Ocean Awards Gala Honorees

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation recognizes excellence in marine and Great Lakes conservation at its annual Ocean Awards Gala.


The Leadership Award honors political leaders who demonstrate a commitment to ocean, coastal and Great Lakes stewardship. Through their work on policy and governance, Leadership Award honorees elevate attention of the marine and Great Lakes environment through support of sound science and conservation.  They champion change and action to protect these environments and their natural and cultural resources for future generations. Previous recipients have included President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Senator Ted Stevens.

The Lifetime Achievement Award honors those whose work has exceptional impact on ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes science, conservation, exploration, and/or policy. Past recipients include Dr. Robert Ballard, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Adm. James D. Watkins, the Hon. Leon Panetta, and numerous other government leaders, academics, and conservationists.

The Sanctuary Wavemaker Award honors a National Marine Sanctuary System volunteer who has made outstanding contributions to their local national marine sanctuary. The recipient is chosen from the top honorees recognized each year by their individual sanctuaries across the entire National Marine Sanctuary System.

The Conservation Innovation Award recognizes a company or foundation for their significant contributions to marine and Great Lakes conservation and the protection of natural and cultural resources through the support of sound science, exploration, policy-making, advocacy, and/or innovative partnerships.  

Past Gala Honorees


Leadership Award: Chair Brenda Mallory

Sanctuary Wavemaker Award: Violet Sage Walker and Chief Fred Collins

Conservation Innovation Award: National Geographic Pristine Ses



Leadership Award: Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Congressman Ed Case of Hawai’i

Sanctuary Wavemaker Award: Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala and William J. Ailā Jr. 



Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Marcia McNutt

Sanctuary Wavemaker Award: Diving with a Purpose

Conservation Innovation Award: Eric and Wendy Schmidt and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, 11th Hour Racing, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, and the Schmidt Family Foundation



Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Nancy Knowlton

Sanctuary Wavemaker Award: Francesca Koe, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

Conservation Innovation Award: Walton Family Foundation



Lifetime Achievement Award: Gordon and Betty Moore

Volunteer of the Year: Will Benson, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary

Conservation Innovation Award: BBC



Leadership Award: The Honorable Suzanne Bonamici, U.S. Representative, Oregon

Lifetime Achievement Award: Roger and Vicki Sant

Volunteer of the Year: Kevin Powers, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Conservation Innovation Award: Esri



Leadership Award: The Honorable Maria Cantwell, U.S. Senator, Washington

Lifetime Achievement Award: Nainoa Thompson

Volunteer of the Year: Captain Scott Hickman, Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: President & Mrs. George W. Bush

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Jeremy Jackson

Volunteer of the Year: Richard Matzinger, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Carl Levin, U.S. Senator, Michigan

Lifetime Achievement Award: The Honorable William Ruckelshaus & The Honorable Norman Mineta

Volunteer of the Year: Robyn Walters, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senator, Rhode Island

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Volunteer of the Year: Paul Petrich, Jr., Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: President Bill Clinton

Lifetime Achievement Award: Captain Don Walsh, USN (Ret)

Volunteer of the Year: Ron Armonath, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Ted Stevens, U.S. Senator, Alaska

Lifetime Achievement Award: Wolcott Henry

Volunteer of the Year: Randy Rudd, Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Lois Capps, U.S. Representative, California; The Honorable Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, U.S. Representative, Florida

Lifetime Achievement Award: Julie Packard

Volunteer of the Year: Steve Kroll, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Delegate to the House of Representatives, Guam

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Robert Ballard

Volunteer of the Year: Josh Churchman, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives; The Honorable Barbara Mikulski, U.S. Senator, Maryland

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Sylvia Earle, Jean-Michel Coutseau

Volunteer of the Year: Mary Cantini, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Lynn Woolsey, U.S. Representative, California

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Robert M. White

Volunteer of the Year: Brian Dively, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Judd Gregg, U.S. Senator, New Hampshire; The Honorable Norm Dicks, U.S. Representative, Washington;

Lifetime Achievement Award: Adm. James D. Watkins, The Honorable Leon Panetta

Volunteer of the Year: Linda Paul, Papahanamokuakea Marine National Monument



Leadership Award: The Honorable Daniel Inouye, U.S. Senator, Hawaii; The Honorable Vernon Ehlers, U.S. Representative, Michigan; The Honorable Wayne Gilchrest, U.S. Representative, Maryland

Lifetime Achievement Award: The Honorable Lowell Weicker, Governor and U.S. Senator, Connecticut

Volunteer of the Year: Kimokeo Kapahulehua, Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Olympia Snowe, U.S. Senator, Maine; The Honorable Tom Allen, U.S. Representative, Maine; The Honorable Sam Farr, U.S. Representative, California; The Honorable Jim Greenwood, U.S. Representative, Pennsylvania; The Honorable Curt Weldon, U.S. Representative, Pennsylvania.

Volunteer of the Year: Stephanie Harlan, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary



Leadership Award: The Honorable Ernest F. Hollings, U.S. Senator, South Carolina; The Honorable Jim Saxton, U.S. Representative, New Jersey

Volunteer of the Year: Gordon Bennett, Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary

Questions or Comments?

For more information about Capitol Hill Ocean Week, please contact us atconference@marinesanctuary.org. For sponsorship opportunities, please contact development@marinesanctuary.org.