President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of the Republic of Palau bagged this year’s Peter Benchley Award for excellence in national stewardship, joining the roster of respected winners that include heads of states, senators, leading marine scientists, explorers and journalists.
The announcement was made by the Palau President’s office through Honorary Consul Scott J. Nelson and Charges d’Affaires Ngerikl Baules.
Often called the “Academy Awards for the Ocean,” the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards will honor this year a diverse group of eight ocean leaders who represent an array of marine expertise, including the President of Palau, a New York Times investigative journalist, a French sailing expedition and the mayor of a San Diego border town.
Past winners have included four heads of state, US secretaries of State and Defense, senators, leading marine scientists, journalists, explorers, youth leaders and citizen activists.
Officially announced on the first Monday of the new year, the 2016 winners will receive their award statues during the 9th annual award ceremonies set for May 20 this year at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California, USA. The statues were designed by acclaimed marine artist Wyland.
The following is a complete list of this year’s winners:
For excellence in national stewardship – President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of the Republic of Palau
Having helped establish a shark sanctuary and pristine dive sites, President Tommy Remengesau in October 2015 signed into law a bill protecting 80 percent of his Pacific island nation’s territorial waters from any extractive activities including fishing, drilling and mining—an area larger than California. Palau’s remaining waters will be open to fishing by locals and a limited number of commercial operators.
“Creating this sanctuary is a bold move that the people of Palau recognize as essential to our survival,” the Palau President announced. Last month, President Remengesau also signed an international treaty targeting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) pirate fishing. “Palau will not tolerate poachers in our ocean. We are getting tough on illegal fishing at home, and today we are signing up for the global fight,” he said.
Palau’s government proved its seriousness when it burned four foreign vessels caught illegally fishing in its waters. Along with these bold initiatives, President Remengasau has also been outspoken on the need for global action to address fossil fuel-fired climate change that threatens many island nations such as Palau.
For excellence in science – Dr. Barbara Block, marine biologist
Marine biologist and Stanford professor Dr. Barbara Block is renowned for her studies of tunas, billfish, sharks, turtles and other migratory marine animals. Her work research has expanded knowledge about highly migratory fish, including their behavior, physiology, ecology and their interaction in the ocean using satellite tagging and tracking techniques or tags on a global scale. She established the Tuna Research and Conservation Center with the Monterey Bay Aquarium and also helped create, as a leader, the Census of Marine Life called TOPP “Tagging Of Pacific Predators.”
For excellence in policy– David Wilmot and Ocean Champions
Dr. David Wilmot has more than 30 years of experience in ocean science and policy. After receiving his PhD in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, he went on to work as a policy fellow and advocate in Washington, D.C., including as executive director of the Ocean Wildlife Campaign. In 2003, Dr. Wilmot helped author a report, “Turning the Tide” that examined why marine conservation efforts were not having a larger policy impact. Shortly thereafter, he and lawyer Jack Sterne co-founded Ocean Champions, which identifies itself as “the only political voice for the oceans.”
For excellence in media – Ian Urbina, investigative journalist for The New York Times
Based out of the paper’s Washington bureau, Ian Urbina’s writings have ranged from domestic and foreign policy to commentary on everyday life. In July 2015, the newspaper published his highly acclaimed series called “The Outlaw Ocean,” which took an in-depth look at the current lawless state of the world’s ocean including piracy, illegal fishing, environmental damage, rampant murder, the use of unregulated private security forces, even the use of slave crews on pirate and high seas fishing vessels. He continues reporting on the links between commercial fishing, pirate fishing, at seas human trafficking, various risks to mariners and organized crime.
For excellence in solutions – Dr. Chris Costello, environmental economist
Costello is a co-founder of the Sustainable Fisheries Group that combines economics and marine science to implement effective strategies for restoring the world’s depleted fisheries. Working with academic and advocacy partners he has developed ways to align marine reserves and sustainable local fishing in tropical coastal nations including Indonesia, the Philippines, Belize, Brazil and Mozambique. He has also worked with the World Bank and others to promote “50 in 10,” a bold initiative to restore half of the world’s commercial fisheries to ecologically sustainable levels over the next decade.
For excellence in exploration– Tara Expeditions
For more than 12 years, Tara Expeditions, a French ship-based non-profit marine conservation organization has traveled the world’s seas aboard a 36-meter aluminum-hulled research schooner. Tara’s explorations have ranged from Arctic and Antarctic ice to tropical and temperate seas to the Mediterranean and most recently up the Seine for the December 2015 Paris Climate Summit. Along with carrying out educational and art projects for the ocean, its scientific researchers have uncovered groundbreaking new information that was published in the prestigious journal Science in 2015 about plankton—organisms that are as important for Earth’s ecosystem as the rainforests in terms of generating oxygen and as the base of marine food webs.
Christopher Benchley Youth Award– Daniela Fernandez
Twenty-one-year-old Daniela Fernandez, a government major now in her Junior Year at Georgetown University, is the founder and President of the Georgetown ‘Sustainable Oceans Alliance’ (SOA), “a student led organization that empowers Millennials to become leaders in preserving the health and sustainability of our oceans.” Fernandez and SOA led the first annual ‘Sustainable Oceans Summit’ with more than 30 colleges and universities participating. Fernandez also sits on the University’s Licensing and Oversight Committee, Environmental Committee, Board of Governors and is a student leader of the Georgetown Global Social Enterprise Initiative.
Hero of the seas – Serge Dedina, mayor of Imperial Beach California
Serge Dedina is also Executive Director and co-founder of WILDCOAST/COSTASALVAjE, an international organization based in the US-Mexico border town of Imperial Beach that set out to protect some of the most beautiful and biologically significant coastal and marine ecosystems areas in southern California and Latin America. He is the author of Saving the Gray Whale, Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the California and Surfing the Border. Dedina initiated an international campaign that successfully stopped a multinational corporation from destroying San Ignacio Lagoon – the world’s last undeveloped gray whale lagoon. He is currently leading an effort to preserve Baja’s central Pacific coastline. He has a PhD in Geography from the University of Texas and was elected to office in 2014.