Mission Blue was live and alive at the seventh annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards this past Friday at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. Notables from all strata of the ocean community, including Dr. Sylvia Earle, gathered in the main hall for the ceremony, which was emceed by Mission Blue Executive Director — and cartoonist behind Sherman’s Lagoon — Jim Toomey. Bouts of thunderous applause accented the evening as the award recipients gave their thanks and vision for the future.
EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki, who has been relentless in her push reform the regional fishery management councils in the Mediterranean Basin, won the Excellence in National Ocean Stewardship Award and accepted it by video. Did you know, she was elected to the Greek Parliament at the age of 25, the youngest parliamentarian ever in that country? Her amazing courage, energy and powers of persuasion have helped her tackle the complex issues of fishery management in a region with a strong traditional fishing presence. She received a standing ovation.
The Excellent in Policy Award went to Monterey, California native Leon Panetta. In 2002 and 2003 Mr. Panetta chaired the Pew Oceans Commission, the first blue ribbon panel to report on the state of our public seas in over 35 years. That report helped inspire a federal commission to reach similar conclusions on the need to protect the health of the ocean, and also led to a U.S. National Ocean Policy now being implemented. As a member of Congress, Mr. Panetta was critical in establishing the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest ocean reserve in the U.S. at that time. In his acceptance speech Mr. Panetta reminded the gathered crowd, in no uncertain terms, the urgent need to step up marine protection in the immediate future — as means to save the ocean and save ourselves.
Perhaps the most touching acceptance speech was delivered by 16-year-old Casey Sokolovic, who won the 2014 Christopher Benchley Youth Award for her work founding Love a Sea Turtle (L.A.S.T.), which helps injured and sick marine animals. Casey’s energy was infectious as she described a lifetime of achievement and sustained hope for real change in our oceans.
“I have learned many lifelong lessons in my 8 years of activism — which is half my life. I’ve discovered that to make a difference, you have to become the difference. And not just be a small wave of change. You have to be a tidal wave and flood the world with this change. You have to be willing to overcome your own fears and persue what you love and know is right. This will make the world a better place. And you have to laugh in the face of adversity.”
Many thanks go to David Helvarg and the Blue Frontier Campaign for putting on the event. See below for a full listing of the Benchley Awards and their recipients:
Excellence in National Ocean Stewardship EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki
Excellence in Science Dr. Steve Gaines
Excellence in Policy Leon Panetta
Excellence in Media Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Excellence in Exploration Prince Khaled bin Sultan
Christopher Benchley Youth Award Casey Sokolovic
Hero of the Seas Captain Charles Moore