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2014 Benchley Winners Rock the Ocean

The Peter Benchley Ocean Awards – named after the famed author and marine conservationist – are the preeminent global awards for ocean and coastal conservation. They reflect a broad range of solutions across many sectors of society. This year’s award winners, who will be honored in San Francisco on May 30, 2014 inspire us all. They include:

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For Excellence in National Stewardship – EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki

As Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries for the European Union, Greek politician, activist and author Maria Damanaki has initiated major and enforceable efforts to end Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) pirate fishing both in the EU and across the globe. She has worked to reduce bycatch (the capture and killing of non-target species of marine wildlife) and promoted sustainable fishing practices within the EU. She has also focused on a more balanced and environmentally sustainable ‘Blue Economy’ for Europe including a recently launched action plan for the development of the renewable ocean energy sector including wind, wave and tidal.

For Excellence in Science – Dr. Steve Gainessteve-gaines

Steve Gaines is Dean at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara and a Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. For years he has applied his research to finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems. His work building sustainable fisheries, effective marine reserves and ocean wilderness parks and addressing the challenges of exotic species and climate change in the ocean have proven vitally important to the health of our blue planet. Equally valuable is his work building scalable solutions through partnerships among researchers, industry, non-profit groups and governments and the outstanding role he’s played in the education and mentoring of the next generation of marine scientists.

For Excellence in Policy – Leon PanettaCIA Director Leon Panetta sits for an interview with the Washington Post in his Langley, Virginia office.

The Honorable Leon Panetta was born and raised in Monterey, California where he became a member of Congress before going on to serve as Chief of Staff in the Clinton Administration and CIA Director and Secretary of Defense under the Obama Administration. In 2002 and 2003 Panetta chaired the Pew Oceans Commission, the first blue ribbon panel to report on the state of our public seas in over 35 years. That report helped inspire a federal commission on the need to protect the health of the ocean, and also led to a U.S. National Ocean Policy now being implemented. As a member of Congress, Panetta played a key role in the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest ocean reserve in the U.S. at the time. His love and concern for the coast and ocean and the communities that depend on them remains undiminished.

For Excellence in Media – Gabriela Cowperthwaitegabriela cowperthwaite

First time documentary director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has created a powerful work of investigative reporting in 2013’s Blackfish. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has since been repeatedly broadcast on CNN, in theatrical distribution and on Netflix. It has caused consternation at SeaWorld Entertainment (owned by the Blackstone Group) by raising issues of worker safety, corporate duplicity and the treatment of captive whales following the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010, killed by a bull Orca. Cowperthwaite’s work has led to civic actions and protests and has informed and inspired people to act as engaged citizens.

For Excellence in Exploration – Prince Khaled bin Sultan & The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundationkhaled

In 2000 his Royal Highness Prince Khaled bin Sultan of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, an avid scuba diver and marine conservationist, established the Living Oceans Foundation as a non-profit research organization around the concept of “Science Without Borders.” In the years since, its major research vessel, The Golden Shadow has explored many of our blue planet’s coral rich seas producing new and detailed maps of coral reef ecosystems, creating valuable new databases for science, developing and deploying new sensing and mapping technologies and promoting a new generation of coral researchers. As the foundation expands, it will continue, through its explorations, to help governments, scientists and policy makers better understand, protect and restore these most endangered of marine habitats.

Christopher Benchley Youth Award – Casey SokolovicScan

16-year-old Casey Sokolovic is the founder of Love a Sea Turtle (L.A.S.T.). She first became active at age 8 when her class took a field trip to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital in North Carolina. To help out the injured and sick animals there, she began baking and selling turtle-shaped cookies. Soon she was selling t-shirts and holding 5 and 10K trail runs as fundraisers. Her efforts inspired a Fair Trade Sea Turtle coffee blend now sold nationwide with 10 percent going to the Turtle Hospital. Casey has also created a summer camp program through the Boys & Girls Clubs of North Carolina to connect students from the watershed to the sea. She works with other activists including 2013 winner Sean Russell and speaks about sea turtles to young people and adults across the U.S.A.

Hero of the Seas – Captain Charles Moore2011_membership_lunch_charlie_khourys_tudyk (32)

Captain Charles Moore grew up in and on the Pacific Ocean, sailing from a young age. In 1997, returning from a yacht race between California and Hawaii, he veered from the usual sea route and saw an ocean he had never known. “Every time I came on deck to survey the horizon, I saw a soap bottle, bottle cap or a shard of plastic waste bobbing by. Here I was in the middle of the ocean and there was nowhere I could go to avoid the plastic…” He founded the Algalita Marine Research Institute in 1994 “to protect and restore the marine environment.” After discovering “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” Algalita developed protocols for monitoring marine and beach micro-plastics now in use worldwide. His over 100,000 miles of research voyages and the media attention his published papers have generated, familiarized people worldwide with the threat of plastic waste in the ocean. His work has helped inspire dozens of activist groups and civic movements to reduce plastic waste at its source. His book, Plastic Ocean was published in 2010.

The Awards are co-hosted by Blue Frontier and Wendy Benchley.  If you are interested in honoring this year’s blue heroes and past winners who will be joining them on May 30 you can find more information at www.bluefront.org. There will also be a Peter Benchley Ocean Seminar at the Aquarium of the Bay on May 31 that will be open to the public.