What do Google, the President of a Pacific island nation, a U.S. Senator, Port Director, 11-year-old protest singer, a scientist, Nat Geo photographer and the recently deceased founder of a California state agency all have in common? They’re all winners of the 2012 Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, the top prize in ocean conservation.
2012 is a time of hope and challenge. With upcoming U.S. elections and the U.N.’s Rio plus 20 meeting on the environment and development, we need to insist that global threats to our ocean from over-exploitation of resources, pollution and climate change be seriously addressed without partisan, national or parochial divisions. Because, for all the challenges we face, people like this year’s Benchley winners offer practical, common sense solutions to help assure abundant, healthy seas for all of us.
While many people know Peter Benchley wrote Jaws, fewer are aware that the late author spent more than 40 years working to protect sharks, their habitats and ocean ecosystems. That’s why the awards were named in his honor.
The 5th annual awards will be taking place June 1 at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Each winner receives a sea-mantas statue designed by the famed marine artist Wyland.
This year’s winners will include:
For National stewardship — President Anote Tong of the Republic of Kiribati. As head of this small island nation, he was instrumental in creating one of the world’s largest and most biologically diverse ocean wilderness parks, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which has been designated a UN World Heritage Site. He is also an outspoken global advocate for climate change response given the imminent threat that sea-level rise poses to his low-lying nation and its people.
For Science — Dr. Nancy Rabalais, head of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, has been credited with discovering the Gulf of Mexico’s fertilizer-fed, oxygen-depleted Dead Zone that’s grown to the size of New Jersey. She’s also worked tirelessly with farmers and others to reduce its upstream causes.
For Policy — Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D- Rhode Island) is the foremost advocate for ocean protection in the U.S. Senate. He has introduced a bill to establish a National Endowment for the Oceans to explore and restore our public seas and also recently helped found the Senate Ocean Caucus.
For Solutions — Dr. Geraldine Knatz, Executive Director of the Port of Los Angeles, is both the first woman and first marine biologist to run a major port. She’s a national and global leader of the Greening Ports movement. In six years, she’s helped reduce air pollution from the ports of LA and Long Beach over 75 percent and has also helped organize a climate action plan for 50 of the world’s largest ports.
For Media — Brian Skerry is a photojournalist with an ocean activist’s heart, combining beautiful art with a call to action. His arresting images seen in National Geographic, his new book, “Ocean Soul” and in his public presentations show both the wonders and dangers faced by our ocean world.
For Exploration — Unlike past winner Don Walsh, who was one of the first two humans to reach the deepest point on our planet (recently followed by James Cameron’s dive), Ocean in Google Earth has made discovery and exploration of the ocean possible for anyone with a computer, internet access and imagination.
Christopher Benchley Youth Award — This year’s winner is 11-year-old Ta-Kaiya Blaney, a first nations Canadian eco-activist whose beautiful singing and vocal messages have inspired opponents of a planned tar-sands oil pipeline and tanker terminal off British Columbia.
For Hero of the Seas — On April 1, Peter Douglas, creator and long-time Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was instrumental in securing public access to and protection of California’s 1,100 miles of spectacular coastline for the 37 million people of his state.
The Blue Frontier Campaign (BFC) and marine conservationist Wendy Benchley, who co-chair the awards, believe that its 30 winners to date represent some of the most inspiring examples of how individuals can make a difference. But they also believe we won’t succeed in turning the tide until millions of more people also become heroes by committing their time and energy to the protection and restoration of our ocean, coasts and the communities that depend on them. One way to begin is with BFC’s Blue Movement Directory that lists more than 1,400 seaweed (marine grassroots) groups in the United States to see if you’d like to get involved with one near where you live or one that inspires your imagination.
For more information on this year’s Benchley winners, go to www.bluefront.org.
David Helvarg is an author, founder and Executive Director of the Blue Frontier Campaign. His next book, “The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea” will be out in 2013.
Photo credit: the author