Eleanor Fletcher Lifetime Achievement Award Finalists:
The recipient of the Eleanor Fletcher Award exemplifies a lifelong, extraordinary commitment to marine conservation education through their work or volunteer activities similar to Loggerhead Marinelife Center Founder Eleanor Fletcher.
Award Recipient - Lad Akins - Key Largo, Florida
It is a great pleasure to nominate Lad Akins for the Eleanor Fletcher Award as he has a similar history to that of the awards namesake. Lad’s passion for marine conservation started as a dive instructor. While working as a dive instructor in the Florida Keys, Lad quickly came to see that while divers were all enjoying the dives in this beautiful underwater realm that most divers could not identify the animals that they were seeing other than the charismatic green moray eel, barracuda or nurse shark. It was while working with Atlantis Dive Center that Lad began working with marine life authors and photographers Paul Humann and Ned DeLoach on a methodology that would let recreational divers learn fish identification and then survey fish during dives much like bird watchers did through Audubon. This early spark became that foundation that
would later become REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation). Like Eleanor Fletcher, Lad became a self-taught fish expert and has led field surveys around the Caribbean teaching fish identification and diving with avid fish surveyors to show them new species that they had never seen. His passion for finding the rare and unusual was contagious and he would share this with trip participants. Lad went on to serve as the first executive director for REEF.
In 2006 the invasive red lionfish began showing up in Bermuda and then the Bahamas. These non-native invaders started showing up in the fish survey data being submitted and ever the one to look into the unusual and try to tackle a problem that needed solving, Lad jumped into this with both flippers. Lad pioneered lionfish collection and removal efforts, started lionfish removal derbies throughout the state, and even helped author a lionfish cookbook to help drive interest in lionfish as a sustainable seafood.
In 2018 Lad joined the team at Frost Science where he oversees all marine conservation initiatives notably our environmental restoration efforts, that include both mangrove and coral restoration, or marine exotic species removal program and our treasured taxa program that enables us to focus on specific animal species.
Lad is passionate about marine conservation as anyone who has been diving with him will attest. His work with fish surveying and lionfish has led to numerous accomplishments such as the DEMA Reaching Out Award and others noted in his CV. His reputation as a teacher has led to many great partnerships such as the one between the veterans group Force Blue and Frost Science. The best part about Lad’s drive is that it is all about inspiring others and to make a difference for the ocean.
One of the ways Lad makes a direct impact on ocean health is through one of the programs he leads at Frost Science, the Marine Exotic Species Removal Program. Through this program our Frost Science team responds to any non-native marine fish spotted by divers in the state of Florida. The goal of this program is to remove any non-native fish via divers with nets to then relocate to Frost Science for use in an exhibit about the dangers of invasive species. In his role Lad perfectly executes the coordination and outreach about these events and has built a robust partnership with USGS. With each fish we remove we are hopefully preventing the next lionfish invasion.
I have had the benefit of working with Lad in many capacities for over 20 years. I have conducted fish surveys with him where he has shown me a fish I had never seen before. I have collected lionfish with him and conducted training seminars on removal efforts. I served for many years as a board member for REEF and now consider myself luck to be his manager at Frost Science. Throughout these very different interactions with Lad he has always inspired a greater passion for the ocean and the marine life in it. Lad’s accomplishments in the field are clear on his CV, but what does not come through that is his excitement for what he does. The same inspiration he shares with me he shares with brand new husbandry staff at the museum out for their first conservation dive, or former Navy SEALS from Force Blue who have never experienced diving for conservation causes, or even the recreational divers he oversees while still serving as an active boat captain in the diving industry.
I hope that you will consider Lad Akins for the Eleanor Fletcher Award.
VP of Animal Husbandry and Marine Conservation
Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science
Dr. Pablo Garcia Borboroglu - Puerto Madryn, Argentina
Dr. Pablo Borboroglu’s conservation career has spanned over three decades. Perhaps his most significant accomplishment to date has been securing the protection of 3.1 million hectares of penguin habitat in Argentina – Patagonia Azul (Blue Patagonia) was granted status as an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in July 2015. The reserve is 58% marine and 42% land and contains almost half of the global population of Magellanic penguins. It includes the coastal sector of Argentina with the highest biodiversity, with 67 species of mammals, 122 species of birds, and 197 species of marine invertebrates. He managed to successfully add a layer of protection for a key 100,000-hectare marine area within the reserve – Punta Tombo, which is home to a colony of over 500,000 Magellanic penguins, became a provincial Marine Protected Area in January 2016.
This protection is the culmination of years of work from Pablo; his efforts included not only getting the political approval from local, provincial, and national-level decision makers – a feat in and of itself given the political instability that has plagued Argentina in recent years – but also designing the government structure to run the reserve, serving as the point person for the UNESCO Committee during the review process, and providing extensive guidance on the creation of the ongoing management plans for both the UNESCO site and the Punta Tombo Marine Protected Area. In a country plagued by corruption, where commercial interests outweigh environmental concerns and kickbacks from infrastructure development fund campaigns to run for office, Pablo had a narrow window of time in 2015 in which to secure the necessary government approval – and he succeeded. The success of securing these protected areas – particularly in Punto Tombo – helped to restore the confidence of the local community in public participation during a during a time when public trust in the government was particularly low. The experience encouraged local residents to get involved in other participatory processes dealing with marine and costal resources management. Pablo communicated the achievements to the media, the public, decision-makers, and colleagues with his trademark charisma and affability. The process was a valuable democratic experience, particularly in a country with poor democratic exercise due to past dictatorial military governments.
Across the southern hemisphere, the impact to penguin colonies from the ever-increasing number of tourists has been substantial (including penguins falling victim to vehicle traffic) but the eight management plans Pablo helped coordinate in Chile and Argentina have lessened this substantially – a huge win for these penguins. Still, the work continues and the management plans must be constantly revaluated to effectively benefit penguins and other wildlife.
Pablo has committed his career to penguin conservation over the past thirty years, and in 2009 started his conservation organization, Global Penguin Society (GPS). The idea first came to his mind at the International Penguin Congress in Tasmania in 2007. He realized that the science describing the alarming conservation status of penguins did not translate into coordinated, effective action. He saw the need to create an organization that could protect the 18 species of penguins on the planet bridging the gap between science, governments, and communities while fostering conservation progress – thus, GPS was born.
While Pablo has secured some impressive victories over the last few years, balancing his desire to make real conservation gains for penguins with his active scientific research through CONICET (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, the primary Argentine institution to promote of science and technology) and the need to provide for his family. He has forgone opportunities that were more lucrative or prestigious, such as positions in government and academia, unwavering in his commitment to protect penguins through GPS.
Pablo’s motivation for his work with penguins is deeply rooted - he was originally inspired by his grandmother, who used to travel by wagon to Patagonia to see penguins when the area was largely uninhabited. His love for the species and infectious optimism in the face of conservation challenges are what have kept him involved in his work for the past three decades. It is truly the penguins themselves that keep Pablo motivated year after year – when asked about the accomplishment of securing these protected area designations, his humble response is that he did what had to be done to protect the animals. Where Pablo excels is in getting people to connect to penguins and through them, to marine conservation. He knows that to improve our stewardship of the ocean we must understand that science is necessary but not sufficient, and that it is only by inspiring change in people’s attitudes and behavior that lasting impact occurs.
The positive changes that Pablo’s conservation work can be seen most clearly with the following examples:
•Pablo has coordinated and facilitated many community-based participatory processes since 1998. One particularly important example was the design of the first management plan for the largest Magellanic penguin colony on the planet in 2003. This effort involved 130 stakeholders, representing 40 institutions. The adoption of this plan was an important accomplishment in the face of ongoing government change and political instability. With money laundering allegations facing the country’s president and confirmed corruption at other levels of government, public trust was particularly low. The success of securing the protected areas restored the confidence of the local community in public participation, encouraging them to get involved in other participatory processes dealing with marine and costal resources management. The process was a very valuable democratic experience, particularly in a country with poor democratic exercise due to past dictatorial military governments.
•Pablo’s commitment to education – this is the twelfth year of Global Penguin Society’s educational program “Messengers of the Sea,” which has reached over 6,500 students in six Latin American countries: Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, and Brazil. In areas where environmental education is a relatively new concept, Pablo’s educational work is truly bringing about positive change in these communities. The program conducts classroom lessons about conservation and donates books about penguins and conservation to schools in countries where penguins occur. Pablo has provided the opportunity for hundreds of kids to visit penguin colonies – many for the first time in their lives, despite living in close proximity to the colonies. He has also organized training courses for locals involved in ecotourism and for hundreds of teachers, after seeing how much the impact of the educational program depends on the motivation of the teachers.
•To have influence on international and national policy and help assess all penguin species conservation status, Pablo helped to establish the IUCN Species Survival Commission Penguin Specialist Group, and he has acted as the group’s co-chair since inception. The group includes 52 penguin experts and has a global impact on critical and global conservation issues.
Pablo was a Duke University Global Fellow in Marine Conservation in 2001. He received the Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation 2009, the Whitley Gold Award in 2018, the National Geographic Buffet Award in 2018, an Honor Recognition by the Congress of Argentina in 2018, and the Rolex Award for Enterprise in 2019.
The multitude of roles that Pablo has held over the years help him to understand the often conflicting viewpoints of the various interest groups in conservation - these roles include travel agent, tour guide, ad-honorem warden, NGO volunteer, researcher, professor, marine protected area planner, film scientific consultant, government advisor, and interested citizen. As a result, he has a deep appreciation of the diversity of people’s perceptions that has helped him to facilitate effective compromises between stakeholders and politicians. Pablo’s work has helped protect 32 million acres of marine and coastal habitat for penguins and benefited 2,400,000 penguins with the actions he has spearheaded. In a nutshell, he has made a substantial contribution to marine conservation, benefiting penguins, people, and the entire planet.
Regina Domingo - La Pax, Mexico
Regina Domingo is a dive instructor, sailor, conservationist, producer, photojournalist, campaigner, and passionate researcher behind the documentary Game Over Fishing. 9 years ago, she decided to devote her life to the ocean after a profound experience volunteering with Park Rangers on a world heritage site. She patrolled the waters of Cocos Island and Costa Rica for two months with the Park Rangers, protecting sharks from illegal shark fishing. Regina has said, “the oceans need us now more than ever and humans need to be infatuated with nature”. She is currently living in mexico, working with pelagic species, both dead and alive, in an attempt to understand what is happening to their decreasing population, all the while inspiring others to protect them.
Her dedication for the ocean has led her to become the founder, and executive director of Nakawe Project, a non-profit organization that dedicates its time and efforts to the protection and conservation of marine life around the globe.
Nakawe started with a small group of humans in 2014 in Spain, dedicated to marine conservation and now counts more than 250 volunteers around the globe.
Nakawe Project collaborates with government institutions, other non-profit organizations, the scientific community, the scuba diving and ecotourism industry, artisanal fishermen communities and nature advocates from all walks of life. Our aim is to raise environmental awareness and spread respect for the ocean through educational programs, and protect vulnerable species and their habitat by leading conservation projects in affected areas. Regi believes in the power of collective efforts to drive momentum towards a more sustainable future.
The career path she has chosen is ocean centered. She is also directing an Ecotourism platform (Nakawe Experiences in Baja California Sur, Mexico) which introduces and engages people with the Pelagic life that surrounds Baja California. She is passionate that Ecotourism is the key to connecting people with the oceans, and the species that call the sea home. Part of her mission is to share the message, that if people grow an appreciation for the sea, positive changes will be made.
Growing up by the Mediterranean Sea, next to Barcelona, Spain; She has been surrounded by the ocean her entire life. With massive persistence and intense courage, she managed to gain access to places no one else has. Doing so has led her teammates to believe she is an unmatched researcher for documentary work. Regina has worked directly with government authorities, organizations, and different creative teams in numerous locations throughout the world. Her experience includes working in shark conservation with Randall Arauz of Pretoma for two years in Costa Rica. They collected and analyzed data that led to the protection of the Silky and Thresher Sharks in CoP17 CITES.
Her film experience includes being volunteer fixer for the Rob Stewart Film, Sharkwater Extinction, Volunteer fixer for Mission Blue film with Kip Evans about the Shark fisheries and trade, and collaborator for National Geographic Wild and a fixer for Pilgrim Media Group.
Her persistence never expires, and because of that, she never quits. Regina is always reaching to obtain the necessary information and footage required to allow the information to reach billions of people worldwide. The result being a change in the positive direction to work together for ocean conservation.
Chris Maxey - Eluethera, Bahamas
Chris Maxey is the founder of the Island School in Eluethera Bahamas. He has spend endless hours teaching kids about the ocean and educating the local Bahamians on how to take care of the ocean, recycle and become better citizens to our sea. Chris founded The Island School in 1999 while serving as a residential house master and teacher in the Interdisciplinary department at Lawrenceville School. After graduating with a BA in history from Yale University, Chris served six years as an officer in the US Navy SEAL community. While at Lawrenceville he received a Joukowsky Fellowship and holds an M.A. degree in Marine Studies from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.