Washington DC- Today, Oceana announces the beginning of public voting for its 5th annual Ocean Hero Awards. After carefully reviewing hundreds of nominations for some of America’s most exceptional ocean stewards, Oceana selected an outstanding group of six adult finalists and six junior finalists hailing from all corners of the U.S.
The public is now invited to choose this year’s adult and junior winners by voting until Friday, July 26, 2013. To learn more about each finalist’s story and to vote for your favorites, visit www.oceana.org/heroes
Lifelong ocean hero and Oceana senior advisor Alexandra Cousteau said, “I’ve been lucky enough to be around Ocean Heroes, like my grandfather Jacques Cousteau, my whole life. What I’ve learned is this: ocean heroes are everywhere. People young and old are working tirelessly to protect our seas all over the world. Oceana has selected an amazing group of finalists for this year’s Ocean Hero Awards, so please take a look at their stories and vote for the hero that inspires you the most.”
The 2013 Adult finalists include:
- Jean Beasley – Topsail Island, NC. In 1997, Jean established The Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in memory of her daughter, who led a local effort to protect turtles before losing a battle with Leukemia at age 29. To date, Jean and her volunteers have rehabilitated and released over 300 turtles back into the wild, fought for (and won) stronger regulatory protections in North Carolina, and worked to educate the public about the threats that sea turtles face in the wild.
- Dr. Neil Hammerschlag – Miami, FL. Neil is the Director of the University of Miami’s R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, which gives high school students, especially those from underserved populations, the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through “full immersion” shark research. Over 2,000 students from 40 countries have participated in shark tagging and diving expeditions. Dr. Hammerschlag was recently instrumental in protecting sharks in Florida waters when he testified for new regulations that would prohibit the recreational and commercial harvest of tiger sharks and three types of hammerhead shark. The protections went into effect on January 1, 2012.
- Kurt Lieber – Huntington Beach, CA. A longtime ocean advocate and diver, Kurt founded the Ocean Defenders Alliance in 2002 to clean up abandoned and discarded fishing gear from California’s coastal waters. If not removed, this ghost gear can snare and kill sea birds, fish, and marine mammals and damage essential marine habitat. To date, Kurt’s organization (comprised of a network of hundreds of volunteer divers) has removed 22,000 lbs of nets, 20,000 lbs of marine debris and over 200 traps from our seas.
- Leah Meth – New Haven, CT. Leah, a Masters student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, spearheaded the youth-driven Shark Stanley Campaign, which advocated for the passage of shark and manta ray protections at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok. The campaign, which was accompanied by an educational book titled The Adventures of Shark Stanley and Friends, began as a small group of students and grew to include an international network of over 50 organizations. Together they collected nearly 10,000 photo petitions from supporters in 135 countries. The petitions were presented to CITES delegates in March of 2013 and contributed to the passing of the protections for sharks and manta rays.
- Angela Pozzi – Bandon, OR. Angela is the founder, director and lead artist of the Washed Ashore Project: Art to Save the Sea, a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting plastic debris from local beaches and using it to build incredible sculptures of ocean creatures. Angela and her volunteers are responsible for removing nearly 10 tons of trash from local beaches since 2010, and her sculptures have been exhibited across Oregon, California and Alaska to educate the public about marine creatures, plastic pollution, and the need to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
- Bren Smith – Stony Creek, CT. After more than a decade of witnessing damaging and destructive fishing practices as a commercial fisherman from Gloucester, MA to Alaska’s Bering Sea, Bren started the innovative Thimble Island Oyster Company in order to become a restorative ocean farmer. His farm spans 20 acres in the Long Island Sound and utilizes a unique 3D model of ocean farming: seaweed and mussels are grown on floating ropes stacked above oyster and clam cages, which together restore habitat, improve water quality and cycle carbon through the ecosystem.
The Junior finalists include:
- Sierra Garcia – Monterey, CA. Sierra, 17, founded an independent beach cleanup organization called Save the Sea Club when she was nine years old. The club, which holds monthly clean-ups at Del Monte Beach along Monterey Bay, has inspired adults to get involved in Sierra’s work and has collected over 25,000 cigarette butts and hundreds of pounds of trash. Additionally, Sierra has captained her annual coastal cleanup every year since she was ten, mobilizing volunteers, organizing supplies and tallying trash collection totals.
- Abby Goldberg – Grayslake, IL. Inspired by the harmful impact of plastic pollution in our oceans and waterways, Abby, 13, set out to ban plastic bags in her northeast Illinois community. But, faced with a proposed state bill that would forbid towns from banning plastic bags, Abby took her fight to state legislators through her “Don't Let Big Plastic Bully Me” campaign on Change.org. Her petition gathered over 174,000 signatures and influenced the Governor’s veto of the state bag bill in August 2012. Since then, Abby has testified in favor of a new Chicago check-out bag ordinance, which would ban plastic bags at Chicago stores.
- Sean Lesniak – Lowell, MA. A lifelong shark lover, Sean, 8, convinced his state representative, David Nangle, to address the brutal practice of shark finning in Massachusetts. In response to Sean’s request, Rep. Nangle filed a bill on his behalf to increase the fines and penalties on the practice of shark finning and Sean spoke on the bill’s behalf before the state Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee earlier this month. If passed, the bill would impose fines or imprisonment on a statewide level in addition to already existing federal penalties for violators.
- Rory and Maeve McCracken – Baton Rouge, LA. In the wake of the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Rory (age 14) and Maeve (age 10) started the organization “kidslovethegulf.org” which raised $8,000 through the sale of T-shirts to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife via the Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program. The siblings also published an illustrated ABC’s book, G is for Gulf, with all proceedings helping to donate additional copies to elementary school libraries and classrooms. To date, books have been donated to schools in Louisiana, Florida and Honduras. Rory and Maeve hope to donate the book to schools in all states that border the Gulf and eventually take it nationwide.
- Cori McWilliams – Vero Beach, FL. Growing up near one of the country’s most important sea turtle nesting sites inspired Cori, 9, to protect the oceans at a young age. Along the way she has become a do-it-all sea turtle advocate. As an active volunteer with the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Cori has raised funds, organized beach clean ups and created a presentation to engage elementary school students in sea turtle conservation issues. To date she has shared her message with hundreds of students. Cori has led the STC’s Little Stewards Story Time – an ongoing reading and discussion of conservation issues found in the nature series of Suzanne Tate. Additionally, Cori organized her local Hands Across the Sand event in 2011 along Wabasso Beach at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge.
- Derek Petrisko – Ft. Lauderdale, FL. Derek, 11, along with his two brothers, founded Wild Over Wildlife (WOW!), a club for kids in elementary school who want to learn about and help protect the environment. Of the three boys, Derek leads the group’s focus on ocean issues, which includes protecting loggerhead and green sea turtles via turtle walks, beach cleanups and raising nearly $5,000 for ocean-related charities. In addition, WOW! successfully petitioned three area restaurants to stop serving shark fin soup and convinced the city of Ft. Lauderdale to provide recycling bins in Derek’s neighborhood beach. Next up, WOW! is raising funds to purchase a shark tag for the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami.
Voting closes on Friday, July 26th. The Adult and Junior winners will be announced on July 31, 2013.
Oceana’s Ocean Hero Awards is made possible by its partners Nautica, JW Marriott, Outside Television, and Revo Sunglasses. The Adult and Junior winners will receive prize packages that include a personalized apparel collection from Nautica, inclusion in an Oceana-produced public service announcement that will run on Outside Television, eyewear from Revo Sunglasses and a two-night hotel stay at the JW Marriott in either Orlando, FL, or San Francisco, CA, complete with a gourmet, sustainable seafood dinner with the hotel’s executive chef.
To learn more about each finalist and vote for your hero, visit www.oceana.org/heroes.