Award-Winning Environmentalists Score on Ocean Protection

Howard Wood has been awarded a Goldman Environmental Prize for his work creating Scotland’s first community-developed marine protected area. Photo: Courtesy Goldman Environmental Prize

On Wednesday evening, Earth Day, the Goldman Environmental Prizes were celebrated in Washington, D.C., in the 26th annual recognition of some of the world’s most fearless grassroots campaigners.

The six winners from around the globe each earned $175,000 and join a prestigious group of activists from 83 countries that have been named since 1989, in a veritable “who’s who” in the environmental movement.

“These winners show that saving nature is really about saving ourselves,” said M. Sanjayan, the evening’s host and a conservation biologist who serves as an executive vice president of Conservation International.

“The poster child for climate change is no longer the polar bear, it’s us,” said Sanjayan.

He went on to introduce the “people on the front lines” of saving the planet, this year’s Goldman Prize winners, who are:

  • Phillis Omido from Kenya, who led her community in shutting down a toxic smelter that was poisoning her own family and neighbors.
  • Myint Zaw from Myanmar, an environmental journalist who used unconventional ways of communication to publicize the negative effects of a proposed dam on the Irrawaddy River.
  • Jean Wiener from Haiti, who led efforts to create his country’s first marine protected area.
  • Marilyn Baptiste from British Columbia, who led the fight to protect her community’s sacred lake from a mine.
  • Berta Caceres from Honduras, who rallied the indigenous Lenca people to successfully defend their sacred river from a destructive dam and harsh government repression.
  • Howard Wood from Scotland, who led the establishment of his country’s first community-developed marine protected area.

Wiener told the audience that environmental problems remain dire in his country, as in many other places around the world. The solutions must be holistic, he said, including local people and ensuring that people can still make a good living through ways that are sustainable for the future.

Jean Wiener (right) leads volunteers in replanting parts of coastal Haiti, including mangroves damaged for the charcoal trade
Jean Wiener (right) leads volunteers in replanting parts of coastal Haiti, including mangroves damaged for the charcoal trade. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

Like a true Scotsman, Wood pulled his acceptance speech from under his kilt. He explained that as a lifelong diver, he was dismayed at the loss of fish and invertebrates he saw in his country’s waters over the decades. He identified bottom trawling as a major cause, and after 12 years convinced local fishermen, politicians, and the public to try a no-take marine reserve.

Since then the organisms of the sea have rebounded, and in 2014 Scotland protected a much larger part of its waters. The next step is to ensure that trawling is not allowed in those waters either, said Wood, “Because we will not accept a paper park.”

“The sea is a public resource that shouldn’t be controlled by a few destructive people,” said Wood, who identified another Scot, John Muir, as his hero. (Learn more about marine protected areas.)

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