Since Boat International and Blue Marine Foundation launched the Ocean Awards three years ago, the world seems to have become a more ocean-aware place. The success of Blue Planet II and the brilliant anti-plastic campaign have played important parts. It is a step in the right direction and one that we all have a responsibility to ensure grows in power and action. Equally, when we appealed for nominations for our Awards this year, we were bowled over by the response – in terms of numbers, geographical breadth and tangible impact. Once again, the judges had the unenviable task of singling out winners and finalists. Their remarkable stories are matched only by their extraordinary success and it is thanks to them, and others on the front line, that we have an ocean to preserve at all.
Local Hero Award: Norlan Pagal
This award recognises the individual or group that has had the most positive impact on the marine environment within their local community this year. The winner will be a recognised leader on marine conservation issues within their community or organisation.
Long a campaigner against illegal fishing in the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape in the Philippines, local councillor Norlan Pagal was on his way home after making a speech in a village hall in San Remigio when he was shot. The attack left the father of five, a fisherman by trade, paralysed from the waist down at the age of 46.
It was not the first time that Pagal had been physically attacked – his boat was blown up on one occasion, and on another he was beaten about the head with an oar – but he continues to campaign on marine conservation issues with the Anapog Fishermen’s Association. The association was formed in his home village of Anapog (population fewer than 2,000) to guard against piracy in the Anapog Fish Sanctuary, one of eight Marine Protected Areas in the municipality where fishing was banned and for which Pagal was a seaborne patrol chief.
Now a wheelchair user, he remains pragmatic, even optimistic about the future. The association, which he chairs, has embarked on a project to seed abalone, clams and sea cucumbers to nurture new life that can in time be harvested. “I am not afraid to continue my advocacy, even if I lose my life,” he has said. “What is important is that our children and grandchildren will see that it is not a lost cause; that there is value and goodness they get out of it after all.”