2020 Go Blue Awards Finalists – Friend

Blue Friend Award Finalists:

The recipient of the Blue Friend of the Year Award exemplifies significant contributions in marine conservation through work-related activities. Local and National entries recognized.


Dianna Cohen - Los Angeles, California

Dianna Cohen is a tireless warrior continuously working to end the flow of plastic pollution into the world ocean. As co-founder and CEO of Plastic Pollution Coalition, she has spent countless hours educating consumers all over the world, advocating for alternatives to single-use and disposable plastic, and testified to the harm caused by plastic pollution in venues from medical conferences, universities, and citizen groups.

Cohen’s work with PPC is the most effective global consortium of notable individuals, groups, and educational organizations working to provide upstream solutions to the prevention of ocean plastic pollution. She is a gifted communicator, in circumstances as far-reaching as TED Talks to elementary school programs. She uses her sophisticated artwork made from post-consumer plastic bags as another form of activism, which she often does in collaboration with educational venues. One case in point was the large handsewn mural of the Plastic Ocean done with elementary school children in

Barcelona entitled “OCEAN OF PLASTIC.” This large and powerful piece of art has been shown in numerous locations around the world, continuing its work of educating on the dangers of plastic to the ocean's creatures.

Particular successes include the National Ban on Microbeads, a collaborative effort that turned the tide on the insidious microplastic additives in facial and teeth scrubs. Additionally, her advocacy work in her home state of California led to plastic bag bans in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and other cities, becoming a model for cities and municipalities across the country.

Finally, as one of my primary collaborators on a project we developed called Plastic Free Island, originating on the island of Kefalonia, Greece, I can speak personally of her dedication and commitment to saving the ocean. As part of a multi-year mobilization of the entire island through cleanups, educational programs, art exhibitions, civic engagement with mayors and senators, we were able to shift awareness and behavior of an island. Several years after, many islands in Greece have initiated plastic bans of their own. This project was the subject of our film “Plastic Free Island Kefalonia,” which premiered at the Oceanographic Museum in Monaco as part of the BLUE Ocean Film Festival in 2015. This project was developed with the idea of creating an exportable template for citizen activism on other islands, and has since been enacted in St. John, USVI, Bali, and in Belize.

The Blue Friend Of the Year Award is a perfect fit for Dianna Cohen, a deserving and passionate advocate for a future plastic free ocean.

Thank you for your consideration.

DVF Headshot new

Award Recipient - Daniela Fernandez
San Francisco, California

Founder and CEO of Sustainable Ocean Alliance, award-winning social entrepreneur, thought leader, and international speaker on the entrepreneurial mindset, ocean innovation, and technology, youth empowerment, and sustainability.

At the age of 19, Daniela founded Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) as a college-room idea at Georgetown University. Six years later, she has built SOA into a global organization that is cultivating and accelerating innovative solutions to protect and sustain the health of the ocean. With phenomenal speed, SOA has created the world’s largest network of young ocean leaders - by establishing a presence in over 185 countries and has successfully launched the world’s first Ocean Solutions Accelerator to develop technological solutions that can address the greatest threats facing our planet. Daniela and SOA are on track to accelerate 100 ocean solutions by the end of 2021.

How can we cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset in the next generation? What are the leading technologies that can be implemented to help address the challenges facing our environment? How can established companies harness the power of young people? What trends are we seeing in Gen Z and Millennials as consumers, employees, and future business leaders? Daniela is answering these critical questions that will influence the new wave of entrepreneurs and redefine the relationship between emerging technologies, mitigating climate change, restoring ocean health, as well as social good.

Career highlights:

  • Work recognized by President Bill Clinton & former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry
  • Work recognized by EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella
  • Becoming a member of the Friends of Ocean Action, a select group of leaders coming together to fast-track solutions to the most pressing challenges facing the ocean.
  • 2020 Travel + Leisure Global Vision Award winner
  • Awarded the 2020 ‘Rising Star’ Visionary Award by Silicon Valley Forum
  • Named a 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur
  • Named one of Glamour Magazine’s College Women of the Year
  • Listed as Zula’s Top 5 Ocean Heroes of 2016
  • Received the Peter Benchley Ocean Award and Bustle Upstart Award
  • Being a sought-out keynote speaker at high-level events including The Economist World Ocean Summit, the Global Climate Summit, The Global Convening of Mayors, The United Nations, U.S. Capitol Hill Ocean Week, Cleantech Forum, Grounded Summit, SXSW, The Aspen Institute, Collision Conference, Sustainable Brands Conference, WE Day, and Davos 2019 - The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting plus more
Sarah Hirsch_Satellite Tagging

Sarah Hirsch - Juno Beach, Florida

Dear Go Blue Judges:

I would like to enthusiastically nominate Ms. Sarah Hirsch for the Blue Friend of the Year Award. Sarah is currently the Senior Manager of Research and Data at Loggerhead Marinelife Center (LMC) in Juno Beach, Florida, where I am her direct supervisor.

I have worked with Sarah for four years. In that time, it is easy to say that she is the most hard-working and dedicated employee that I have ever encountered. Other individuals at LMC have described her as “the most valuable employee that LMC has.” She is truly irreplaceable, a characteristic I consider rare. Sarah arrives to work early, stays late, works extra hours, and ensures that the job is done properly. To give one example of her dedication: Sarah is heavily involved in our morning surveys to document nesting sea turtle nesting activity. This includes arriving at the lab before

sunrise, patrolling the beach, counting sea turtle nesting activities, and entering the data collected each day. In addition to these responsibilities, Sarah also volunteered from 2017–2019 to assist with our night-time tagging program, which runs from 9 pm to 4 am. She never once complained. In 2020, during the COVID-19 shutdowns, she helped to run our nightly surveys four nights/week for nearly three months, as our part-time employees were furloughed. The way she is able to balance her time, work so hard, and ensure that all of the data is collected properly is uncanny.

Sarah is in the early stages of her career as a scientist; however, that does not mean that she hasn’t contributed to the conservation of sea turtles. Her first publication examined the impacts of an alternative beach armoring technology known as “geocores.” Essentially, a geocore is a series of sand bags that are covered with inland sand and then stabilized with native vegetation so that the dune looks and acts like a natural structure. In that study, she found minimal negative impacts of the geocore structure to nesting turtles. This is extremely important, as hard armoring technologies (e.g., seawalls) make up 25% of Florida’s coastline and have detrimental impacts to nesting beaches. This research is the first of its kind and changes the way conservationists, managers, and biologists think about protecting our beaches from an ever-encroaching shoreline.

Additionally, she is working collaboratively within LMC’s Research Department on a global study documenting the impacts of COVID-19 closures on organisms across the world. For this study, we found that false crawl (i.e., when a sea turtle comes ashore but does not lay a clutch of eggs) rates of loggerheads during the local beach closures were 13% lower than when the beaches were open. Again, this has vast implications for sea turtle conservation and protection of nesting habitat. This publication is being prepared for the journal Nature.

In order to continually improve her skillset, Sarah began a Master’s program at Florida Atlantic University (I am working very hard to convince her to stay for her PhD). Sarah has stayed on as a full-time employee at LMC during her time as a Master’s student. Again, she has balanced her full-time job, her schooling, and her research projects effortlessly. Her Master’s thesis focuses on satellite tagging of nesting females in an effort to understand loggerhead sea turtle clutch frequency (i.e., how many nests a turtles lays in a single season). Because sea turtles lay multiple clutches across the nesting season, it is difficult to determine population size. As LMC monitors the most densely nested beaches in the Western Hemisphere (she is also preparing another manuscript describing this), these types of studies are crucial so that sea turtle conservation efforts can be most effective. In the first year, she put out seven satellite tags on nesting females and found a clutch frequency of 5–8 nests/season. She plans to continue these studies into the future, with an overall goal of placing 50 satellite tags over the next 5–10 years. This project was described as “essential to the conservation of sea turtles” by one member of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Sarah possesses the necessary skills it takes to effectively communicate both with her peers and to a broader scientific audience. She has published and presented numerous abstracts at regional and international scientific meetings. Sarah also oversees one full-time employee and up to 10 part-time employees annually during sea turtle nesting season. She assists with training personnel on the day-to-day data collection requirements. All of our seasonal employees describe her as helpful, calm, and a problem-solver. She and I work as a team, and the success of our Research Department would not be where it is today without her.

Sarah also has success in securing grant funding. In 2017, she was successful in acquiring a $6,300 grant for LMC to purchase a new ATV for the annual nesting surveys. She also received over $20,000 for her geocore project and $35,000 for her satellite tagging study. Over the past two years, LMC’s Research Department has been the first of all LMC departments to meet its annual income goal; Sarah contributed greatly to these milestones.

Sarah loves the animals that she studies and that passion is evident when seeing her work in the field. She has become an amazing scientist and conservationist, and I cannot wait to see what else she can accomplish with her continued training and education. If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me (phone: 561-627-8280 ext. 112; e-mail: jperrault@marinelife.org).

Justin Perrault, PhD
Director of Research

Charles Modica

Charles Modica - Jupiter, Florida

Mr. Modica's romance with the ocean and interest in the specific work of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center is in his DNA.   His lifelong connection to the ocean started from growing up on the waters off of Long Island, New York and continues to this day living and raising his family on Jupiter Island.  He sails at every opportunity and his sons became world class aquatic athletes.  From virtually his first job owning and

running a water taxi service in high school to founding an oceanfront medical school in Grenada (that has grown to annually placing in this country more MDs by far than any other medical school for the last 11 years), Mr. Modica’s livelihood and business success have been tied closely with the ocean.  Also, his interests in historic and environmental preservation have intersected with his affinity for real estate.   He has focused a material amount of his property holdings and developments on prized waterfront properties that can be responsibly activated with economic vitality while preserving their natural and historic attributes.

His engagement with LMC has grown from philanthropy to partnership.  He has instigated a relationship between his St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and LMC that will foster internships, academic research and other marine conservation programs that will further the missions of both institutions to the benefit of marine life.  Under Mr. Modica’s leadership, the School established the Aquatic Animal Medicine Program to advance aquatic animal health, including:

(a) A particularly strong scientific publication record in pathology and diseases of aquatic wildlife and aquaculture. SGU has ongoing studies of Grenada’s inshore reef ecosystems, including related to the invasive lionfish and coral reef mapping combined with proteomic studies are being performed to better understand coral regeneration, and the local aquaponics industry including a selective breeding program for growth in tilapia and characterizing infectious disease risks present in Grenadian wild and cultured fish.

(b) Creating the ocean-front, 2,200 square foot Aquatic Animal Medicine Research Laboratory housing saltwater and freshwater animal holding facilities, a diagnostic laboratory with molecular capacities and benchtop space, and a multi-media classroom.  Of particular interest to LMC is SGU’s collaboration with Ocean Spirits Inc. on research to support the local green, hawksbill, and leatherback turtle populations in Grenada. This includes characterizing causes of morbidity and mortality. Health assessments and studies on infectious disease surveillance are performed on nesting and free-swimming turtles. Grenada is home to active leatherback nesting beaches and ongoing research strives to study and enhance hatchling survivability. As part of the broader picture, additional research examines the effect of an educational curriculum on attitudes and perceptions of grade school students on sea turtle conservation in Grenada.

(c) Graduate and veterinary student-driven research includes applied projects influencing local and global aquatic animal health.


Mr. Modica’s main business enterprise, SGU, and his other lifelong experiences reflect outstanding contributions towards promoting and encouraging conservation, restoration, or preservation of marine life and marine ecosystems as described above.  Starting from scratch, he was the motivating force behind the accomplishments SGU is achieving for the benefit marine life and marine conservation.  The whole culture of SGU has had a transformative effect on the Caribbean Sea and inspired many connected with the university to actively participating in volunteer activities related to marine conservation.

Locally, Mr. Modica is an active participant in multiple philanthropic and business efforts involving local marine resources, including the lighthouse, dolphin research and other marine related endeavors.  As more of his waterfront properties become developed, more opportunities for engaging the public and nonprofits in those resources are planned.

Charles R. Modica, JD, is the Chancellor and Chair of the Board of Directors of St. George’s University, a University he co-founded in 1977 in Grenada, as an independent School of Medicine.  In the years since, Mr. Modica guided its development into an international center of higher education, including a School of Veterinary Medicine.  As Ambassador-at-Large for Grenada, Mr. Modica has worked to promote the country’s infrastructure in health, industry, business, and tourism. Mr. Modica has a strong sense of civic responsibility and currently serves the Grenada Heart Foundation, the Vincentian Children’s Heart Fund, and Co-Chair of the Fund for the Orphans and Elderly of Grenada. Mr. Modica and his family continue to be the largest individual owners of SGU.

Mr. Modica has substantial real estate holdings including multiple residential, commercial, marina, office and industrial buildings and multi use projects under development in Palm Beach and Martin Counties, Florida and elsewhere.  He also has a number of restaurants, manufacturing, high-tech and other businesses in Florida.

Mr. Modica earned his Doctor of Jurisprudence from Delaware Law School in 1975 and has been the recipient of several awards and honors, including an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law from Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK, in 2009, and an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Barry University School of Law, Miami Shores, Florida, in 2000.  He is involved in numerous philanthropic endeavors locally and elsewhere.