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The winners of the Ocean Awards 2018

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The Visionary Award: Judi Wakhungu

Joint winner - Kenyan politician who won her long battle to ban plastic bags

This award recognises the individual or group that has taken the lead on globally- significant actions for the benefit of ocean health. The winner of this award will have shown consistent leadership and vision on ocean issues, going above and beyond others in their commitment to protecting marine life. This can include important policy initiatives and the people behind them.

Last August, Kenya became the latest country in Africa to ban plastic bags, following the lead set by Rwanda in 2008. It was the culmination of a long campaign driven by Professor Judi Wakhungu, then cabinet secretary for environment, water and natural resources since 2013. Now visitors arriving by plane are required to leave duty-free and other plastic carriers at the airport; and they may not be brought ashore from boats.

Prior to the ban, an estimated 24 million bags were handed out each month across the nation (which has a population of 41 million), 86,000 a day in Nairobi alone. Few were responsibly disposed of, let alone recycled, hence the 24 tonnes of plastic waste that was collected across the 188 square kilometres of Lake Nakuru National Park in 2016, a protected area of spectacular natural beauty that is home to 56 species of mammal (including lions, white rhino, zebra, baboons and waterbuck), 450 species of bird, most famously flamingos, and about 550 species of plant.

The environment can only benefit from the ban. “I am excited my efforts have yielded this,” says Wakhungu, whose masters degree was in petroleum geology and who has spent most of her distinguished career in the energy sector, having worked in the Ministry of Energy and Regional Development, investigating geothermal energy in the Rift Valley. “It is something I have been yearning for.” The blight caused by plastic bags was becoming an “environmental nightmare”.

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