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Meet the shortlist for the 2024 Ocean Awards

March 13, 2024

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Each year the Ocean Awards, held in partnership with Blue Marine Foundation, celebrate the achievements of individuals, groups and organisations from around the world that are dedicated to restoring the health of our oceans. Now in its ninth year, the awards continue to shine a light on a number of worthy initiatives, from local community projects to large-scale studies, and a panel of judges recently had the unenviable task of whittling down hundreds of entries to just 24 finalists.

The 2024 winners will be announced throughout the week commencing Monday 6 May, 2024. Discover the individuals, innovative technologies and environmental projects that have made the shortlist this year.

The Local Hero Award

The Local Hero Award award recognises the individual or group that has had the most positive impact on the marine environment within their local community this year.

Name: Rose Huizenga
Organisation: Coral Catch

Huizenga arrived at Gili Island, Indonesia thinking she would stay for two days. Eleven years later she still hasn’t left and is deeply engaged with the community and working every day to protect the natural beauty of Indonesia’s ocean.

Huizenga’s boutique hotel business, which included teaching tourists how to restore the local coral reefs, came to an abrupt halt during COVID. Undeterred, she turned a problem into a solution and started training Indonesian women to restore the reefs instead. A Facebook post garnered responses from 150 local women, marking the beginning of Coral Catch’s transformative journey.

Coral Catch’s mission is ambitious: to train 100 women by 2030, empowering them to champion marine conservation. The nine-week course focuses not only on practical skills but also on creating a crucial support network. Training covers diverse topics including finance, mental health, marine conservation and balancing motherhood with entrepreneurship.

After completing the program, the women pay it forward by conducting sessions in schools, spreading the message about ocean conservation through social media and teaching local women to swim.

Name: Kura Paul-Burke
Vocation: Marine biologist
Māori marine biologist Kura Paul-Burke is a champion of the ocean and the local communities that rely on it. Her ground-breaking work prioritising localised Māori tribal traditional knowledge has led to the successful restoration of a once-decimated shellfish population in Ōhiwa Harbour in Aotearoa New Zealand.  She worked with local tribal Elders, accessing generations-old knowledge, and incorporated it with the latest science. This led to a move to ditch plastic mussel lines and develop biodegradable versions made from the biowaste or dead leaves of traditional Māori plants. These lines proved a successful tool for encouraging wild mussel spat (young shellfish), reducing plastic pollution and increasing marine biodiversity. This has led to an increase in the mussel population from a mere 80,000 to over 16 million in 2023. Paul-Burke now travels all over the country, free of charge, to visit any coastal tribe that wants to learn how to use these lines.
Name: Martina Sasso
Organisation: Pol El Mar
Martina Sasso established ocean preservation organisation Por El Mar to address Argentina’s limited focus on marine conservation. The organisation’s bottom-up approach engages communities, finding conservation solutions that benefit both the environment and livelihoods. Martina’s advocacy led to the creation of the Marine Protected Area, Punta Mitre, and the Península Mitre Provincial Park, safeguarding a vital carbon sink. Recognizing the need for effective monitoring, Por El Mar pushed for budget mandates for protected areas and were instrumental in the ban on open-net salmon farming in Tierra del Fuego. Martina now leads the Global Salmon Farming Resistance, aiming to halt industry expansion globally. This year, they are planning a shark rewilding programme to address an 80% decline in Atlantic Ocean shark populations, strategically aligning projects with national conservation needs and global fundraising trends for impactful, immediate results.

The Science Category

The Science Category recognises the individual or research team that has made an original scientific contribution to the ocean this year.

Name: Christopher Free et al
Vocation: Researcher

The Dungeness crab fishery is the US West Coast’s most lucrative, historically well-managed fishery. However, increasing humpback whale entanglements with the fishing gear has prompted scrutiny and potential closure. Motivated to find strategies to protect both the whales and support the fishery, Christopher Free used innovative simulation testing. Contrary to expectations, Free found that dynamic management approaches such as closing risky zones and allowing fishing in less risky areas proved less efficient than simpler solutions like limiting trap numbers, which would not affect fisheries revenues. Collaborating with the Nature Conservancy and federal government scientists, Free’s findings provide vital insights for other trap fisheries globally who are faced with entanglement challenges.

 

Name: Jacob Eurich et al
Vocation: Marine ecologist

Climate change is a major threat to fisheries, with impacts expected to increase in frequency and intensity. As a result, policymakers, managers, scientists, and fishing communities must build resilience to climate change to retain the jobs, food security, and cultural identity fisheries provide Jacob led an interdisciplinary team to develop a Climate-Resilient Fisheries Planning Tool, addressing the impact of climate change on fisheries. The tool, available publicly, encompasses ecological, socio-economic, and governance components and can be easily accessed via PDF or as an Excel file. Supported by the UN Ocean Decade programme, the tool is currently being actively used in six fisheries, with future plans for code development and translation into multiple languages.

 

Name: Navid Constantinou et al
Vocation: Scientist

Collaborating with University of Cambridge scientists and integrating ocean physics and the latest technologies such as modern data from satellites and marine instruments, Navid Constantinou worked on a cutting-edge new Ocean Model, which creates more realistic climate projections than previous tools. The model facilitates quicker, more detailed simulations, allowing scientists to explore complex interactions. Using this tool, Navid then helped create OceanBiom, a new software which examines biochemistry in the ocean.

The team can now model how carbon dioxide comes into play when it comes to ocean physics. By having a better understanding of how the ocean works, they can create more affective mitigation strategies.

The Innovation Award

The Innovation Award recognises the individual, company or group that has this year publicly introduced innovative measures for reducing stress on the oceans or for improving ocean health.

Name: Diego Cardeñosa
Vocation: Researcher

Cardeñosa, a researcher, devised a groundbreaking DNA tool to combat illegal shark trade. Traditional methods had failed to identify processed shark fins, prompting Cardeñosa to create a new instrument for on-site inspections, meeting forensic standards. In 2018, working with the Hong Kong government, he achieved the first effective prosecution for illegal shark trade using his tool. In 2022, Diego developed an improved tool, capable of identifying all shark and ray species within two hours, making it accessible for law enforcement to use in markets or airports. His aim is to expand this technology to combat illegal wildlife trade globally, starting with sharks and extending to other species. Diego’s research has also contributed to the conservation of hammerhead sharks in Colombia, establishing a no-take zone through community collaboration.

 

Organisation: Ocean Alliance
Project: Tagging whales with drones

Traditional tagging methods are invasive and risky, hindering marine conservation efforts. Ocean Alliance, led by CEO Iain Kerr, revolutionised whale research with drone-deployed tags, enhancing our understanding of whales. Over 100 Ocean Alliance tags have been deployed on six whale species across four countries, including two critically endangered species in 2023. The tags provide extensive data, including previously undetected whale sounds, aiding research and conservation.

Kerr’s team found a way of modifying existing drones to do this in an affordable way, a technique which they share to teams worldwide. These innovations hold the potential to transform marine conservation efforts, engaging diverse communities in safeguarding ocean ecosystems.

Names: Philip Ehrhorn, Anne Marieke Eveleens and Francis Zoet
Organisation: The Great Bubble Barrier

The Great Bubble Barrier, founded by Philip Ehrhorn, Anne Marieke Eveleens and Francis Zoet, emerged from a shared passion for the ocean. Philip, initially considering marine biology, pivoted to environmental engineering with a goal to actively combat ocean pollution. When he learned of two Dutch women, Anne Marieke and Francis, who had the same idea of a bubble barrier directing marine plastic into a collecting system, he tracked them down and they decided to team up. The initial Bubble Barrier prototype consisted of a 60 metre-long tube in an Amsterdam canal and has evolved to a 235-metre barrier in a Portuguese river, catching plastic before it reaches the Atlantic. The system operates 24/7, efficiently trapping plastic without disrupting river activities. The preliminary results show impressive monthly debris capture, emphasising its potential to combat ocean pollution globally.

Organisation: Living Seawalls

Living Seawalls is revolutionising the way we build in the ocean. Using 3D printing technology, they have developed modular habitat units to revive marine life on construction. Seawalls, pilings, and pontoons support shipping and recreational boating, but these structures have flat, featureless surfaces that lack the holes and crevices needed to protect marine life against predation and environmental stress. Living Seawalls’ modules provide the 3D geometries of rockpools, crevices, and ledges and when added to new or existing structures, modules can triple the biodiversity of flat surfaces and increase seaweed growth by 98%. Living Seawalls have been installed at different sites in Australia including living seawalls in Sydney Harbour.

Name: Ben Williams
Project: Automated analysis of marine soundscapesBen Williams has leveraged machine learning to automate the analysis of marine soundscapes, enhancing marine conservation’s monitoring capabilities. His research, part of his UCL PhD, demonstrates that computers can detect patterns in reef sounds undetectable to the human ear, facilitating faster and more accurate analysis of changes to a reef’s health. This innovation overcomes monitoring bottlenecks, offering a cost-effective solution using acoustic sensors. Formerly at Mars, Ben initiated a 13-year project to protect coral reefs. As part of his research, he employed machine learning to track bomb fishing. A collaboration with Google DeepMind refined the methodology, enabling the identification of specific sounds within extensive datasets, marking a significant advancement in passive acoustic monitoring. This interdisciplinary project showcases how machine learning and technology can revolutionise marine conservation practices.
Formerly at Mars, Ben was part of the organisation which initiated a 13-year project to protect coral reefs.
Names: UK and Scottish Governments and Agencies

Project: Sandeel fishing ban

In a landmark conservation move, the UK and Scottish Governments have announced ban on sandeel fishing  in UK waters. This historic decision aims to protect marine ecosystems, addressing concerns over declining sandeel populations critical to the marine food web. Sandeels play a crucial role in the diets of seabirds, marine mammals, and predatory fish. Declining populations, attributed to various factors including industrial fishing, have led to severe ecological consequences, especially for seabirds. The UK and Scottish government’s decisive action, following extensive consultations and overwhelming public support, signals a commitment to marine conservation. The ban aligns with broader initiatives under the Environmental Improvement Plan to protect marine biodiversity, setting a precedent for sustainable fisheries management and ocean conservation.

The Public Awareness Award

The Public Awareness Award recognises the individual or group that has done the most this year to advance marine conservation objectives, including public literacy about marine conservation issues, be it through campaigning and advocacy, the mainstream media, art forms, or educational programmes.

Name: Alistair Allan
Organisation:  Bob Brown Foundation

Alistair Allan’s mission is to make ordinary people more conscious of ocean issues, in particular the issue of krill fishing in Antarctica. His work includes exposing the environmental impact of 130-metre-long super trawlers in the region fishing for Krill – attacking the foundation of an ecosystem to create pet food, supplements and feed fish farms. Allan, associated with Sea Shepherd and the Bob Brown Foundation, believes that people connect better with issues they see, so a team travelled to Antarctica to document what was going on, raising public awareness. The results of his campaign succeeded in halting Australia’s plans for an Antarctic airport. The next step is to target supermarkets and the krill supply chain to promote plant-based alternatives. Allan stresses the importance of grassroots involvement and community power, stating that cooperative efforts are needed to protect Antarctica from industrial threats.

Name: Deep Sea Reporter

Deep Sea Reporter, based in Sweden, employs storytelling to raise awareness about ocean issues. Their documentaries like ‘The Real Rulers of the Sea’ and ‘Chasing Walrus’ expose overfishing’s impact on the EU’s seas and the Arctic. Focused on investigative journalism, they cover climate change, overfishing, and illegal fishing, filling a void in traditional news outlets. They address fisheries policies, engage with politicians, and contribute educational content for schools through ‘Ocean in School’. Their platform, ‘The Ocean Archive’, preserves knowledge, while their documentaries, articles, and TV series bridge science, policymakers, and the public. Deep Sea Reporter emphasises the importance of informing society about critical ocean-related issues, providing a public service that benefits everyone.

Name: Carolina Zagal
Organisation: Oceanósfera

Carolina Zagal, a marine biologist with a pedagogy focus, co-founded Oceanósfera, a non-profit dedicated to marine education in Chile, aiming to bridge the gap between scientific knowledge and fishing communities. Oceanósfera develops marine guides, integrating local data, scientific expertise and fishing insights. It also conducts workshops to enhance fishing communities’ income sources and offers easy-to-understand educational material for children. By engaging kids as ocean ambassadors, Oceanósfera is aiming to promote knowledge and awareness amongst the next generation. They’ve created numerous guides, books, and conducted marine education for over 13,000 participants, distributing 53,000 printed and 117,000 digital resources. In 2024, they plan to create resources for Northern Chile and Rapa Nui, aiming to inspire ocean conservation through education, culture and art.

Name: David Ebert
Project: Discovering lost sharks

Dave Ebert, known as “The Lost Shark Guy,” dedicates his life to studying lesser-known sharks, conducting a global effort called “Lost Sharks” to raise awareness. An author of over 700 publications, he emphasises the importance of little-known shark species in gauging marine health. His focus on “lost sharks,” unseen for decades, involves collaborations with fishing communities, scientists, and conservation groups to document and raise awareness through podcasts and documentaries. Ebert’s global campaign, including the podcast “Beyond Jaws,” highlights local scientists and promotes youth interest in shark conservation. Currently working on a book about ghost sharks, he aims to encourage young scientists and fill knowledge gaps. Conservation challenges for “lost sharks” include misidentification, incomplete biogeography, and a lack of guides and political will for effective policies. Ebert’s efforts contribute to improving conservation and fisheries management for these species.

The Young Initiative Award

The Young Initiative Award recognises an individual, or group of individuals, between the ages of 18 and 30 who is at the beginning of their career. The winner of this award will have demonstrated promising leadership and vision on ocean issues, be it through campaigning and advocacy, the mainstream media, art forms, or educational programmes.

Lefteris Arapakis

During Greece’s economic crisis Lefteris Arapakis founded the country’s first fishing school to combat youth unemployment. Witnessing the plastic pollution in the sea during his fishing ventures, and discovering that plastic fishing nets were a large part of the problem, he established Enaleia. The company upcycles plastic from the ocean, collaborating with recycling companies worldwide. Arapakis engaged fishing communities to be part of the solution, expanding operations to the Mediterranean region. Despite initial funding challenges, Enaleia’s impact grew as they prioritised actions over fundraising. Arapakis addressed legislative hurdles, emphasising international collaboration and advocating for rule changes. Enaleia’s success lies in creating win-win relationships between fishing communities and the ocean, fostering environmental stewardship and economic growth.

Emily Stevenson

Emily Stevenson, a marine biologist from Cornwall, founded Beach Guardian, a grassroots conservation organisation, at age 10. Focused on empowering communities, Beach Guardian conducts beach clean-ups, repurposes collected plastic, and advocates for systemic change. Facing challenges due to her age and gender, Stevenson turned her youth into a tool, even creating a dress from crisp packets for her graduation. This attracted the attention of PepsiCo and Walkers and from 2018 to 2019 she worked with them. Together they developed a recycling scheme where people could collect and recycle their crisp packets and as a result over 15 million crisp packets were recycled. Beach Guardian has also collaborated with the Ocean Recovery Project, repurposing nets into raw pellets. The organisation used some of the plastic to create Cetus, an eight-metre humpback whale sculpture, touring to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Stevenson, a BBC presenter, works to inform policy changes, combining bottom-up actions with top-down assistance, aiming for increased plastic cleanup investment and reduced plastic reliance.

Ghofrane Labyedh

A Tunisian marine biologist working in Cameroon, Ghofrane Labyedh is also a National Geographic Explorer and the Shark & Ray Programme Leader for the African Marine Mammal Conservation Organisation (AMMCO) and the Manta Trust. She shifted her focus from genetics to marine biology during undergraduate studies, eventually working in Cameroon to bridge data gaps in shark fisheries because, as she says, “we cannot not improve what we haven´t measured.” Over four years, Ghofrane has engaged local fishers using the SIREN app, resulting in over 4,000 observations of shark and ray species. With 80 fishers participating, the data informs management plans for these fisheries and the project is now being extended to other West African countries. Ghofrane plans to release two shark species, black chain guitarfish and scalloped hammerhead, in Cameroon. Ghofrane will film a short documentary showcasing local fishers releasing these sharks,  encouraging the local community to become ocean guardians. She aims to create an atlas documenting species found in Cameroon in the next five years.

Names: Harry Dennis and Gavin Parker,
Organisation: Waterhaul

Waterhaul, a company founded by Harry and Gav, addresses plastic pollution by repurposing ghost fishing nets into sustainable products like sunglasses and litter pickers. With a lifetime guarantee on their sunglasses, customers can return broken frames, which are melted down and transformed into new ones. The founders emphasise the story behind their products, allowing customers to trace the plastic in their glasses back to a fishing net that once polluted the ocean. Waterhaul aims to change the industry by creating circular solutions and fostering awareness about ocean pollution. They work closely with fishers, providing a free option for net disposal, and have expanded operations from Cornwall to South Wales. Through educational workshops and partnerships with charities, Waterhaul advocates for environmental conservation, believing in the power of storytelling and tangible products to inspire positive change.

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