About the Ocean Heroes Award

Oceana created the Ocean Heroes Award in 2009 to recognize exceptional individual accomplishments in ocean conservation. In 2010 we added a “Junior” category for young ocean conservationists, and we continue to be inspired by all the incredible nominees and finalists.

The 2012 Adult Ocean Hero is Captain Don Voss, owner of Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc. In the last 11 years, Don has recruited over 400 volunteer scuba divers that have removed more than 300,000 pounds of marine debris from Florida’s waterways.

The 2012 Junior Ocean Hero is James Hemphill, a 15-year-old from Virginia Beach who has been working in ocean conservation since the sixth grade. As the president of Project Green Teens, James leads his fellow students in clean-up projects around Virginia Beach and fights for policy that will protect clean waters.

The 2011 Adult Ocean Hero is Peter Wallerstein, the program director at Marine Animal Rescue, a project of Friends of Animals, where he has spend the last 25 years rescuing marine mammals in Los Angeles County. He has personally rescued 3,000 marine mammals throughout his career.

The 2011 Junior Ocean Hero is 8-year-old Sophi Bromenshenkel of Richfield, Minnesota, who has raised more than $3,500 for shark conservation by selling lemonade, hot chocolate, shark cookies and wristbands, and through email campaigns and local fliers. She has partnered with the University of Miami's RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, where her funds pay for satellite tags on sharks.

The 2010 Adult Ocean Hero was Jay Holcomb, the former Executive Director of International Bird Rescue. Jay has dedicated more than 20 years to seabird rehabilitation and oiled wildlife response and has led the organization’s oiled wildlife rescue team on over 200 oil spill responses around the world.

The 2010 Junior Ocean Hero Winners were the Shark Finatics, a group of students at Green Chimneys School in Brewster, New York who have raised more than $2,000 for shark research and conservation organizations around the world - and an immeasurable amount of awareness about shark finning.

The first winner, announced on World Oceans Day, June 8, 2009, was John Halas, a marine biologist and manager of the Upper Region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Halas developed an environmentally friendly anchor and mooring buoy system that prevents damage to coral reefs and has worked to implement this anchorage system in 38 countries. He also appears in Oceana’s “Be an Ocean Hero” video PSA.

Read the rules for the Ocean Heroes Contest.

2011 Finalists




Zach Rome

After working as a scube instructor and middle school science teacher, Zach Rome founded the Schooba Academy, a non-profit organization in Brooklyn, NY that provides low-income students with private science tutoring, scuba training, and weekend field trip expeditions - all at no cost.

Nancy Caruso

Marine biologist Nancy Caruso started the non-profit organization Get Inspired!, which works with students to restore the giant kelp forest ecosystem, teaching them to grow giant kelp in classroom nurseries. Nancy has taught around 4,000 students to grow giant kelp, white sea bass and green abalone.

Zander Srodes

In 2001, at age 11, Zander Srodes created Turtle Talks, an interactive sea turtle seminar for kids. He also wrote a sea turtle activity book to promote conservation in coastal communities around the world. 250,000 of the books have been printed and distributed from Cuba to Australia.

Maria Rita D'Orsogna

Maria D'Orsogna has been dubbed the "Erin Brockovich of Abruzzo" for her efforts to rally the public and officials to end offshore drilling in the Italian region of Abruzzo. In part as a result of her work, in 2010 the Italian government denied at least a dozen permits to drill in Abruzzo, and its coast remains free of oil wells.

Dirk Rosen

Dirk Rosen is a deepwater engineer and the founder and president of the non-profit organization Marine Applied Research and Exploration, which has used underwater surveys to assess marine protected areas and National Marine Sanctuary sites, and to evaluate the impacts of fishing gear.



Carter and Olivia Ries

Ten-year-old Carter and his eight-year-old sister Olivia started the non-profit organization One More Generation, which raises awareness about endangered species around the world. After learning about ocean acidification, they met with the Georgia governor's office to ask him to support a bill to control carbon emissions.

Wyatt Workman

Eight-year-old Wyatt Workman has raised nearly $4,000 for ocean conservation through his artistic endeavors, including a book, clay figures, and a claymation movie, "Save the Sea from the Trash Monster!"

Dylan Vecchione

Twelve-year-old Dylan Vecchione created an organization called ReefQuest, which engages kids in reef conservation and stewardship. Over 4,000 kids have taken ReefQuest sponsored classes, and ReefQuest chapters have been created in Puerto Rice, the UAE, Australia, Malaysia, the Philippines and many Pacific Islands.

Andrew Hayford

High school junior Andrew Hayford has participated in nearly 30 beach clean-ups and hosted more than 10 of his own in his home state of Maine. Working with the Blue Ocean Society, Andrew designed the "Keep Our Beaches Clean Campaign", in which he work with elementary school students to develop artwork and slogans for his campaingn.

McKenzy Haber

Fourteen-year-old McKenzy Haber hosted the first ever TEDx conference for teens in Homer, Alaska last year, with the theme of sustainability. In 2009, he attended the 9th World Wilderness Congress, where his presentation about teen leadership and protecting wild Alaskan waters moved many delegates to tears.

2010 Finalists




Sara Bayles

Sara is the author of The Daily Ocean blog, which documents her experiment to see how much marine debris can be collected from her local beach in 365 non-consecutive days. Through the Daily Ocean, Sara challenges her readers to make small shifts in their own lives. In 2010, Sara also led a World Oceans Day beach clean-up with Oceana.

Laura Medrano

Laura Medrano is a licensed mental health clinician and marine biologist who helps inner-city adolescents in Boston through Dive Kulture, the first program in the nation to combine scuba certification with summer jobs in conservation.

Ted and Cindy Walter

Husband and wife duo Ted and Cindy Walter own and operate the award-winning sustainable seafood restaurant, Passionfish, in Pacific Grove, California. They advocate for sustainable seafood through legislative advocacy, public presentations, and educational forums for culinary students, restaurateurs, and chefs.

Suzanne Thurman

Suzanne Thurman directs the Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation Institute (MERR), the only marine mammal stranding center in Delaware. MERR has helped more than 1,000 stranded sea turtles, seals, dolphins and whales, and also provides free educational programs about marine life and ocean health to thousands annually.

Wallace “J.” Nichols

Dr. Wallace "J." Nichols is a Research Associate with California Academy of Sciences and an ocean activist. J. founded Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates. He also started the Blue Marbles Movement, a global initiative that asks participants to pass along a blue marble to someone they see caring for the oceans.



Ayla Besemer

Inspired by the beauty of the creatures in the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” 13-year-old Ayla Besemer and her friend Simon created “Save Our Seas,” an interactive presentation kids everywhere can give that highlights ocean threats and 15 actions kids can take today.

Carolyn Caggia

Working with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Carolyn created a “Save the Sea Turtle” exhibit, which was attended by 12,000 visitors. After it was presented to several state legislators, one representative agreed to sponsor a bill to end gillnetting in the state.

Diana Gonzalez

At her California high school, sophomore Diana Gonzalez started a group, S.T.O.P. (Save The Ocean Please) to encourage and educate others to stop the destruction of the ocean. She recruited 80 student members, who participated in three beach cleanups, several ocean awareness days, and several fundraisers for the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Bonnie Lei

Bonnie Lei conducted independent research about sea slugs to create a better understanding of biodiversity conservation in the Caribbean. She reclassified a genus, identified a possible new species, and she even presented her research at the international American Association for the Advancement of Sciences annual meetings in 2009 and 2010.

2009 Finalists


Bob Schoelkopf

Bob was a finalist for his work rescuing and rehabilitating seals, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals. In 1978, Schoelkopf helped start a stranding program in Brigantine, New Jersey that evolved into the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, which rescues and rehabilitates hundreds of injured marine creatures every year.

Andy Dehart

Andy is a shark expert from the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C. and is a Discovery Channel shark advisor. He was a finalist for his work to educate the public on the important role sharks play in the ecosystem and the need to protect them.

Nika Kashyap, Sabina Van Tilburg and Chanel Gemini

These three girl scouts were instrumental in convincing the state of Hawaii to become the first state in the U.S. to officially recognize World Oceans Day. They obtained over 650 signatures on their petition and received the support of many non-profits and government agencies such as the Nature Conservancy and NOAA.

Emily Goldstein

Emily convinced thousands of people and dozens of large companies to reduce their energy use, saving 16 million pounds of CO2. She has also given dozens of talks to large groups about climate change and ocean pollution, and in 2008 she donated over 1,000 hours to make the ocean healthier.

Jeff “Mr. Fish” Sandler

Jeff, also known as "Mr. Fish", is a beloved marine educator. He and his wife travel to elementary schools putting on educational shows that teach kids about the ocean and environmental issues.

Casey Sokolovic

By baking sea-turtle shaped sugar cookies and selling them at school and local events, Casey raised more than $3000 for sea turtle conservation. She also created Love A Sea Turtle (Help Them L.A.S.T.), Casey’s official project to raise money for a NC sea turtle hospital, with an accompanying website, http://loveaseaturtle.com. Casey was also the spokesperson for Oceana’s creature adoption center in 2009, and appeared in our “Be an Ocean Hero” video PSA.

Lynora Indiviglio

Lynora founded the PalmBeach HammerHeads, South Florida's largest environmental dive club, which cleans the areas reefs each month. Lynora is also a member of the Palm Beach County Reef Research Team, which documents the health of Palm Beach County's Artificial Reef Program.