The 2012 Ocean Heroes: James Hemphill and Captain Don VossThe 5th Annual Ocean Hero Awards will launch on World Oceans Day (June 8) and nominations will be accepted through June 28. Voting will run from July 16-26 and winners of the Adult and Junior Awards will be announced on July 31.

Oceana created the Ocean Hero Awards 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.

Ocean Hero Award Winners


Don Voss

An avid scuba diver with over 10,000 logged dives, Donald founded a marine debris company (MCII) to remove discarded debris in Florida waterways. In 11 years, he has led 400+ volunteer scuba divers to remove 300,000 lbs of plastic, nets, fishing line, and trash which has aided in the release of 10’s of thousands of aquatic animals.

James Hemphill

James, fifteen, is president of the student-led conservation group Project Green Teens. He has organized 34 tidal creek and beach clean-ups, helping to remove 2,300 lbs of scrap metal from the waterways. Currently, he is collecting signatures in support of a plastic bag ban in Virginia Beach.


Peter Wallerstein

As program director at Marine Animal Rescue, a project of Friends of Animals, Peter Wallerstein has spent the last 25 years rescuing marine mammals in Los Angeles County. He has personally rescued 3,000 marine mammals throughout his career.

Sophi Bromenshenkel

By the time she was 8-years-old Sophi Bromenshenkel of Richfield, Minnesota, had 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 partnered with the University of Miami's RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program, where her funds paid for satellite tags on sharks.


Jay Holcomb

Jay Holcomb, the former Executive Director of International Bird Rescue and current Board Member, 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. In addition to winning the 2010 Ocean Hero Award for the Adult category, Jay was also recognized by the John Muir Association as its Conservationist of the Year.

The Shark Finatics

The Shark Finatics, a group of students at Green Chimneys School in Brewster, New York, won the inaugural Ocean Hero Award for Juniors and are still the only group of individuals to win an Ocean Hero Award. At the time of the 2010 Awards, the students, led by their teacher Robin Culler, had raised more than $2,000 for shark research and conservation organizations around the world and helped spread awareness about shark finning via letter writing campaigns to policy makers and corporations.


John Halas

Announced on World Oceans Day, June 8, 2009, John Halas became the first winner of Oceana’s Ocean Hero Award. 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.

Read the rules for the Ocean Hero Awards.

2012 Finalists


Kristofor Lofgren

Kristofor created Bamboo Sushi, advertised as the world’s first sustainable seafood sushi restaurant, to provide consumers with the freshest and best fish possible, while simultaneously helping to restore and replenish the oceans. Using the guidelines established by Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute, they never serve seafood that is on an “avoid” list and a portion of the restaurant’s proceeds are donated to The Nature Conservancy and Surfrider Foundation.

Hardy Jones

Hardy, an ocean filmmaker and activist, helped first document the slaughter of dolphins at Iki Island, Japan (made famous in the move, “The Cove”). He has produced numerous ocean conservation films, some appearing on the PBS series Nature. His organization bluevoice.org provides research and advocacy for marine mammal conservation

Richard Steiner

Rick, a marine conservation professor at University of Alaska for 30 years (until 2010), has advocated for science-based marine conservation in offshore oil, marine debris, sustainable fisheries, marine mammals and more. He provided leadership during the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and has often been the first international scientist on-site for oil disasters in places like Pakistan, Lebanon, China, and the Niger Delta. He has helped found several marine conservation organizations including PWS Science Center.

Michele Hunter

Michele has dedicated 20 years to rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals in Orange County, CA, and has helped return hundreds of marine mammals back to the ocean. As the director of Animal Care/Operations at Pacific Marine Mammal Center she has helped educate the organization’s nearly 20,000 visitors each year

Dave Rauschkolb

Dave founded Hands Across The Sand to unite organizations and individuals against the expansion of oil drilling in our oceans. In early 2010, he united 10,000 Floridians to join hands on the beaches, creating human lines in the sand to symbolize their opposition to drilling. After the Gulf Oil Spill, the movement expanded to 1000 events in 50 states and 43 countries around the world.


Sam Harris

Sam, seven, is a shark savior who raises awareness for sharks by giving presentations to students at schools all over Los Angeles. He’s a junior Ambassador for Shark Saviors, Shark Angels and Sea Shepherd.

The Calvineers

The Calvineers, a group of 7th and 8th grade students, study the plight of the endangered North Atlantic right whale and educate the public. Guided by science mentors from the Right Whale Consortium, each student studies a specific right whale issue and contributes to a final group presentation. They have presented from Quebec to Tampa and reached thousands with their message.

Teakahla WhiteCloud

Teakahla, nine, is a founding director of Sea Turtle Oversight Protection (S.T.O.P) and sea turtle hotline phone secretary. She helps protect hatchlings on their way to the ocean and raises money for sea turtle protection

Sara Brenes

Sara, sixteen, helps raise awareness for the protection of sharks by promoting Ban the Fin programs at public events, dive shops, church groups, and schools. She also raises money for shark conservation by selling baked goods and candy and spends time going door-to-door in her community to collect signatures for the protection of sharks.

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 worked 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.