Youāve been waiting with bated breath to find out who this yearās 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 weāre 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 Floridaās 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.
āIām 64 now and keep thinking Iāll 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 thingā¦ What Iāve learned from my grandchildren, if you want an adult to stop doing something, you tell the kids. Iām hoping is that I can get more kids involved with diving, I can get less debris in the water and the water quality improves.ā
And if thereās any kid whoās involved with getting debris out of the water, itās our Junior Ocean Hero, James Hemphill. At 15 years old, James has already been working in ocean conservation for several years. Heās 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.
āStart 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. Thereās no such thing as failureā¦ itās just a matter of how much effort youāre willing to put into it.ā
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.
Members of our Baltic Expedition crew have been diving in the waters around Finland's Ć land Islands. Even in the shallow waters pictured here, the poor visibility felt "like diving at night," according to diver and deck coordinator JesĆŗs Molino. In this water, it would be hard to see your hand sticking out in front of your face.
Even close to the shore, the water reached depths of up to 100 meters. The crew sent in remote operated vehicles (ROVs) to survey the seabed in these deep waters before heading in themselves.
The divers braved dark, icy waters to film the marine life in the waters near these isolated islands. They found a variety of shrimps, eels, isopods, fish like the fourhorn sculpin, and even a submerged bird egg.
The crew has spent the last few days in the Ć land Islands, and will set off on the next leg of their journey tonight. They will be sailing north for about 15 hours to reach their next working site in the Baltic Sea.
This is the first in a series of posts about this yearās Ocean Hero finalists.
Starting today, Iāll be highlighting each of this yearās Ocean Hero finalists on the blog, since their stories deserve more space than what fits in the voting boxes at oceana.org/heroes.
First up we have Zach Rome, whose love for the oceans began at age 11, when his grandfather took him scuba diving in the Florida Keys. He was hooked, and spent subsequent summer vacations scuba diving around the world, climbing the scuba certification ladder.
He went on to study marine biology at the University of Miami, where he learned just how important and fragile the oceans are. He decided that after graduation, he would devote himself to passing on that knowledge.
After spending a few years working as a scuba instructor and middle school science teacher, he founded The Schooba Academy, a nonprofit organization based in Brooklyn, NY that teaches students from low-income communities about science through scuba diving.
Senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor is back on board the Latitude after a short hiatus on land, and heās here to tell you about the latest leg of the expedition in the āAlabama Alps,ā an ecologically rich reef in the Gulf of Mexico. More on that below in the video with our chief scientist, Mike Hirshfield.
Thursday, September 9
As Will Race and the rest of our Alaskan colleagues headed back to Juneau this week, a new crew was making its way to Gulfport, Mississippi to board the Oceana Latitude.
Our next mission? Documenting seafloor habitat areas along the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico that may have been harmed by underwater oil.
During this leg, Spanish ROV operators Jose Manuel Saez and Josep Fleta will use a device to reach depths of approximately 1,500 feet and film in high-definition.
The Oceana Latitude also welcomed support divers Thierry Lannoy (France) and Jesus Molino (Spain), as well as Maribel Lopez from Oceanaās Madrid office. Dr. Michael Hirshfield has also returned to the ship. Here he is talking about this leg of the expedition:
From yesterday's New York Times:
"Itās not just fishermen,ā said Captain Pete [Lacombe, dive master in the Florida Keys], who is 45. āItās dive boat operators, instructors, mates, the guys who fill up our tanks. This [oil spill] could be potentially devastating for all of us.ā
This is the third in a series of posts about this yearās Ocean Hero finalists.
Laura Medrano is a mental health professional who helps inner-city adolescents in Boston through Dive Kulture, the first program in the nation to offer scuba certification in conjunction with environmental summer jobs.
The youths she helps are at risk of violence, abuse and neglect and many already have a criminal record, Laura told me. Through Dive Kulture, she uses scuba diving as a therapeutic mental health treatment. The students learn how to breathe more slowly through scuba, which helps them calm down and think more clearly in difficult situations.
Plus, for many of Laura's students, itās their first time in the ocean -- she helps them connect to the marine environment in their backyard. Some of them, she says, didn't know the ocean was salty before joining Dive Kulture.