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The 9 winners of the Ocean Awards 2017

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Seafarers’ Award: Ben Ainslie Racing (Land Rover BAR)

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Photographed by Harry Cory Wright

The Seafarers' Award recognises the individual or group from the sea-faring community that has done the most this year to advance marine conservation. Nominees for the Seafarers' Award must have undertaken efforts to advance marine conservation, be it through awareness-raising, fundraising, direct conservation activities, or any other means.

Of course, those who sail have a vested interest in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans. Even so it’s a credit to the Land Rover BAR sailing team that it has a sustainability strategy, driven by Dr Susie Tomson, who has sailed since childhood and has a PhD in integrated coastal management.

“At Land Rover BAR we are striving to achieve major sustainability objectives, with a light environmental footprint, zero waste and minimal energy consumption,” she says. “We also have significant opportunities for creating positive change through our community engagement and building an innovative technical and design capacity and skills base. The America’s Cup attracts more media and public attention than any other sailing contest, and we can use this spotlight to lead change.

“At each America’s Cup World Series [most recently in Bermuda, Oman, Chicago and Portsmouth] we run an outreach event mainly aimed at engaging young people,” she continues. “We create practical events like beach clean-ups, upcycling waste, messaging around ocean plastics and gifting refillable plastic bottles.” We need, she adds, to do all we can to “eliminate plastics and pollutants from entering the water”.

Among other initiatives she and the team have set up are beach clean-ups near the team’s Portsmouth base, when team members took to the waters to remove rubbish – filling a large wheelie bin with plastic in just half an hour. The results were shared across all Land Rover BAR’s media and social media channels, to encourage others to take action in protecting their own local environments. “You’d be hard pressed to find a sailor who didn’t care about the issue of plastics and waste that are reaching the oceans,” Tomson says.

In collaboration with Blue Marine Foundation, Land Rover BAR also established the Solent Oyster Restoration Project to restore the local oyster population, which had collapsed in 2013 owing to changing environmental conditions, invasive predators and overfishing.

But perhaps most innovatively, in November 2015 the team developed a virtual chase boat, enabling data to be shared in real time and removing the need for an actual chase vessel, so saving about 10,000 litres of diesel each year. Land Rover BAR has also built two support boats with a high proportion of sustainable materials such as bio-resin, recycled PET core material and a flax-fibre deck, all of which resulted in a 20 per cent reduction in the boats’ embodied carbon.

All of this has contributed to the team winning the Beyond Sport, Sport for Environment award, making it the first sailing team, and possibly even the first British sports team, to win such approval.

Highly Commended: Fishing for Litter, KIMO International

Since the project was launched in 2000 by KIMO International (the Danish-based association of more than 70 local governments and municipalities across northern Europe), boats participating in the Fishing for Litter scheme have collected more than 4,500 tonnes of rubbish from the sea.

In the words of Tom Piper, the project’s UK co-ordinator, “Fishing for Litter is a very simple idea. Trawlers are given hard-wearing bags. They take them off sailing, fish as they would and take any litter they find in their nets, put it in these bags and bring it ashore. They just leave it on the quayside, and harbour staff come and put it in a locked skip and then it’s disposed of responsibly.”

It benefits the fishers too, reducing the risk of contaminated catches and damaged nets. As one Brixham fisherman puts it: “It’s brilliant, a win-win. It makes life easier for us.”

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Science Award: Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller, Sea Around Us, University of British Columbia

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Photographed by Trevor Brady

The Science Award recognises the individual or research team that has made the most important scientific contribution to the ocean this year. Nominees for the Science Award must have published a significant piece of scientific research that can be used for the benefit of marine conservation or ocean health.

Early last year, the marine biologist Dr Daniel Pauly, a professor at the University of British Columbia, and the fisheries scientist Dr Dirk Zeller, executive director of the Sea Around Us, a research initiative at the same university’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, published a study in the journal Nature Communications that concluded that fish were being taken from the oceans in far greater numbers than previously thought. Through their work, funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Paul G Allen Family Foundation and based on research by an international network of 400 researchers, Pauly and Zeller revealed that over the past 60 years the global catch had been about 50 per cent greater than official estimates suggested it was. That said, explains Pauly, “global catches are actually declining because of overfishing and because no new stock are available to mask the decline”.

“So this is not a positive message,” says Zeller. “Too many fishing boats are chasing the too few fish that are left, though the fact that we catch more than reported does mean the oceans are more productive than we thought.”

Pauly first wrote a paper drawing attention to official data being incorrect as far back as 1998, after which the pair collaborated on a project for the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council in Hawaii. “This found that official data covered only a section of commercially caught fishes,” Pauly says. “Non-commercial catches were rarely if ever considered. Even some commercially oriented fisheries weren’t covered. From there, we expanded this research and discovered that the issue of under-reporting is both substantial and global.”

The two have also produced a book on the subject, The Global Atlas of Marine Fisheries (Island Press). Given that, as both agree, the principal challenges facing the world’s oceans are overfishing, warming and acidification, will their work make a difference, especially to the tropical grouper, Atlantic cod and bluefin tuna, which both men identify as the most acutely overfished species? Pauly is circumspect: “No, not to fishing behaviour, but to fishing policy and investment, at least in some countries,” he says.

“Ever since I was a child and started to swim dog paddle in lakes in southern Germany, I’ve been happier with my head under water than above,” says Zeller. Then “one thing led to another” and he found himself studying marine biology on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and in Southeast Asia, “the birthplace of tropical coral reefs”.

Does Pauly, too, feel he belongs in the ocean? “I didn’t learn to swim till I was about 12, in the public pool of the small Swiss town where I grew up,” he says. “But I know what’s in it.”

Highly Commended: Erik van Sebille, Imperial College London

Winner of the 2016 European Geosciences Union Ocean Division Outstanding Young Scientist award, the Dutch oceanographer and climate scientist Dr Erik van Sebille is based at Imperial College London, where his research focuses on the way ocean currents carry heat, nutrients, marine organisms and plastic around the world and the impact plastic pollution is having on the marine environment. His paper, co-authored by his student Peter Sherman and published in Environmental Research Letters, shows that focusing plastic clean-up operations near coastlines significantly reduces the harm it can do to ecosystems. An interactive website, plasticadrift.org, demonstrates where plastic ends up depending on where it reaches the sea. Discard a plastic bottle – or rather, don’t! – in the Mexican Caribbean and in four years it might have reached the Bay of Biscay.

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Responsible Business Award: The Industry Group Agreement to Cod Fishery in the Northern Part of the North-East Atlantic

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Photographed by Rama Knight

The Responsible Business Award recognises the company or group of companies that have done the most to ensure that their business operations are not undertaken at the expense of the marine environment. Nominees for the Responsible Business Award must have undertaken activities or commitments that will have a positive impact on the health of the marine environment, or have seen another significant milestone towards that goal. This activity or commitment must have been undertaken primarily to benefit the ocean, rather than the company’s bottom line.

As global warming increases, the gradual retreat of the polar ice cap has enabled industrial trawlers from Russia and Norway to work in ever more northerly waters, so threatening what was one of the last pristine marine environments.

Last May an international group of trade associations, unions, processors, manufacturers and retailers struck a deal that promised to protect a part of the Arctic Ocean from industrial fishing for Atlantic cod. It undertook “not to expand activities with trawl gear into those areas where regular fishing has not taken place before”, in a stretch of the Arctic that extends north from the Norwegian and Barents seas around the islands of Svalbard in Norway to the North Pole, encompassing both Norwegian and international waters. Anyone fishing in these waters cannot sell their catch to the signatories to the agreement, which includes not just Russian harvesting sector represented by the Union of Fish Industry in the North, NOREBO Group, Eurofish Group and Archangelsk Trawl Fleet fishing operator and Fiskebåt (the Norwegian Association of Owners of Fishing Vessels, which represents 90 per cent of Norway’s ocean-going fishing fleet), but also frozen food producers such as Birds Eye, Findus, Iglo and Young’s Seafood; the Danish company Espersen (which is Europe’s largest processor of frozen fish); McDonald’s; Icelandic Seachill, a leading supplier of chilled fish to the UK retail market; and the British supermarket chains Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Among those who worked on the agreement is Alex Olsen, head of sustainability at Espersen, which he joined in 2007 from McDonald’s Europe, where he pioneered the company’s Agricultural Assurance Programme. A Danish national holding masters degrees in both food science and environmental management as well as serving on the Marine Stewardship Council’s technical advisory board, Olsen is enabling Espersen, “which has always had a strong commitment to sustainability... to align and focus our efforts on the areas where we can have the most impact”.

“Changing environmental conditions have led to a re-evaluation of our fisheries,” he has said. “Strategies have been introduced to prove that the administration of fisheries meets specific standards and requirements, and good practice through innovation and research has helped us respond to the multiple sustainability issues at hand. In short: our industry is evolving.”

Which is just as well because fish consumption per capita has almost doubled over the past half century. Fisheries and aquaculture now support an estimated 10 to 12 per cent of the world’s population, 54 million of them fishers and fish farmers, the rest employed in packaging, processing and other aspects of the supply chain.

Highly Commended: Six Sense Laamu, Maldives

Launched in 1995, the Bangkok-based hotel brand Six Senses aspires to gold standard levels of “sustainability and obligation to the environment”. It also champions marine conservation, a commitment evident at its hotel in the Maldives, the only resort on Laamu Atoll. It has a partnership with the local charity Manta Trust and a full-time sustainability officer on its staff. It has established a coral farm and donated $100,000 to the Maldivian Grouper Project, which aims to establish a local healthy grouper fishery and set up a marine protected area in Laamu Atoll.

In 2016 the hotel also held its first Save the Sea Turtles festival in collaboration with the South Central Division of the Maldives Police Service, which drew 600 participants, who created a huge turtle-shaped installation of discarded plastic waste that they had collected on local beaches.

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