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FEATURE STORY June 1, 2020

Meet the Innovator Protecting Our Oceans in Papua New Guinea: Ellen Vera Morgan


A passionate advocate on issues of climate change and plastic pollution, Ellen Vera Morgan is using her time as Miss Frangipani to inspire change in the coastal communities of PNG’s East New Britain province, and beyond.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 23 years old and I was born and raised in the coastal cocoa and coconut plantations in the Gazelle District of East New Britain in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I come from a family of five children - four girls and one boy.

I am the current Miss Frangipani, East New Britain for 2019 and 2020. It is a local pageant that has been restarted after 25 years to empower young women to become agents of change in our province and country. The pageant has been a platform for me to actively advocate on issues like plastic pollution and climate change in my community.


What comes to mind when you think of the ocean? 

When I think of the ocean, I am reminded of a vast and wondrous world that can be both peaceful and chaotic. To me, the ocean is a unifying body of water that connects continents, cultures and people.

As a coastal-dwelling Melanesian, it is a part of who I am. The ocean always will play a big part in my life, just as it did for my ancestors, and as it will continue to do for future generations.


What do you see as the biggest challenges facing our oceans in 2020?

Plastic pollution is definitely one of the biggest. I feel that the convenience and accessibility of single-use plastics has become such a habitual part of our daily lives that we have become desensitized to the impact that it is having on our planet.


"Ultimately, I hope that armed with an understanding and an awareness of the impact these issues have on our oceans, we can collectively work towards change. "
Ellen Vera Morgan
Miss Frangipani, East New Britain for 2019 and 2020


(Photo: supplied)

What does this year’s World Oceans Day theme, ‘Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean’, mean to you?

To me, it is a call for all of us to think outside-of-the-box in terms of problems that impact our oceans. We need to change the way that we view these problems, and start coming up with innovative and sustainable solutions that can address these issues on a large scale. 


How does your work help to promote and maintain ocean health?

In the last year I have been visiting various schools and communities in my province, especially in rural areas, to speak about issues like climate change and single-use plastic pollution. I speak directly to youths and people outside of urban centers because, even though they are not the biggest ocean polluters, they are the ones who will suffer the most from an unhealthy ocean, as their livelihoods depend on it.

Awareness of the problem of single-use plastic pollution isn’t high in my area at the moment. Although PNG has implemented a nationwide plastic ban, most rural communities still do not understand the reason for this. Starting conversations about protecting the ocean and the environment is the most effective way to encourage a shift in the mindset of my people.

Ultimately, I hope that armed with an understanding and an awareness of the impact these issues have on our oceans, we can collectively work towards change.


What drives you to do this work?

I am very passionate about life on Earth – knowing that everything on this planet is connected in one way or another never ceases to amaze me. The ocean is one of the best examples of how connected we are to everything else on this planet.

Most of us do not visit the beach everyday or interact directly with the ocean on a daily basis, yet so many of the things we need to survive are influenced by the ocean. From the air that we breath, to the food that we eat, and so many things in between – the ocean plays a role in all of it. This understanding is what drives me to help protect and conserve the ocean, and to strive to live more sustainably every day.


What message would you like everyone to hear on World Oceans Day 2020?

This World Oceans Day, I’d like to encourage each of us to take back our power as consumers and individuals and start making cleaner, greener, more sustainable decisions that will help protect and maintain the health of our oceans. Alone our actions may not seem like much, but together we can make waves of change.

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**The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.