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The winners of the Ocean Awards 2018

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The Science Award: Ben Halpern

Lead author of pioneering report on limits of Earth’s resources

This award recognises the individual or research team that has made the most important scientific contribution to the ocean this year.

Last year brought the publication of Planetary Boundaries for a Blue Planet, an epic report that was 15 years in the making. It was led by Ben Halpern, director of the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, an independent research affiliate of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“It builds on some of the seminal work that Johan Rockström developed about a decade ago at the Stockholm Resilience Centre on planetary boundaries for the Earth,” he says. That focused on the limits to which the Earth’s resources can be pushed and remain sustainable but, as Halpern points out, it “essentially forgot the ocean”.

“The message of the work,” he continues, “is that we are probably closer to some of the boundaries beyond which the system starts to break down irreversibly, than we realised.” Halpern trained as an ecologist and marine biologist and believes it’s possible to find solutions to managing and conserving nature only if you also understand people and how they interact with it. “To do that you have to include economists, decision scientists, social scientists, anthropologists and so on, as well as all the scientists who study the natural system.”

He is optimistic “for two broad reasons. First, we still have time; the window of opportunity is still open.” And second because there’s been “an awakening of appreciation of the oceans”. He cites the ongoing creation of Marine Protected Areas “at really quite an accelerating pace” and “the international treaties and UN commitments focusing on oceans for the first time. There are wonderful examples of success and hope,” he says.

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