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And the 2012 Ocean Heroes Are…


James Hemphill and Captain Don Voss, our 2012 Ocean Heroes

You’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out who this year’s Ocean Heroes are, and the time has finally come to announce our winners!

We received over 400 fantastic nominations this year, and narrowed it down to six adult finalists and five junior finalists. Thousands of your votes determined the winners, and we’re excited to announce that our adult Ocean Hero is Captain Don Voss and our Junior Ocean Hero is James Hemphill.

Captain Don Voss, from Fort Pierce, Florida, is the owner of the Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc., a debris collection organization that cleans up Florida’s waterways. Over the last 11 years, the company has grown from six volunteers to over 400, who have collectively removed over 300,000 pounds of marine debris. Don started SCUBA diving as a form of therapy after he was wounded in Vietnam, and his love for the ocean motivated him to help clean up the waterways that he loved to dive in.

Don was thrilled to hear that he had won, and is excited for the future of his work.

“I’m 64 now and keep thinking I’ll go back to recreational diving, but every time I go back in the water I find myself picking up debris. People need to understand that this is an ecosystem and that every one thing affects the next thing… What I’ve learned from my grandchildren, if you want an adult to stop doing something, you tell the kids. I’m hoping is that I can get more kids involved with diving, I can get less debris in the water and the water quality improves.”

And if there’s any kid who’s involved with getting debris out of the water, it’s our Junior Ocean Hero, James Hemphill. At 15 years old, James has already been working in ocean conservation for several years. He’s the president of Project Green Teens, a student-run environmental group that promotes conservation in Virginia Beach. They have removed 2,300 pounds of trash from Virginia waterways, and are currently working on a plastic bag ban in Virginia Beach.

James wants kids his age to know that getting involved in conservation is easy, and you can make a big difference by making some changes in your lifestyle.

“Start out with the little creeks that run into the ocean and start small where you can physically see the results. Get a group of friends that are interested and experiment. There’s no such thing as failure… it’s just a matter of how much effort you’re willing to put into it.”

Congratulations to Don and James, and all of our amazing finalists!

Thanks to our corporate sponsors at Nautica and Revo Sunglasses for helping make the Ocean Heroes Awards possible. Our winners will receive a prize package that includes a $500 gift card to Nautica and a pair of Revo sunglasses, made with a 100% recycled frame and polarized lenses, perfect for spending days out on the water.

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If You Were President...


We asked our Ocean Heroes finalists: If you were elected President, what would be the first thing on your agenda?

They gave us some pretty great answers, check them out below, and don’t forget to vote for your favorite finalist! Who knows, maybe one of our finalists will be running for President themselves someday.


Michele Hunter Stop the killing of all marine mammals throughout the entire world.

Hardy Jones Expose levels of pollution.

Kristofor Lofgren I would change our energy policy, because reducing carbon and oil and gas spills, creates a healthier and less acidic ocean.

Dave Rauschkolb End offshore oil drilling.

Rick Steiner An emergency effort in clean, sustainable energy, and energy conservation, to stop climate change and its devastating impacts on marine ecosystems.

Don Voss Appoint Sylvia Earle Secretary of World's Oceans and give her free reins to establish regulations as needed.


Sara Brenes Ban all shark finning in US, no shark products to be sold, imported or exported, create an ocean world conservation summit to try and make a plan to end shark finning, whaling and overfishing and try to create peaceful and safe ocean pact.

The Calvineers Reinforce the Endangered Species Act, especially the Marine Mammal Act so that NOAA would be better funded and more efficient at protecting marine mammals from human made dangers.

Sam Harris No killing sharks on this earth ever!!!!

James Hemphill Ban the chemical BPA from plastics to reduce the human input of toxins in the ocean.

Teakahla WhiteCloud I would ban all long-line fishing and trawler fishing and make sure all ocean laws are strictly enforced and make all reef systems National Parks.

Only a few more days of voting are left, tell us your favorite finalists today at!

Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/Maria Jose Cortex, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Kip Evans Photography, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/LX, Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/LX, Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Oceana/Enrique Talledo.

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What Motivates You?


To be an Ocean Hero, you have to have a strong commitment to your work—so what keeps our finalists going when the going gets tough?

The voting is open for our 2012 Ocean Heroes Awards, but if you're having a hard time deciding who your favorite finalist is, here's a chance to get to know them better.

Each of our finalists has their own unique story about just what it is that motivates them to protect the world’s oceans. Here’s what they told us keeps them working hard to achieve their goals:


Michele Hunter Sometimes it's witnessing the small steps a critical patient will take because of the dutiful care and treatment we provide to our patients.  Knowing that all those hours of care made a difference. Being able to stand on the beach with your team and release an animal that you helped save is motivation enough!

Hardy Jones Frankly, what motivates me is the undeniable need for reform of the way we view and deal with the oceans. There is real danger of a collapse of the ocean ecosystem. Other motivation comes from direct contact with the magnificence of the ocean realm. Finally, I am motivated by the knowledge that I can make a difference if I put out the energy and intention to accomplish important goals.

Kristofor Lofgren I want to live in a healthy and beautiful world.  I also want to do all I can to share that wonderful world with others.  I am motived each and every day to help make the world a better place for everyone I never meet, simply because it is the right thing to do.  We all breathe the same air, drink the same water, and share the same earth.  I choose each day to bring passion to simple, good work...and that is enough.

Dave Rauschkolb The unapologetic grip the dirty fuel and nuclear industries have on our world, and seeing that clean energy and renewables are beginning to break that grip.

Rick Steiner I'm motivated by knowing the desperate state of the oceans, seeing my favorite seas and coasts lost to human ignorance and greed, and facilitating the successes I've been involved with.  There is simply no other option but to ramp up the science-based advocacy for ocean protection -- and that is a powerful motivator.  It is urgent to act, not just talk about the problem.  Knowing we can, and must, succeed.

Don Voss I am motivated by the thousands of kids I talk to each year who are interested and react to this project.  I help at least 25 new divers a year get started and into this sport and debris collection.  I am motivated by the progress in removal and changes in water quality we are finding just this year.  I am motivated when others notice what we do and want to participate and/or learn more.  I am motivated when we continue to release thousands of snagged and trapped aquatic animals.  I am spiritually motivated when I visit our Turtle rescue hospital and visit the critters we have sent there.  Turtles are awesome and send me home an activist.


Sara Brenes I am so passionate about my belief and my drive to make a difference. I feel like I breathe, eat, sleep, and dream about sharks and our oceans. I think it is just hard wired in to me to not give up and to fight and fight and fight and reach another person and another person and another one. Just don't stop!

The Calvineers The North Atlantic right whale is the most endangered large whale in the world.  Their population has grown little in the last thirty years (from about 300 to about 450), way below the estimated 2-3,000 needed for recovery.  Until the whales recover, the Calvineers will keep up their work of educating the public.

Sam Harris I do it for the sharks. I love them.

James Hemphill My love of the ocean keeps me going.  This is a problem that will not go away.  As long as there is a large human population, there will be conflicts with the environment that need solutions.  I want to be a part of those solutions.  I have a stubborn determination to see cleaner oceans.  This is where I play, swim, surf, fish, and kayak.  I want my children to experience the same beautiful environment that I have.

Teakahla WhiteCloud Knowing that I am saving hatchlings so that the ocean will continue to live so that I will have a future to live.

Don’t forget to visit and vote for your favorite adult and junior finalists. There’s less than a week until the voting period is over!

Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Courtesy Hardy Jones, Oceana/Dustin Cranor,, Oceana/Carlos Minguell, Courtesy James Hemphill, Oceana/Eduardo Sorenson, Courtesy Sara Brenes, NOAA, Courtesy Michele Hunter, Courtesy Kristofor Lofgren, Flickr/Nemo’s Great Uncle (middle).

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Need a Beach Soundtrack? We’ve Got You Covered.


Heading out of town for the fourth of July? As with any trip, you need a great destination and some tunes for the ride.

Our Ocean Heroes finalists have spent time on the beach and on the water, learning to appreciate and protect all the ocean has to offer. Each shoreline has its own unique qualities that make it special. We asked our finalists for their favorite ocean destination -- maybe some of them are heading there this week for the holiday!

We also asked them to pick their favorite ocean-related songs and bands, and we put together a Spotify playlist

Check out their answers below!


Dave Rauschkolb:

Place: My home beach, Rosemary Beach.

Song: The B-52's / Rock Lobster

Don Voss:

Place:  Little Cayman Island, Qamea, Fiji or Yap

Song: Adele / Rolling in the Deep

Hardy Jones:

Place: St. Augustine, FL, where I live

Song: The Beach Boys / Good Vibrations

Rick Steiner:

Place: I have lived on the ocean most of my life, and have traveled the world's oceans and coasts.  I'd love to return to the NW Hawaiian Islands, the Oregon Coast, the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, Mauritania, the coast of British Columbia, the Katmai coast in Alaska, St. Lawrence Island, Nunivak Island, Bering Strait, the Aleutians, the Arctic coast, Great Barrier Reef, and Prince William Sound (before the Exxon Valdez oil spill).

Song: Pat Benatar / Hit Me With Your Best Shot

Kristofor Lofgren:

Place: The Caribbean

Song: Jack Johnson / Good People

Michele Hunter:

Place: That's a tough question, I enjoy many areas and terrain the beaches and ocean provide from Laguna Beach, Maine to the Oregon coast.

Song: Van Morrison / Into the Mystic


James Hemphill:

Place: Cumberland Island, Georgia

Song: George Fenton / Spinning Dolphins

Teakahla WhiteCloud:

Place: Florida Keys or Hawai'i

Song: Katy Perry / Part of Me

The Calvineers: Editor’s Note: This message comes from Bill McWeeny, the Principal Investigator and mentor for the Calvineers.

Place:  I live directly on a small estuary in Maine.  I cannot think of a better place to be.  I imagine many of the Calvineers will grow up wanting to live near the sea since exploring and sailing and swimming are so much a part of their lives.

Song: Calvin Harris/ Feel So Close

Sara Brenes:

Place: The Bahamas

Song: Bob Marley & The Wailers / Three Little Birds

Sam Harris:

Place: Cape town, South Africa

Song: Red Hot Chili Peppers / Can't Stop

You can check out all of these songs on our Spotify playlist.


Don’t forget to vote for your favorite finalists, you have until July 11th to cast your vote!


Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Cape Town, South Africa: Wikimedia Commons, Bahamas: Ricymar Fine Art Photography (via Flickr), Fiji: Miguel Sancheese (via Flickr), Bering Strait: NOAA, Caribbean: Franco Caruzzo (via Flickr), St. Augustine, FL: NOAA, Cumberland Island: NOAA, Laguna Beach: NOAA, Hawaii: Wikimedia Commons/Frank Schulenburg, Rosemary Beach: Chad Raggio (via Flickr), Maine Estuary: Pleasant River Wildlife Foundation (middle)

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If You Could be Any Ocean Animal...


Have you ever dreamed of being a dolphin? Or maybe an anglerfish, octopus, or sea turtle?

Exploring the oceans from one of these animals points of view would be an exciting (and eye opening) experience.

So what marine animal would you be if you had the chance to be any creature in the ocean? We posed this question to our Ocean Heroes finalists, and here’s what they had to say. See if you can match their responses to the pictures above (answers at the bottom of this post)!

Michele Hunter – Harbor seal

Hardy Jones – Sperm whale

Kristofor Lofgren – Mako shark

Dave Rauschkolb – Porpoise

Richard Steiner – Polar bear (I like the odds and the challenge they face)

Donald Voss – Humpback whale

Sara Brenes – Tiger Shark

Calvineers – Blue whale

Sam Harris – Tiger Shark

James Hemphill – Hawksbill Sea Turtle (I have always been amazed at all the colors on its shell and how gracefully and peacefully it swims)

Teakahla WhiteCloud – Dolphin

Make sure to vote for your favorite Ocean Heroes, open from now until July 11th. Stay tuned to learn more about our finalists!

Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Sperm Whale: Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Tiger Shark: Albert Kok, Harbor Seal: NOAA, Hawksbill Turtle: NOAA/Caroline Rogers, Porpoise: NOAA, Tiger Shark: Austin Gallagher, Humpback Whale: NOAA, Dolphin: Oceana/Eduardo Sorenson, Mako Shark: NOAA, Polar bear: NOAA, Blue Whale: NOAA (middle)

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What Inspires an Ocean Hero?


Our Ocean Heroes finalists love the ocean, that’s clear from the work they do. But each finalist has their own unique story about what inspired their love for the oceans and their need to protect the waters and the life in them. You’ve met our finalists, now get to know them better then vote for your favorites.

We asked each of our finalists about what inspired them to get involved in ocean conservation, and here’s what they had to say:



Sara Brenes: I have always loved the ocean and especially sharks. I watched the movie Sharkwater and I was blown away by what was happening to sharks. I had no idea, and all I could think about was ways to help them. I asked my mom if I could start a charity and she did not realize I was serious. But I kept bothering her and bothering her and speaking to people about it and then it happened. I just could not imagine a world without oceans. I love being in the ocean and I cannot imagine our world without ocean life. I want to be able to share this love with my children one day and other people as well. I decided to make it my mission to educate people and I learned I could help to change people's opinions, especially by having shark encounters myself and sharing my experiences.

The Calvineers: Editor’s Note: This message comes from Bill McWeeny, the Principal Investigator and mentor for the Calvineers. The Calvineers grow up in Castine, Maine, surrounded by the waters of Penobscot Bay.  Many of the students' parents attended and/or work at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. The ocean is very much a part of these students' lives. I use my connections to the Ocean in their classes weekly, and I have them read Rachel Carson. The first generation Calvineers formed the volunteer project in 2004 because they were interested in animal rights. This theme is strong in the present Calvineers. This group has many reasons for being inspired in ocean conservation, from wanting to work closely with wild animals to looking for ways of expressing a love of nature (through anatomy and art form).

Sam Harris: I was born to do it. I don't know I'm pretty sure I'm half shark. My heart just says do it. I have known this since I was a baby.

James Hemphill: I started taking an interest in wildlife when I was five years old hiking in the marine estuary trails and cypress swamps at First Landing State Park with my dad. The fact that I lived in a coastal city and vacationed in the Outer Banks sparked my passion and respect for the ocean. I swam and played at the beach and Chesapeake Bay and kayaked the Currituck Sound since I can remember. I learned the importance of marine ecology at a young age. This is my home. Every day I see and smell the water. If I don’t do something to clean it up, who will?

Teakahla WhiteCloud: I was inspired watching my parents and seeing the baby hatchlings dying because of artificial lights and no one was doing anything about it here.  I thought we should help because we need to keep sea turtles on our Earth.  So if I have to make sure they live still in the oceans then I have to put all the hatchlings that I can into the ocean and ask other kids to help.



Rick Steiner: At the age of 21 (1975), I first came to Alaska on a NOAA ship surveying the Katmai coast, and that's when I fell in head-over-heels in love with Alaska and the oceans.  Over the following decades, I witnessed the continual degradation of ocean ecosystems, punctuated by the overnight disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.  This intensified my outspoken, science-based advocacy in Alaska, the nation, and globally.

Michele Hunter: Upon visiting Pacific Marine Mammal Center (called Friends of the Sea Lion at that time) over 20 years ago, I was moved and inspired by the good work that this organization was doing. I came back the next weekend to visit and inquired about volunteering. The Director at that time, Judi Jones said she had a feeling about me and moved me up the waiting list and I started as a Sunday morning volunteer.

Donald Voss: I was wounded in Vietnam and used swimming and scuba as the device that allowed me to walk again when it was thought to be unlikely. I have over 10,000 logged dives and have been to most exotic dive locations around the world. There is no place that is not damaged by humans and human trash. I have fashioned a reasonable method to remove this trash and restore the beauty that was there to assist my soul and body when I needed some help. I have a passion to reverse this problem. This is something I can do that matters, and I have the time to do it.

Kristofor Lofgren: I love the ocean.  There is nothing that I enjoy more than living, playing, and being near its power.  The ocean is the single most valuable natural resource we have on this planet.  To not be involved in taking care of it seems negligent at best.

Dave Rauschkolb: The 2009 Florida Legislature passing a bill in the House of Representatives to open up Florida's waters to near and off shore drilling.  I am a lifelong surfer and am passionate about the preservation and importance of every drop of water I have surfed in.

Hardy Jones: I was originally inspired by the works of Jacques Cousteau. But the real inspiration came when I began diving in the late 1950s and saw the wonders of the ocean world. I have been sustained by feedback from people young and old around the world to the messages we offer via film, books, and internet.

Voting will be open until Wednesday, July 11th. Vote for your favorite finalists today!

Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Cousteau Society,, NOAA, NOAA, Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen,, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Oceana/Dustin Cranor, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen (middle)

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Presenting the 2012 Ocean Heroes Finalists


After a long deliberation process, we’re ready to announce the finalists for our 2012 Ocean Heroes Award. We received over 400 fantastic nominees from all over the country (and a few international ones), but we think these five juniors and six adults are the best of the best.

You’ll have a chance to get to know our finalists better over the next two weeks, and you can cast your vote for your favorite finalists. Voting is open from today until Wednesday, July 11.

Meet the finalists:


Sara Brenes, 16
Coconut Creek, FL
Sara, 16, helps raise awareness for shark protection by promoting Ban the Fin programs within her community, where she educates and advocates for a ban on products made from sharks. She also raises money for shark conservation by selling baked goods and candy and spends time going door-to-door in her community to collect signatures for the protection of sharks.

The Calvineers
Castine, ME
A group of 7th and 8th grade students from the Adams School in Maine, the Calvineers study the plight of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and educate the public. Guided by science mentors from the Right Whale Consortium, each student studies a specific right whale issue and contributes to a final group presentation. They  have presented from Quebec to Tampa and reached thousands with their message.

Sam Harris, 7
Los Angeles, CA
At only seven years old, Sam is a shark savior who raises awareness about sharks by giving presentations to students at schools all over Los Angeles. He’s a Junior Ambassador for Shark Savers, Shark Angels, and Sea Shepherd.

James Hemphill, 15
Virginia Beach, VA
James, 15, is president of the student-led conservation group Project Green Teens. He has organized 34 tidal creek and beach cleanups, helping to remove 2,300 pounds of scrap metal from the waterways. He’s currently collecting signatures in support of a plastic bag ban in Virginia Beach.

Teakahla WhiteCloud, 9
Fort Lauderdale, FL
Teakahla, nine, is a founding director of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (S.T.O.P.) and sea turtle hotline phone secretary. She helps protect hatchlings on their way to the ocean and raises money for sea turtle protection.



Donald Voss, 64
Fort Pierce, FL
An avid scuba diver with over 10,000 logged dives, Donald founded a marine debris company (MCII) to remove discarded materials in Florida waterways. In 11 years he has led more than 400 volunteer scuba divers who have removed 300,000 pounds of plastic, nets, fishing line, and trash. His work has contributed to the release of tens of thousands of aquatic animals.

Richard Steiner, 59
Anchorage, AK
Rick, a professor at the University of Alaska for 30 years (he retired in 2010), has advocated for science-based marine conservation in in offshore oil, marine debris, sustainable fisheries, marine mammals, and more. He was a leader in conservation efforts after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and has often been the first international scientist on-site for oil disasters in Pakistan, Lebanon, China, and the Niger Delta. He has helped found several marine conservation organizations including PWS Science.

Hardy Jones, 68
St. Augustine, FL
Hardy, an ocean filmmaker and activist, helped first document the slaughter or dolphins at Iki Island, Japan (made famous in the movie, “The Cove”). He has produced numerous ocean conservation films, some appearing on the PBS series Nature. His organization, Blue Voice, provides research and advocacy for marine mammal conservation.

Michele Hunter, 55
Laguna Nigel, CA
Michele has dedicated 20 years to rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals in Orange County, CA. She has helped return hundreds of marine mammals back to the ocean. As the director of Animal Care/Operations at Pacific Marine Mammal Center she has helped educated the organization’s nearly 20,000 visitors each year.

Kristofor Lofgren, 29
Portland, OR
Kristofor created Bamboo Sushi, advertised as the world’s first sustainable sushi restaurant, to provide consumers with the freshest and best fish possible, while simultaneously helping to restore and replenish the oceans. A portion of the restaurant’s proceeds are donated to The Nature Conservancy and Surfrider Foundation.

Dave Rauschkolb, 50
Rosemary Beach, FL
Dave founded Hands Across the Sand to unite organizations and individuals against the expansion of oil drilling in our oceans. In early 2010, he united 10,000 Floridians to join hands on the beaches, creating human lines in the sand to symbolize their opposition to drilling. After the Gulf Oil Spill, the movement expanded to 1000 events in all 50 states and 43 countries around the world.

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