National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Announces 17th Annual Ocean Awards Gala Honorees


Washington, DC – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation announces its 2019 Ocean Awards Gala honorees: Dr. Nancy Knowlton, the Walton Family Foundation and Ms. Francesca Koe. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will honor our Nation’s ocean champions at the Ocean Awards Gala on June 4, 2019 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC.

“The Ocean Awards Gala is a valuable opportunity for the ocean conservation community to gather and celebrate individuals and organizations committed to making a difference,” said Ashlan and Philippe Cousteau. “We are honored to serve as co-chairs for this year’s event and look forward to the wonderful evening.”

“The ocean’s most pressing challenges — climate change, overfishing, habitat loss, pollution — grow underneath its surface unseen. This year’s honorees fuel hope for our ocean by seeking innovative solutions that change how we communicate about conservation, transform markets to promote sustainable seafood and engage communities in the stewardship of their national marine sanctuaries,” said Kris Sarri, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. “We are honored to recognize Dr. Nancy Knowlton, the Walton Family Foundation, and Francesca Koe for protecting the health of our ocean and the livelihood of the communities that depend on it.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award acknowledges individuals who are making an exceptional impact on ocean science, conservation or policy. Dr. Nancy Knowlton will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for her outstanding contributions to coral research, science communication, and marine science education.

Dr. Nancy Knowlton is currently the Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and was the founding director of the Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, she is a world-renowned coral reef biologist, dedicated educator and mentor, and masterful science communicator. Through her work, she is developing the next generation of ocean leaders, using the power of optimism to engage them in our ocean’s most pressing problems. Young professionals whose careers have been shaped by Dr. Knowlton’s efforts span the globe as leaders and influencers, shaping US ocean policy in the halls of Congress and conducting research that combines the natural and social sciences to inform decision making.

“Nancy Knowlton is a rare example of a scientist, more like a Renaissance person: researcher, educator, author, communicator, entrepreneur, creative mind,” said Dr. Enric Sala, Explorer in Residence at National Geographic. “Her natural optimism is inspiring an entire generation of young scientists to focus on solutions instead of just dwelling on describing the problems. She inspired and continues to inspire all of us.”

The Conservation Innovation Award recognizes a company or organization for its significant contributions to marine conservation and the protection of natural and cultural resources through innovative partnerships. The Walton Family Foundation’s Environmental Program focuses on sustaining the places that sustain us. Their programs focus on working locally with farmers, fishermen, ranchers, businesses and conservationists for national and global impact. The Walton Family Foundation is fighting to end overfishing, improve ocean health and preserve coastal livelihoods by creating incentives for sound management of fisheries that can transform our seafood markets.



“On behalf of the Walton Family Foundation, we’re honored to be receiving the Conservation Innovation Award. We believe fishing can be the sustainability success story of the 21st century,” said Barry Gold, director of the foundation’s environment program. “We work with fishermen, conservationists, seafood market leaders, and scientists to rebuild and sustainably manage fisheries to ensure a future that is positive for people and healthy oceans.”

The Sanctuary Wavemaker Award is given for outstanding contribution in service at a national marine sanctuary. For over 11 years, Francesca Koe has been a dedicated advocate for Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary in Northern California. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Farallones Association and is a member of the sanctuary’s advisory council. A multi-agency dive instructor, competitive freediver and champion for ocean conservation, Francesca was instrumental in designing and implementing marine protected areas along the California coast. She is now tackling the question: what is happening to California’s bull kelp forest and what can we do? She is working with the staff of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife to explore how to build resiliency and restore this critical habitat.

“Francesca is a true Wavemaker. She’s able to bring stakeholders together to achieve a common vision for our national marine sanctuaries,” said Maria Brown, Superintendent of Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “Dedicated volunteers like Francesca contribute more than their time to the National Marine Sanctuary System, they are champions for their sanctuaries and conservation in their communities.”

The Ocean Awards Gala, hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, in conjunction with Capitol Hill Ocean Week, recognizes champions of marine and Great Lakes stewardship. Recent honorees include Roger and Vicki Sant, Gordon and Betty Moore, BBC, Esri, and Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici.

Individual tickets and table sponsorships for the Ocean Awards Gala are available until May 24 at


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is a leading voice for U.S. protected waters, working with communities to conserve and expand those special places for a healthy ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. Working together, we safeguard species and the places they call home and preserve America’s maritime history.

Marcus Reamer
Strategic Communications Director
301.608.3040 x 311