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Oceana Magazine Spring 2010: Ocean Advocate: Toby Usnik

On April 22, the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, renowned auction house Christie’s hosted a one of a kind inaugural Green Auction to benefit four environmental charities, including Oceana. The event raised $2.4 million for conservation.

Toby Usnik, the Senior Vice President and International Head of Corporate Communications for Christie’s International, had the initial idea to create the Green Auction and for the past year has been the catalyst and mastermind behind the event. The idea emerged because environmental issues have become increasingly important to the clients, staff and partners of Christie’s, according to Usnik.

To choose from the hundreds of environmental organizations, Christie’s identified groups that were highly regarded by clients and colleagues, as well as organizations that received a top rating of four stars from Charity Navigator. Oceana fit the bill.

“When we began to consider partners, we were struck by how far Oceana has come so quickly,” Usnik said. “It has a real entrepreneurial spirit that has moved it to the fore, and from its board to its staff members, it seems to be a beautifully aligned and effective organization.”

Usnik was first introduced to Oceana when a colleague’s father passed away. Because her father adored the oceans during his life, the family asked visitors to his memorial service to donate to Oceana in his memory. Soon after, he discovered that an old friend, Susan Cohn Rockefeller, had joined Oceana’s Ocean Council. He has been an Oceana supporter ever since.

Usnik grew up in the Midwest, so the only waters he knew as a kid were lakes. “My mother had us swimming almost before we could walk,” he said. “To this day I love to swim and to be in the water – it clears out my head and feels like home to me.”

Nowadays he and his partner escape from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan to Fire Island, a barrier island off Long Island. “I've been going there since I moved to New York 23 years ago, and many of my fondest memories and closest friends are associated with the beach at Fire Island,” he said.