Washington, DC – Today Oceana announced the winners of its 4th annual Ocean Heroes Award. Captain Don Voss of Fort Pierce, FL and James Hemphill (15) of Virginia Beach, VA were voted the Adult and Junior award winners respectively.
“This year’s Ocean Heroes aptly embody the qualities that Oceana looks for in our yearly search for America’s most exceptional ocean stewards,” said Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless. “Captain Don and James are selflessly dedicating themselves to the protection of their local waterways and in the process are teaching people all over the country how to keep the ocean healthy with hands on action and political savvy. Oceana is proud to shine a light on their hard work knowing that that their efforts are helping us achieve a healthy ocean that’s full of wild seafood and capable of sustaining us forever.”
Adult Hero: Captain Don Voss, Fort Pierce, FL
Captain Don Voss of Fort Pierce, FL was voted Ocean Hero in the adult category for his work cleaning up marine debris in Florida waterways. His organization MCII has removed over 300,000 pounds of marine debris since starting 11 years ago with an initial team of six volunteers and a $500 budget. His team of volunteer scuba divers (now over 400) navigates treacherous inlets in Florida to collect fishing lines, anchors, lures and other debris. Their efforts are helping to restore the health of these inlets which were largely ignored until the organization’s creation.
Wounded in Vietnam, Voss credits scuba diving for allowing him to walk again when doctors thought it unlikely. Now, he says, his desire to give back has transformed itself into a growing scuba cleanup organization that has expanded to four inlets and four counties and over 90 miles of the Indian River Lagoon Estuary.
“This award just reaffirms my ability move forward on this,” said Voss. “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. Pretty soon when we go diving all we’ll see are the pretty bottles, cans and lures. There won’t be any fish. And I dread that day. So I hope that this gives me a platform to let people understand that there are actions for everything they do.”
Junior Ocean Hero James Hemphill (15), Virginia Beach, VA
Growing up in Virginia Beach, VA, James Hemphill has always had a connection to the ocean and started his conservation efforts in the 6th grade. Today he is the president of Project Green Teens, an environmental conservation organization developed and managed by students. Currently serving his 4th term, he works mainly on water quality issues with the removal of marine debris and policy-focused initiatives. He is helping run a campaign to stop the use of plastic bags in Virginia Beach. Hemphill was appointed to the steering committee for the City of Virginia Beach Sustainability Plan and is the youngest member at only 15. He says his entire community is connected to the ocean, so his involvement in water conservation is natural.
“We’re surrounded by water – the Currituck Sound to the south, the Lynnhaven River and Chesapeake Bay to our north and the Atlantic Ocean to our east. Our entire area is based off water. So it’s pretty important to the majority of the population that we keep our waters pristine and work to improve it,” he said. “I want kids to know no problem is too big to tackle. Anyone can do it. It’s just a matter of how much effort you’re willing to put in to it.”
Oceana’s 2012 Ocean Heroes contest was launched June 6, just days before World Oceans Day, with a national call for nominations. We received over 400 nominations and a panel of experts at Oceana narrowed the field to six adult finalists and five junior finalists. Several thousand people voted and, ultimately, selected the eventual Adult and Junior heroes.
Oceana’s Ocean Heroes Contest was supported by its partners Nautica and Revo Sunglasses. All adult and junior finalists will receive prize packages that include a $100 gift card to Nautica.com; a pair of Revo sunglasses that feature a 100% recycled frame material and a high contrast polarized water lens that is tailored to the specific light-absorbance profile of ocean water. Nautica is providing a $500 gift card to the winners in each category.
For more information about the contest or to speak with either of the winners, please contact Michael Gardner – 202-467-1972 or [email protected]
Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 550,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.