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The winners of the Ocean Awards 2018

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The Visionary Award: Kristina Gjerde

Joint winner - US lawyer breaking new ground in ocean governance

The currents that cause sargassum weed to aggregate in the Sargasso Sea have also caused it to become a gigantic gyre, or agglomeration, of plastic waste, so endangering the unique species for which it is a breeding ground. Thanks in part to the American lawyer Kristina Gjerde, adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, and senior high seas adviser to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Global Marine and Polar Programme, this “wondrous place” is now the object of a campaign to protect it and its ecosystem.

The Sargasso Sea Alliance, which she co-founded in 2010, aims to ensure legal protection for fragile ecosystems and provide insight to aid the establishment of other Marine Protected Areas. Gjerde began her career as a specialist in admiralty law at a firm in New York, but it was winning a three-year Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation that led her to specialise in advocating the need for governance of the oceans and seabed.

Applying the rule of law to the high seas is one thing, enforcing it is another. This, as she said in her TED talk, leads her to her second passion – space technology. “I wanted to be an astronaut, so I’ve constantly followed the tools available to monitor Earth from outer space.” This enables the tagging and tracking of fishing vessels.

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