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Peter Benchley Ocean Awards 2017: A Celebration of Excellence in Ocean Conservation

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© Bill Camarota

Tonight, the ocean community comes together to acknowledge the outstanding achievements of individuals and groups that are leading the way to the protection of our ocean and coasts and the communities that depend on them. From marine scientists, policy makers, explorers and more, the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards highlight excellence and achievement in ocean conservation across a wide variety of conservation disciplines.

In 2017, awards will be given for Excellence in National Stewardship, Sustained Ocean Achievement, Excellence in Science, Policy, Media and Solutions, Hero of the Seas and the Christopher Benchley Youth Award. Congratulations to all awardees for their tireless work for our ocean!

For many years, Ocean Conservancy has worked alongside many of tonight’s awardees. We want to give particular congratulations to awardees in the Excellence in Solutions, Policy, Science and Sustained Ocean Champions award categories.

Excellence in Solutions

We have long supported the importance of ocean planning as a tool for solving some of our oceans most complex management decisions. That is why we are extremely proud to see the Excellence in Solutions award go to three foundational ocean planning bodies.

Together, the Rhode Island Special Area Management Planning Team and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Regional Planning Bodies have helped make the Atlantic coast a leader in smart ocean planning. They have showed how better data, stakeholder engagement and coordination can lead to better outcomes for the environment and economy.

Rhode Island led the way for state-based ocean planning. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Ocean Plans led the first comprehensive plans for federal waters. Now, more states like Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington have planned or are making plans for their state waters. Regions such as the West Coast and Pacific Islands are working on ocean plans for further offshore.

The steadfast leadership of these three planning teams and their landmark ocean plans have paved the way for our ocean’s future. Tomorrow, we will dive deep into these plans with a guest blog from Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Excellence in Policy

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) are two of the ocean’s best champions in Congress, and this year’s awardees for Excellence in Policy. At a time when uncertainty exists in the policy environment and key conservation values are under increased scrutiny, these two leaders have remained steadfast in their commitment to ocean conservation and coastal communities.

When Senator Schatz proposed expanding Papahānaumokuākea he did so with the intent of understanding and honoring Hawaii’s natural treasures and native culture, while preserving access for local fishermen. He often works across the aisle and has cosponsored fishing legislation from the two Alaskan Senators, who also care for native and fishing interests away from the mainland.

Senator Blumenthal works to ensure that the Long Island Sound remains one of Connecticut’s most treasured and valuable resources. Blumenthal was an active voice in the creation of Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, which protects 4,913 square miles of ocean from Maine to New York.

Together, they have shown time and again that our ocean is deserving of our nations steadfast attention and action.

Excellence in Science

This year’s Excellence in Science awards go to Dr. Ben Halpern, Professor of Marine Ecology and Conservation Planning at UC Santa Barbara and Dr. Ussif Rashid Sumaila, Professor and Director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Halpern’s synthesis studies on global marine protected areas helped establish the scientific underpinnings of the successful effort to design marine protected areas (MPAs) at the Channel Islands and along the California coast. California’s MPAs now represent one of the world’s largest scientifically based networks of marine protected areas, setting aside from harvest about 850 square miles of kelp forest, rocky reef, sandy shore and marine canyon habitat. Studies from MPAs at the Channel Islands designated some ten years earlier, document significant increases in abundance, diversity and individual size of fish and other animals within MPA boundaries compared with those outside.

We are also thrilled to see Ocean Conservancy’s newest board member, Dr. Sumaila, honored for his significant contributions to fisheries management science and economics, focuses on how economics, integrated with ecology and other disciplines can be used to help ensure ocean resources are sustainably managed now and in the future.

Sustained Ocean Champions

It’s hard to envision our ocean conservation community without the years of support and leadership of Josh Reichert at the Pew Charitable Trusts. He was the thought leader behind campaigns such as Give Swordfish a Break and Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass, which helped raise awareness of overfishing to a more mainstream audience, and cemented the role of chefs and the restauranteur industry in the sustainable seafood conversation. He provided seed funding to groups like SeaWeb and Oceana, helping to establish more organizations with a singular focus on the ocean and has prioritized the sustainable management of America’s fisheries for decades.

When we get caught up in how far we still have to go, the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards encourage us to celebrate just how far we’ve already come. We are thankful for the dedication and commitment of these ocean champions.

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