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The winners of the Ocean Awards 2018

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Local Hero Award: Norlan Pagal

Fearless campaigner and advocate of new seabed project

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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.”

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The Science Award: Ben Halpern

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

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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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Judges’ Special Award: Ove Hoegh-Guldberg

One of the foremost experts on how global warming is threatening the world’s oceans

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More than two decades ago Ove Hoegh-Guldberg was one of the first scientists to warn that coral bleaching was a sign of climate change and global warming. No surprise then that he appears in and was the chief scientific adviser for the Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, winner of the Audience Award at last year’s Sundance Festival.

The film warns that a temperature increase of just two degrees Celsius is sufficient to put marine life into a state akin to “living with a constant fever”, hence the death of more than half the world’s corals in the past three decades. A professor of marine science at the University of Queensland, Hoegh-Guldberg is also the inaugural director of its Global Change Institute, which describes itself as “an independent source of innovative research, ideas, policy and advice for addressing the challenges of a changing world”. As one of the foremost experts on how global warming is threatening the world’s oceans, he was lead author of the chapter on the ocean in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report, and has advised organisations as diverse as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, the World Bank and the Royal Society in London.

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