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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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Announcing the 2011 Ocean Heroes

peter wallerstein

Peter Wallerstein (left) releases a sea lion back into the wild.

Happy World Oceans Day, everyone!

Whether you’re on the coast today or not, we hope you pause to recognize the beauty and bounty of the oceans. Starting today, we're asking all of you to take a pledge to protect the world's oceans -- but more on that later.

And now to the juicy stuff: this year’s Ocean Heroes!

More than 500 ocean activists were nominated, 12 were selected as finalists, and more than 12,000 of you voted. The results? This year’s adult ocean hero is Peter Wallerstein and the junior ocean hero is Sophi Bromenshenkel!

Peter Wallerstein is the program director at Marine Animal Rescue, a project of Friends of Animals, where he has spent the last 25 years rescuing marine mammal in Los Angeles County. He has personally rescued 3,000 marine mammals throughout his career, and also established a team of professional responders that humanely rescues hundreds of animals a year, including whales, dolphins, sea lions and seabirds.

Fittingly, Peter was out helping a stranded California sea lion when I called to give him the good news.

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Ocean Hero Finalists: Andrew Hayford

Andrew teaches kids about ocean pollution.

This is the twelfth and final in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

We’re rounding out our series on the Ocean Hero finalists today with Andrew Hayford, a high school junior who has been an ocean conservation stand-out in his hometown of York, Maine.

Andrew first got involved when he was learning to surf at age 12 and noticed trash in the water and on the beaches. He’s been working to clean up the coast of southern Maine ever since. Since 2006, he has been involved in almost 30 beach cleanups and has hosted more than 10 of his own.

In 2010, Andrew won a Planet Connect grant from the National Environmental Education Foundation to educate 150 kindergarten and second grade students about ocean pollution and how they could help. He conducted an art contest with these students, which became the centerpiece of his “Keep Our Beaches Clean” campaign.

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Ocean Hero Finalists: Dylan Vecchione

Dylan explores a coral reef.

This is the eleventh in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Today’s featured junior ocean hero finalist is 12-year-old Dylan Vecchione, who was nominated for his commitment to coral reef conservation.

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Ocean Hero Finalists: Sophi Bromenshenkel

Sophi with a hammerhead shark confection.

This is the tenth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Today’s featured junior Ocean Hero finalist is shy eight-year-old Sophi Bromenshenkel, who has been working from her hometown of Richfield, Minnesota to protect sharks.

Sophi’s interest in the oceans started on a fishing trip with her uncle in the Florida Keys four years ago. Last year, when she saw a pregnant bull shark left for dead on a beach near her uncle’s home, she decided she had to take action.

By selling lemonade and hot chocolate, shark cookies and wristbands, and through email campaigns and local fliers, Sophi has raised more than $3,500 for sharks. She has partnered with the University of Miami’s RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, where her funds pay for satellite tags on sharks.

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Ocean Hero Finalists: Wyatt Workman

This is the ninth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Today’s featured junior ocean hero finalist is eight-year-old Wyatt Workman, who may be familiar to some of you since we have written about his activism and artwork before.

But in case you don’t know Wyatt, he is quite a special young ocean lover. A talented artist, he has dedicated himself to getting the word out about the plastic pollution fouling our oceans. Through his artistic endeavors, including a book, clay figures, and a claymation movie, “Save the Sea from the Trash Monster!”, Wyatt has raised nearly $4,000 for Oceana.

In late 2010, more than 300 people attended Wyatt’s art show, where he sold out of all 70 art pieces he made. He now has a waiting list for his art and he gets about 10-20 people a day signing his website pledge to make changes in their lives to keep trash - particularly plastic - out of the ocean.  

He was also recently honored by the Pacific Aquarium in Long Beach, CA as their Young Hero of the Year, his book has been named "Book of the Month" by A&I Books in Los Angeles, and he has been featured in Time Magazine for Kids.

Whew! Impressive for an eight-year-old, huh?

Have you voted yet? Check out the other finalists, cast your vote and spread the word! And stay tuned for more spotlighted finalists in the coming days!

Special thanks to the sponsors of the Ocean Heroes Award for making all of this possible: Nautica, Revo and For Cod & Country, the new book by chef and National Geographic fellow Barton Seaver.

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Ocean Hero Finalists: McKenzy Haber

This is the eighth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Today’s featured junior ocean hero finalist is Homer, Alaska native McKenzy Haber, who hosted the first ever TEDxHomer Teen conference in 2010, with a theme of sustainability.

McKenzy and several other teens adapted the TED model to get the word out about ocean conservation to 140 teens and adults in Homer, Alaska and 1,800 livestreaming online. The conference included talks about the oceans, climate change in the Arctic and Antarctica, and ecological economics.

At the 9th World Wilderness Congress, also known as WILD9, he gave a plenary speech called "Dear Developed Earth," to world leaders about teen leadership and protecting wild Alaskan waters. “Many delegates came up to me afterward crying and saying how moving it was,” McKenzy wrote via e-mail. Watch it and see why McKenzy is such an inspiration:

WILD9 - McKenzy Haber (English) from The WILD Foundation on Vimeo.

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Ocean Hero Finalists: Carter and Olivia Ries

This is the seventh in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

I’ve spent the last week telling you about our adult Ocean Hero finalists, and now it’s time to spotlight the younger set -- our inspiring junior finalists.

First up are 10-year-old Carter and 8-year-old Olivia Ries, who have been involved in saving the planet for an impressive portion of their young lives. In late 2009 they started their own nonprofit organization “One More Generation” (OMG), whose goal is to raise awareness about endangered species around the world.

In 2010, OMG created the following video:

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Ocean Hero Finalists: Dirk Rosen

dirk rosen

Dirk Rosen flies an ROV at the Farallon Islands 27 miles off of San Francisco, California.

This is the sixth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

At age four, Dirk Rosen’s mother taught him to fish. At age 10, he learned to dive for abalone. In college, he earned his tuition teaching scuba diving.

Guided by this lifelong love of the ocean, Dirk has spent his career applying his expertise with robotic submarines to protect deep-sea marine ecosystems.

Working in and around deepwater environments (2000+ feet deep), Dirk discovered an urgent need to develop more accurate fish and habitat assessments in order to sustainably manage marine resources. In 2003, he founded Marine Applied Research and Exploration (MARE), a non-profit research organization, to collect deepwater data on marine ecosystems using state-of-the-art technical tools.

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Ocean Hero Finalists: Maria D’Orsogna

maria d'orsogna

This is the fifth in a series of posts about this year’s Ocean Hero finalists.

Maria D’Orsogna is a physics and math professor in California, but in her spare time, she has been fighting offshore drilling in Italy, where she spent 10 years of her childhood. She has even earned the nickname “Erin Brockovich of Abruzzo” for her efforts to rally the public and officials to end drilling in the region.

Abruzzo, which may be familiar to you from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine (a bottle of which I have sitting at home), is a primarily agricultural region east of Rome. The Adriatic Sea is nearby, along with a marine reserve (Torre del Cerrano), a Coastal National Park (Parco Nazionale della Costa Teatina) and several regional reserves, such as Punta Aderci, where dolphins are often spotted.

Maria’s activism started in 2007, when she discovered that the oil company ENI planned to drill in the coastal town of Ortona, Abruzzo. The company would uproot century-old wineries to build a refinery and a 7km pipeline to the sea.

Maria reports that there was very little information about the industry’s drilling plans, nor analysis on what it could mean for the region’s agriculture or fishing industries. At the time, Italy had no laws regulating offshore drilling.

While fighting the onshore refinery, which was ultimately defeated, Maria said via e-mail, “the attack on the sea began. I had to get involved.”

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