Conservation Biologist Thomas Lovejoy Awarded Blue Planet Prize

Thomas E. Lovejoy, Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University, Virginia, was awarded the 21st annual Blue Planet Prize, the international environmental award, the University announced today.

“The Blue Planet prizes are awarded to individuals or organizations each year that make outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application in helping to solve global environmental problems,” George Mason University said in a news statement. Lovejoy — who is also a National Geographic Fellow — accepted the award during a press conference in Rio on June 17. He received the award for pioneering work in biodiversity science and conservation, including how human-caused habitat fragmentation causes biodiversity loss.

Lovejoy said: “I am delighted by the recognition of the importance of biological diversity. I am also humbled and honored to become a Blue Planet Prize Laureate and thereby join so many distinguished Laureates since the inception of the prize. Much of what I am being honored for was achieved in collaboration with others, so I salute and thank them for their help and inspiration.”

“It’s a pleasure to join in congratulating both our esteemed faculty member and the commitments to biodiversity which he so ably represents,” said Peter Stearns, Provost of George Mason University. “His work is a central part of our larger educational and research program on sustainability.”

Two Blue Planet Prizes — sponsored by the Asahi Glass Foundation in Japan — are awarded each year, one to an individual and the other to an organization. The other 2012 recipients were William Rees (Canada) and Mathis Wackernagel (Switzerland) for their development and advancement of the Ecological Footprint, a comprehensive accounting system for comparing human demand on ecosystems to ecosystems’ capacity to self-renew.

A tropical biologist and conservation biologist, Thomas Lovejoy has worked in the Amazon of Brazil since 1965. His Ph.D. thesis (1971) introduced the technique of banding to Brazil and identified patterns of community structure in the first major long-term study of birds in the Amazon. He is the author of numerous articles and is author or editor of five books, including: Key Environments: Amazonia, with G.T. Prance; Global Warming and Biological Diversity (Yale University Press), with R.L. Peters; and Ecology, Conservation and Management of Southeast Asian Rainforests (Yale University Press), with R.O. Bierregaard, Jr., C. Gascon, and R. Mesquita.

Lovejoy directed the World Wildlife Fund-US program from 1973 to 1987 and was responsible for its scientific, Western Hemisphere, and tropical forest orientation. From 1985 to 1987, he served as the Fund’s executive vice president. He is generally credited with having brought the tropical forest problem to the fore as a public issue, and is one of the main protagonists for the science and conservation of biological diversity. He was the first person to use the term biological diversity in 1980 and made the first projection of global extinction rates in the Global 2000 Report to the President that same year.

In the field of international conservation, Lovejoy is the originator of the innovative concept of debt-for-nature swaps. Many such swaps of international debt for conservation projects have been initiated in countries that include Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, the Philippines, Madagascar, Jamaica and Zambia. Over a billion dollars in conservation funds have already been made available with this mechanism.

Lovejoy is the founder of the public television series Nature, and for many years he served as principal advisor to the series. The program is the most popular long-term series on public television.

In 1987, Lovejoy was appointed assistant secretary for environmental and external affairs for the Smithsonian Institution. As assistant secretary he supervised the membership programs, the Smithsonian magazine, the Smithsonian Press, the Office of Government Relations, the Office of Development, the Office of Telecommunications, the Office of International Relations, and the Visitor Information and Reception Center. From 1994-2000, he served as counselor to the secretary for biodiversity and environmental affairs for the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1988, he served briefly on the White House Science Council. From 1989 to 1992 he served on the President’s Council of Advisors in Science and Technology (PCAST), and from 1992 to 1998 was co-chair for the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) under the Executive Office of the President’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC). He is past president of the American Institute of Biological Sciences, past chairman of the United States Man and Biosphere Program, and past president of the Society for Conservation Biology.

In 2001, Lovejoy became senior advisor to the president of the United Nations Foundation (created by Ted Turner and located in Washington, D.C.). He retains a link to the Smithsonian as research associate of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

This post was compiled from materials sent by George Mason University and the National Geographic Explorers website.

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