05/31/2012 10:57 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2012

A Wave of Honor for Peter Benchley Winners

At a time when our public seas and the communities that depend on them are at risk from pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and fossil fuel-fired climate change, eight top ocean leaders, explorers, advocates and scientists will be honored on Friday, June 1 for their pioneering efforts on behalf of our blue planet, providing solutions that protect the environment and the economy.

Too often, people think environmental conservation ends at the shore's edge. But as is becoming increasingly clear, we are all linked to the seas around us that provide us half our oxygen along with recreation, transportation, trade, protein, medicine, security and a thrilling sense of awe from sea to shining sea. And that's why the non-profit Blue Frontier Campaign created the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards to honor those who offer solutions that can help turn the tide for our blue marble planet.

Named after Jaws author and lifetime marine wildlife conservationist, the Peter Benchley these honors are the only existing awards that acknowledge outstanding achievement leading to the protection of our coasts and ocean across a broad range of societal categories.

The 2012 winners, who will receive Manta statutes designed by the marine artist Wyland this Friday at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, include:
  • For National Stewardship -- President Anote Tong of the Republic of Kiribati, who was instrumental in creating a California-sized marine protected area in the Phoenix Islands and has been an outspoken advocate for climate change response given the threat sea-level rise poses to his island nation and its people (see my last blog).
  • Policy -- Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is the major advocate for ocean protection in the U.S. Senate. He recently helped establish the Senate Ocean Caucus and has introduced legislation to create a National Ocean Trust.
  • Science -- Dr. Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium has identified the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone and has worked tirelessly to reduce its upstream causes along the Mississippi.
  • Exploration -- Ocean in Google Earth has made discovery and exploration of our ocean world now possible for anyone with access to a computer. Google's John Hanke will accept the award presented by Don Walsh, one of the first two humans to reach the deepest point on earth (he was also aboard Jame's Cameron's support vessel when he became the third).
  • Media -- Photojournalist Brian Skerry uses his photographs and public outreach efforts to convey both wonder and warning on the state of our ocean. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic and published the book Ocean Soul in 2011.
  • Solutions -- Dr. Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles is heading up the cleanup of the major commercial seaports of LA and Long Beach, the largest port complex in the Western hemisphere and is leading the global greening ports movement.
  • Christopher Benchley Youth Award -- Ta'Kaiya Blaney is an 11-year-old First Nations Canadian activist whose songs have inspired opponents of a planned oil pipeline and tanker terminal off British Columbia. She is a lover of sea otters and doesn't like what oil spills do to otters and the sea.
  • Hero of the Seas -- Peter Douglas was the creator and long-time executive director of the California Coastal Commission whose work has assured public access to and protection of California's 1,100 miles of spectacular coastline. Peter passed away April 1. California Secretary of Natural Resources and long time friend John Laird will accept the award on Peter Douglas's behalf.
Jim Toomey, this year's master of ceremony is the creator of the Sherman's Lagoon cartoon strip that appears in hundreds of newspapers worldwide. He is a long time sailor and marine conservationist.

"I am proud to honor these heroes of the seas," says Wendy Benchley, lifelong marine conservationist and wife of the late Peter Benchley, "Each of these individuals has made an immense impact in ocean conservation."

Also in attendance will be a number of other ocean heroes and past award recipients including Rep. Sam Farr of Monterey, journalist and author Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post and last year's master of ceremonies and Time magazine 'Hero of the Planet,' Dr. Sylvia Earle. There's even an online awards auction that includes a chance to be part of an at-sea science expedition or (for those more inclined to kick back) a sail on a yacht once owned by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.