will learn about the continent and climate change through polar explorer Sir Robert’s renowned ‘Leadership on the edge Programme,’ and will return to the UAE with practical everyday solutions to climate change.’

Thursday was the start of this journey, and it was fantastic to see that around 100 students, with Dr Jane Goodall and our three Ambassadors, make the ClimateForce pledge.

Environment Agency Abu Dhabi & Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots Antarctica Ambassadors – Rashed Al Zaabi, Mariam Al Qassimi, and Winston Cowie

ClimateForce Challenge Launch UAE

Antarctica and being an energiser in the community on the environmental issues of our time calls! Plastics, inefficient resource use – we are coming for you!

There is much more information to come – keep an eye on both the Environment Agency’s and Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots UAE website and social media – the planning has begun in earnest.

Onwards and I am incredibly grateful to the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi’s own inspirational leader, Her Excellency Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak for the opportunity to meet Dr Jane be involved in this incredible initiative. I couldn’t be more excited about the coming months. Twenty six days to go!

To participate in the challenge as a school – and become involved in the Jane Goodall family –  please visit www.rootsnshoots.ae


Meeting Jane Goodall. It was incredible. 

Dr Jane Goodall at the ClimateForce Challenge UAE Launch

And on a personal note, so lovely and grateful to spend the last couple of days with Dr Jane Goodall as part of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi and Dr Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots partnership. She really is an inspiration – not only for her work with the chimpanzees in Tanzania, but for the institute she has set up – a grassroots conservation network which engages millions of youth and is in over 100 countries. At the annual UAE Roots & Shoots awards held Thursday in Abu Dhabi, as she spoke I sat there, looked around the room and considered what an amazing person she is – an energiser who gets things done – of the earth – inspiring youth (and adults as well to be honest), all over the world. At 83 years of age, she travels over 300 days a year (her calendar is booked 3 years in advance), talking, giving interviews, encouraging people to change their behaviour and live their values. We need people like Jane, and having had a treasured opportunity to meet with her, and have our wee girls meet her, I’m feeling seriously motivated (as they are from the conversation on the drive home) to make some changes to everyday consumerism and energy use behaviours. The ClimateForce challenge has well and truly begun.

Dr Jane Goodall and Winston Cowie at the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi

So thank you Dr Jane, your magic has worked. Check out her movie JANE which is out in some countries and will soon be out in others like the UAE. Can’t wait to see it!
And once again, so incredibly grateful to the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful initiative. 

Former Australian star Joe Roff joins the Conquistadors for Dubai Rugby 7s 2017!

A great article from The National newspaper in the UAE today. Click here.  Awesome to have this bloke, Joe Roff, Rugby World Cup winner with the Australian Wallabies, and a former Oxford University rugby team mate, helping out with our charity team, the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors, at the Dubai 7s when he is not on official duties with HSBC.

A throwback here to the Varsity Match 2006 at Twickenham (both younger and hairier versions), tackling Ross Blake the Cambridge captain. We definitely got him. :)

Former Australian international star Joe Roff and Winston Cowie in action for Oxford University in the 2006 Varsity Match at Twickenham

“I am honoured to be the bag manager for the Conquistadors this year,” said Roff. “It is a role I will take seriously, making sure the boys have the right kit and are looking sharp. On a serious note I have heard Mike Ballard’s story and I’m really impressed by what he has achieved personally, and what this group achieved in going to Madagascar last year.”

Mike Ballard, the Conquistadors Manager, is also rather excited for the Sevens.

“It will be a last-minute deal, with some arriving the night before the start, and in true social rugby tradition, we won’t get a team run in,” Ballard said. “We are going to show up and have a go, but it will be good.”

We are playing in the International Social, with the Timetable for Day 1 below if you want to give us some support!

And a massive thank you to all of our sponsors who have supported us and continue to support us! We are incredibly grateful to you!

Onwards to the Sevens!

Massive thanks to:







Garth van Niekirk – a tribute to a true South African Gentleman

I met Garth van Niekirk just over one year ago at Abu Dhabi Saracens rugby training.

South African, built like a brick, the 27 year old was the sort of bloke you immediately warmed to. A leader, with a solid set of values, keen, very respectful and grateful for his lot, a good sense of humour, and an absolute machine with the ball in hand – once you met him he was the sort of bloke that you wanted to be around. Positive, committed, dependable, and inspirational. And fun – he had a good sense of humour and was always smiling.

Last Wednesday, with his Abu Dhabi based mates around him, we said goodbye to him the for the last time.

Two months ago he was fit and playing rugby. He felt a stomach pain and thought he had pulled a muscle and as a precaution went to the doctor. What followed is still incomprehensible. He was diagnosed with an aggressive from of Colon cancer, which didn’t respond to chemotherapy, and instead spread to his liver and lungs. Within two months, from the peak of physical health, he was very unwell.

Garth passed away last night, one week after heading back to his native South Africa to be with family. Life’s not fair some times. Really not fair. In two months he tried everything and fought hard, never giving up. That was him. Ten different oncologists, miracle cure drugs, but the stars didn’t come into alignment.

Garth van Niekirk – a true South African Gentleman. After playing a stormer against Bahrain in 2016 and helping the Sarries to a close 12-10 win.


Garth was brought up in Johannesburg, South Africa, the son of Johan and Anita and brother of Gabrielle. Garth attended The King’s School, Robin Hills in Johannesburg where he was chosen as Head Boy in his final year. When you find that out, you ‘get it’, he was that kind of guy. A stand up bloke and role model.

After school, Garth studied a Bachelors Degree in Emergency Medical Care (BTech EMC) at the University of Johannesburg and has since worked saving lives, in both South Africa and later Abu Dhabi where he would regularly visit conflict zones in the region and save lives. Selfless, the guy threw himself into his work – serving society by going to places no one else wanted to go, for the greater good.

Garth – straight from work to a rugby training.

A balanced bloke, when he wasn’t in the helicopter or plane, he was excelling on the rugby pitch where he represented the Golden Lions at 7s and won the national championship with them in 2012. He was also recently the Abu Dhabi Saracens Player of the Year and was widely regarded as one of the stars and best players in the Arabian Gulf and West Asia. He is straight up one of the nicest blokes I have met through rugby in 30 years of playing. 

A keen traveller, Garth has been to over 30 countries, where he loved experiencing and learning from other cultures. His favourites were Estonia, Sweden and Russia where he recently travelled with his family.

A couple of anecdotes that I loved about the guy:

·         Before and after every footy training he would shake your hand and say Hello and Thank You Coach. His parents should be proud of how he conducted himself, every single time. Every single time you caught up with him. 

·         Cake baking, after playing a blinder to beat Bahrain 12-10 in a nail biter. It was chocolate coconut and pretty good.  

·         Making it to the Dubai 7s for bang on 8:30am on Day’s 2 and 3, for kick off – always a struggle. He was always on time.

On behalf of the Abu Dhabi and wider Gulf rugby community, the Sarries and Quins, much love to a mate – much much love to your family – Garth will be hugely missed. Life isn’t fair and it is difficult to make any sense of this.

Garth van Niekirk – you were a champion and one of the best. A legend, mate.

May peace be upon you.


A long road but worth it.

25 March 2011.

The West Asian Championship Club Rugby Final. Doha RFC v Dubai Hurricanes. Six and a bit years’ ago.

It was set to be a good day – a home final for Doha, the team I captained passionately at the time, and going for the club’s first silverware in 40 odd years of history.

The day didn’t turn out as planned. You always remember the day and date. I dislocated my knee in the 10th minute of the final and tore everything (ACL,PCL, Lateral ligament, Hamstring, IT Band, Medial ligament) and was rushed to hospital.

The damage? I have never really gone into it – don’t talk about it at all – it’s been my challenge to own and meet. No one else’s.

 But this week, I have sat back and reflected on it after hitting a bit of a milestone.

It’s been a long road.

Going back six years, to when it happened, I was playing at No.8 tracking our 7 from a scrum. The Hurricanes 10 and 12 did a cut. Our 7 got him and swung him, a big lad, around. I planted my knee and the guys’ legs came around and basically axed my knee in half.

Initially it was the pain. I have a pretty high pain threshold I reckon but when that knee was dislocated out, I was screaming. For a good 5 mins. It was out for two hours until it got put back in when I was in hospital and xrays had confirmed what the scenario was. By then the screaming had quietened  to a dull whimper. The reason was my common peroneal nerve was being crushed by my femur which had shifted an inch down and was close to compound. I put the pain up there with being electrocuted – true story – an indescribably horrible feeling that you can’t escape from because the electricity has got hold of you and you can’t let go. 240 volts for 10 seconds back in 2007.  That story is for another day. I still touch any door before I open it so I don’t get one of those little shocks when I touch the handle.

Back to Doha. When the knee was finally put back in the damage was done. Seven centimetres of nerve was crushed. What this meant was that I was numb from the knee down and couldn’t pull my foot up from the ground. If you sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground and then pull your foot up, mine stays flat.

It means I walk with a little bit of a jilted gait and have to flick my foot a little before I put it down. It has taken a while to get used to it. Six years.

We lost the West Asia Championship final by the way, 24-20. Devastated would be a way to put how the season ended up for the DRFC. Losing is hard to take when you put so much effort into something. But such is life sometimes.

And life had thrown me a challenge.

In those first two years, because the nerve wasn’t working (and still doesn’t), my calf muscle had atrophied (wasted away a lot). After two ops I had to get used to walking again, and was living in New Zealand at the time with a young family, on Whangaparaoa Peninsula. They were hard days on the recovery front. I would try and go for a jog from Big Manly Around to Little Manly and would pull either calf muscle within a couple of hundred metres. It was always a slow, frustrated walk back to the house, especially during winter.

After this had happened a few times, and frustration levels were sky high, I resolved to start off slowly and walk before I could run so to speak. With a very understanding and supportive wife, and  spirited two and one year old daughters at the time, I started walking initially, needing to  build up the muscle again on the calf. We would go out to Shakespeare and Tawharanui Regional Park, and hike the hills. There were a few mishaps, falling over with my daughters and rolling down the hill a bit. The family was key. Sometimes you have to go down to get back up.

At the time and feeling like I was making progress, I made two goals, this was back in 2012-2013. The first was to surf some solid waves like I used to pre injury, and the second was to try and play a high level of rugby again. Both were looking doubtful at the time.

On the surfing, in January of 2013 a solid cyclone swell hit the East Coast of Northland. Six to eight foot. Offshore. I had a mare of a session. Every time I would go to take the drop, I’d  be thinking, ‘Up, flick foot, stamp, then go.’ I must have fallen on 9 out of 10 and got absolutely rinsed in what was a sizey swell. Like those initial runs when I pulled my calf, I was so frustrated. The two things I loved doing the most – and used to be pretty good at – surfing and rugby, I couldn’t do either.

Northland. Surf.

That swell. Northland, New Zealand. Things didn’t go according to plan.

For me there was nothing more frustrating than not being able to do what I loved.

Over the next six months I worked hard. Morning and night I would be doing exercises to strengthen the calves. Walking and then running a slow jog around Shakespeare or around Big Manly Park. I had to stick to the grass as the road jarred too much. I also learned to balance on a paddle board.

I would catch up with people and I got the feeling that they felt sorry for me because I walked with a bit of a limp. Stuff that. No one was going to feel sorry for me. Pride can be a good motivator.

Worked harder. And harder and harder.

About that time we made the decision to return to the Middle East, Abu Dhabi. I was due to have a third operation a month before this; this time to tie my foot into neutral with a ligament from another part of my body.

A big winter East Coast swell hit – bigger and hairier than the failed January session. Me and a mate hit the coast. I was feeling pretty good although it was huge. My mate got injured early and sat on the beach so I was out there by myself. I went for it, didn’t overthink it, just charged and backed the hard yakka that had been put in over the previous two and a half years, and particularly the preceding 6 months.

It was a special day that. I surfed for six hours straight.

I was back.

I saw the doctor the next day for the pre-op check up. I told him I didn’t want to have the op anymore. I told him about the surf. He told me that another op, to permanently alter my foot would be another year of recovery and rehabilitation.

“I’m not doing it,” I said. He shook my hand and backed me.

“Good on you,” he said.

I think my family were pretty surprised I didn’t have the op. I’m pleased I didn’t. I was getting where I needed to go.

Fast-forward to 2014. And not being satisfied with the status quo, I travelled to Indonesia with a good mate and pushed the surfing harder at Gland, East Java, a renowned big wave spot. After a couple of near drownings, including my fin nearly chopping my wrist off, and getting coral cut fever, I got in the flow and got some good waves.

Winston Cowie surfing GLand, Indonesia

Getting back in the mix. GLand, Indonesia

Goal 1, achieved. I could surf again.

And then there was the rugby dream….goal 2……

We moved to Abu Dhabi with our young  family. I helped coach one of the local footy clubs, the Harlequins initially. It was good for me that, and the knee rehab. I would do the fitness with the boys – and after Year 4 since the accident had reached a pretty happy medium.

Occasionally I would get a bit of nerve flaring, and the numbness was always there – at night it would annoy me a bit, but it was manageable. Through regular exercising I could just hold the foot in neutral.

With the goal at the back of my mind, to play some good rugby again (not really having defined to myself what this meant), I tentatively started again. Admittedly I was a lot edgier about playing a game of footy than surfing – the landings in rugby are hard, especially on the pitches in the Middle East.

I started with Sevens, and with a group of mates we set up the Mike Ballard Foundation Conquistadors – a charity team to support our mate, Mike Ballard, who suffered a serious spinal injury in 2014. Mike’s story is inspirational – the guy is incredibly mentally tough – since his injury, and six operations, he moved back to Abu Dhabi to take up his old job and now is a huge part of the fabric of the community. Mike epitomises the words ‘positive attitude.’ He inspires all around him and has certainly inspired me on this journey. Four and five years on from the injury I played in the Dubai 7s with the Conquistadors. It felt good to be playing footy again and the body got through ok, with Mike and a great bunch of lads.

In 2016, five years after the injury, I moved over to coach the Abu Dhabi Saracens, a good bunch of lads with a real family vibe. I started the season as coach – that was the intention initially. I still wasn’t one hundy into Goal 2. During Match 2 of the 2016 season that all changed when we travelled to the same field that I had initially got the injury, to play my old Doha mates.

Eight of our team’s visas were rejected, so we had a bare 17 to play Doha in Doha, including our physio. Not having too much time to consider it, I went for it, not wanting to forfeit. Not in the DNA. I played 80 minutes at No.8 in 40 degrees.

After getting through that game, and the knee feeling solid, I sat back and after knocking that monkey off the back, I wanted to play better.

A good article on that Doha shift was written by Paul Radley at The National.

We had a few injuries during the course of this season – 2016-2017, so I ended up playing at least 20 minutes of every game – 12 in total.

Admittedly at the start I was a little tentative, and I think naturally so after the rehab frustrations and the numbness, but by the start of this year, 2017, I was throwing myself into games like I used to. Six year’s older, a little slower, but getting stuck in. While the numbness was still there, I ignored it and got on with it. Goal 2, playing a high level of footy, was starting to look like a possibility.

At this time I had just clocked over three years in the United Arab Emirates, which made me eligible for the national side.

Like surfing at Gland, I thought Stuff it, I was going to have a crack.

I pitched up to the first UAE trial training in January 2017. The UAE, ranked No.72 in the world, was coached by former Samoan dual international superstar Apollo Perelini, and had earned promotion to Division 1 in Asia, where they would be competing with Malaysia (54), Sri Lanka (40) and the Philippines (58).

Attending that initial training, and as a loose forward and hooker, the quality of players was high – I thought that this was going to be a hard team to make – there were good players in all of these positions.  I went hard, trained hard, doing a lot of extras on the grass field at the compound our family lived in. I must have done over a hundred set of sprints on that 80 m patch of grass under the Palm Trees.

There and back. There and back.

Apollo, an outstanding coach, asked me if I could play prop. In day’s gone by, a loose forward may have taken such a query to heart – prop is not the most glamorous of positions. I was just stoked to be in the mix.

Yes I said, only having played it a couple of times 10 years earlier when at Oxford University in the Varsity Match campaign.

I started watching a lot of footy, in the evenings when the kids were in bed. I mainly watched the scrums, trying to learn as much as I could. I also enlisted the help of my team mates at the Abu Dhabi Saracens for some technical scrumming tuition. I also started smashing the gym.

Rather quickly I found that playing prop is hard. Respect to all props around the world. You don’t get a rest. When its scrum time, you are pushing with every ounce of energy you have, and then you have to get up and run around the field as well. It’s physically challenging. You walk off the pitch absolutely shattered.

A long story, short, after six years since that day in Doha, on 20 May 2017, numb knee and all, I made my international rugby debut as a loose head prop, representing my adopted home, the United Arab Emirates v the Philippines.

Winston Cowie rugby UAE

Winston Cowie. International rugby debut for United Arab Emirates v Philippines. May 2017.

Goal 2 knocked off.

A really well written article was written on the journey by Matt Jones at Sport360.

A big thank you to everybody who has supported me in eventually getting there over the past six years.

My family, Lucy Jones, who must be the most understanding wife in the world, and our kids Issy, Evie and Zac for not rolling their eyes too much when Daddy had to go to another rugby training, especially the past six months.

My friends who have kept me motivated and consistently pushing myself.

The Doha Rugby Community were incredibly kind in supporting me with my operations back in 2011. I am always indebted to you. And this year the Abu Dhabi Saracens family have been just that, a family of mates.

And four months ago I met a great bunch of gents from the different clubs in the UAE. We became a team, a close knit bunch who for the past 10 days have represented out adopted country, the United Arab Emirates, in Malaysia with pride. Thanks to all of these gents, now mates, for sharing that journey. Thanks to Apollo Perelini, our coach, and management for doing an outstanding job in preparing us. While the results didn’t go our way, we learned how competitive this top level in Asia is, and will be better for it next year….there is always next year….

UAE Rugby Team v Philipinnes. May 2017.

UAE Rugby Team v Philippines. May 2017.

This was a story I was keen to share.

A long road but worth it.

Never say never.

If it’s your challenge, own it, work hard. And nail it.