Peter Benchley’s Blue Legacy Awards

What do a West African president, a pair of scientists studying life in the ocean, a 20-year-old veteran of the 4-H Clubs, a Massachusetts Congressman running for a Senate seat and two California women who spent over a decade working to create underwater parks have in common? Theyre among the winners of this year’s top ocean honors, the 6th annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards.

Named for the author of Jaws, the awards celebrate the life and legacy of Benchley, who, though many people are not aware of it, dedicated much of his life to the protection of sharks and the ocean ecosystems they are a part of. The awards, presented by the non-profit Blue Frontier Campaign and marine conservationist Wendy Benchley, celebrate exceptional efforts leading to the protection of our ocean, coasts, and the communities that depend on them.

The 32 recipients to date include: Presidents Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica and Anote Tong of Kiribati, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos, Port of Los Angeles Director Geraldine Knatz, Retired Navy Captain Don Walsh, the late marine scientist Ram Myers, and the late New Jersey coastal activist Dery Bennett.

On May 15th, each winner will be presented with a Benchley Mantas award sculpture designed by famed marine artist Wyland. Past Masters of Ceremony have included explorers Philippe Cousteau, Sylvia Earle, and syndicated Sherman’s Lagoon cartoonist Jim Toomey.

This year’s winners, selected from many highly qualified nominees submitted by the marine conservation community, include:

For Excellence in National Stewardship – President Macky Sall of Senegal

As one of his first acts after his election in 2012, President Sall rescinded all foreign fishing permits in his nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Within months of his action thousands of local fishermen were seeing their catches dramatically increased and their families and communities restored. President Sall is now moving forward with plans to assure a sustainable domestic fishery free of foreign exploitation, creating a resource management model for West Africa and the world.

For Excellence in Science – Dr. Boris Worm & Dr. Heike Lotze

Working both separately and in collaboration this husband and wife team of scientists from Dalhousie University in Canada have expanded on the work of the late Ransom Meyer, the first Benchley science award winner. Through their extensive body of work they have significantly increased the world’s knowledge about the changing abundance and diversity of the planet’s fish and marine wildlife populations and the impact of nutrient pollution and other human activities.

For Excellence in Policy – Congressman Ed Markey

Representative Markey (D-MA 5th District) has a strong record of support for the oceans, including as a critic of offshore oil drilling and an outspoken critic of BP during its oil blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. He has promoted legislation to address climate change and ocean acidification, supports sustainable fishing policy and, as the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee has been a strong defender of National Ocean Policy, the Clean Water Act and other environmental protections.

For Excellence in Media – Nancy Baron & COMPASS

In 1999 leading ocean scientists and communications professionals established COMPASS to train marine scientists in communications skills needed to talk to the media, the public, and policymakers about their findings. As the long-time Ocean Science Outreach Director for COMPASS, Nancy Baron has played a pivotal role in establishing strong links between thousands of scientists and journalists so that changes and discoveries in our seas become news and information we can all use.

Christopher Benchley Youth Award – Sean Russell

As a high school intern at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, Sean Rusell became aware of the problem of marine plastic pollution. In response he founded “Stow It-Don’t Throw It,” a statewide monofilament fishing line recycling program and collaborative effort between youth and environmental groups that has since gone national. In 2011, with the help of Mote Marine Laboratory, Sean led the first Youth Ocean Conservation Summit held in Florida that has now become an annual event. He has also given countless hours to community service projects while serving as a member of the Florida 4-H Program. Twenty-year-old Sean is now a senior at the University of Florida. 

Hero of the Seas – Karen Garrison and Kaitilin Gaffney

Karen and Kaitilin have worked together for more than a decade leading the effort to create, design, and implement California’s 1999 Marine Life Protection Act that, following a long and arduous process, has resulted in a world-class system of ocean wilderness parks. As of late 2012, these Marine Protected Areas cover some 16 percent of California state waters. While working for the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Ocean Conservancy Karen and Kaitilin kept their focus on grassroots organizing. In the words of California Secretary for Natural Resource’s John Laird, “They were incredibly successful in persuading others to their view because they listened to people’s concerns, and worked with them to find solutions that worked for all…their contribution to our blue ocean and to the communities that depend upon it is monumental.” 

This year’s awards ceremonies will take place at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C. as part of a biannual Blue Vision Summit for ocean activists and policy makers.  Click for more on the awards.


David Helvarg is an author and Executive Director of the Blue Frontier Campaign.  His next book, The Golden Shore – California’s Love Affair with the Sea will be out on Feb. 19.

Changing Planet