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The 9 winners of the Ocean Awards 2017

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Claire-Nouvian-BLOOM
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Policy Award: Claire Nouvian, BLOOM

Photographed by Iris Brosch

The Policy Award recognises an individual or group that has been responsible for the most important policy initiative for the benefit of ocean health this year. Nominees for the Policy Award must have been responsible for initiating or implementing a policy initiative, or have reached another significant milestone in that process. This policy must have had, or be very likely to have, a transformative effect on the ability of governments or local bodies to protect the oceans.

Last June, the European Union agreed to ban bottom trawling at depths below 800 metres in all European waters, marking a long-fought victory for the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition and BLOOM, a French organisation founded by Claire Nouvian.

Nouvian first became aware of the devastation caused by deep-sea bottom trawls when she was researching her book The Deep, published in 2007, and saw footage shot by Professor Les Watling of the University of Hawaii that showed a stretch of the deep ocean floor off the east coast of the US that had been trawled. It was, she says, “a scene of devastation”.

Deep-sea bottom trawls are, Nouvian explains, “huge weighted nets that are dragged along the sea floor at depths of up to 2,000 metres to collect a few edible (though not necessarily palatable) fish. They destroy everything in their wake: thousand-year-old corals, hundred-year-old sponges and fish. Many species have already been pushed to the brink of extinction. This fishing technique deploys massive industrial ships, which are heavily subsidised by public money to bulldoze a unique marine heritage. Allowing this to occur shows how much humanity has lost common sense.”

As Watling puts it: “The campaign to end bottom trawling in the deep sea was the vision of Claire Nouvian. It took eight years but she persisted, amassing the scientific information that defeated a large fishing company in the French courts that was falsely advertising its sustainable fishing practices. She used social media to stimulate 900,000 citizens to petition an end to deep-sea bottom trawling, and she testified and met with members of the European Parliament.”

Since she established BLOOM in 2005, Nouvian has staged an exhibition at the Natural History Museum in Paris, also entitled The Deep, which travelled to dozens of destinations across the world, drawing 2.5 million visitors, and she has waged a long-standing campaign against deep-sea bottom trawling that persuaded the retail group that owns major French retailer Intermarché, which also runs one of the largest deep-sea fleets, to stop using bottom-trawling below 800 metres as of 2015 and to stop selling deep-sea fish in its supermarkets by 2025.

“Of course I didn’t know then how brutal the industrial lobbying would be to maintain this disastrous fishing technique, solely because it benefits a handful of powerful players,” says Nouvian. “But I found out political games are totally disconnected from reality and scientific evidence. It was a fight against the system – political, institutional, lobbying – as well as against the clock.”

Highly Commended: Stiv Wilson, The Story of Stuff Project

In December 2015, the Microbead-Free Waters Act was signed into US law by President Obama. It was the culmination of a four year campaign to ban the tiny particles of solid plastic used in toothpaste, some soaps and exfoliators that wash out from our bathrooms and into the oceans, where fish ingest them.

The drive was created by Stiv Wilson, activist and director of campaigns at The Story of Stuff Project, an NGO based in the San Francisco Bay Area, which crusades against “stuff” on the basis that we all own, consume and then need to dispose of too many things. A keen sailor (he has sailed more than 35,000 nautical miles to four of the five oceanic “garbage patches”), Wilson built a coalition of NGOs in an effort to introduce legislation in 22 US states in a single season, winning in three key states with three individually drafted policies.

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