After receiving nearly 500 nominations and thousands of votes for its final group of nominees, Oceana announced the winners of its inaugural online “Ocean Heroes Award” contest. The contest, launched in early May of this year, was created to honor ocean advocates who have made a difference for the oceans on a local or international level. Out of eight finalists, this year’s winner is John Halas, a marine biologist and manager of the Upper Region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Halas has been working to protect coral systems in Florida since 1981. After observing coral damage caused by careless anchoring, he took it upon himself to develop an environmentally friendly anchor and mooring buoy system that prevents damage to coral reefs and has worked to implement this anchorage system in 38 countries. “My work is something I have felt strongly about and it is really a great honor to receive this acknowledgement,” Halas said.
As the finalist receiving the most votes, Halas will receive a $500 gift certificate from Oceana’s corporate partner Nautica and a special outgoing voicemail greeting recorded by Oceana board member Ted Danson. Second and third place prizes include an ocean-themed entertainment package and an assortment of Oceana memorabilia.
New Jersey-based Bob Schoelkopf finished second for his work rescuing and rehabilitating seals, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals. In 1978, Schoelkopf helped start a program in Brigantine, New Jersey to save stranded sea mammals. The program evolved into the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which rescues and rehabilitates hundreds of injured marine creatures every year.
Shark expert Andy Dehart earned the third most votes in recognition for his work educating the public about sharks. Dehart is a shark expert who currently works at the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. and is a Discovery Channel shark advisor. He helps to educate the public on the important role sharks play in the ecosystem and the need to protect them.
“Our winners are true ocean heroes,” said Andrew Sharpless, Oceana’s Chief Executive Officer. “Their work results in positive change for our seas, and I hope they inspire others to get involved.”
Nominations were received by mid-May and a final group of eight finalists was selected by a panel of Oceana’s policy, science, advocacy and communications experts. Oceana Wavemakers (online members) voted to select the final winners from mid-May to June 1. Along with Halas, Schoelkopf and Dehart, the other finalists included Girl Scouts and World Oceans Day advocates Chanel Gemini, Nika Kashyap and Sabina Van Tilburg from Hawaii; teenage anti-pollution activist Emily Goldstein from Louisville, KY, South Florida coral reef steward Lynora Indiviglio, legendary ocean educator Jeff "Mr. Fish" Sandler from Maine and Casey Sokolovic, an eleven-year-old grassroots sea turtle activist from North Carolina.
Short bios for all Ocean Hero finalists can be found at: www.oceana.org/heroes