Leadership for the Ocean Celebrated in CHOW 2024 Conference Agenda and Gala Honorees on Capitol Hill

The Capitol Hill Ocean Week conference agenda now available at capitolhilloceanweek.org 

The Ocean Awards Gala takes place during World Ocean Month at Washington D.C.’s Union Station on June 4th 


Silver Spring, Md. – April 3, 2024The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation announced the ocean leaders who will be honorees at the Ocean Awards Gala on June 4th at Union Station in Washington, D.C., as part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week, the nation’s premiere ocean conference during World Ocean Month. The Foundation also announced the Capitol Hill Ocean Week conference agenda and plenary topics that will take place June 5th and 6th at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C.  

The theme of Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2024 is Leadership, at all levels and from all walks of life, coming together to drive attention and innovation to protect our ocean and center people at the core of ocean solutions.  

The Ocean Awards Gala will further honor Leadership by recognizing people and organizations on the cutting edge of advocacy, policymaking, and exploration in the protection of our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes. Awards will honor Chair Violet Sage Walker of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, with special recognition for the late Chief Fred Collins; White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory; and National Geographic Pristine Seas 

“The world needs leaders to come together for our waters, essential to all life on Earth, to thrive.  Our ocean, coasts and Great Lakes are deeply threatened and need us to step up now with big ideas, innovation, and solutions to address the global crisis of our time. At CHOW 2024, we are excited to welcome people on Capitol Hill and from around the nation to these discussions, highlighting outstanding leadership and challenges on issues such as climate readiness, youth activism, the blue economy, renewable energy, and more. It is an honor to recognize the outstanding contributions of Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker and Chief Fred Collins, Chair Brenda Mallory, and National Geographic Pristine Seas as champions of conservation, advocacy, and policy change on behalf of our ocean and all people whose livelihoods and heritage depend on it. Each are inspiring leaders in our ocean community much deserving of these awards,” said Joel R. Johnson, President and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. 

The Ocean Awards Gala will take place at a new venue for 2024, Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, on the evening of June 4, 2024. The gala annually recognizes champions of marine and Great Lakes stewardship. Previous honorees include Presidents, Members of Congress, and world-renowned scientists and conservationists.  

The Sanctuary Wavemaker Award celebrates dedicated citizens who conduct critical work that benefits national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments and are active advocates and ambassadors for our protected waters. This year, the Gala will honor Chair Violet Sage Walker of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, with special recognition for her father, the late chief Fred Collins, for their leading roles in the effort to designate a new Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary.  

Chairwoman Violet Sage Walker is the Tribal Chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, and the nominator of the proposed Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary. Her expertise guides NCTC’s multifaceted work in California and beyond, with decades of experience in cultural resource management and ten years working on the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary campaign. She travels globally advocating for and sharing knowledge on collaborative management, social justice, and Tribal equity. Her work touches on the intersectional issues of her Chumash homelands–the Central Coast of California–as well as on a national and global scale, including marine protections, ecological restoration, combining Traditional Ecological Knowledge with western science, and more. Throughout her many roles is the ever-present connection to her family’s long-standing legacy of protecting the ecosystems, culture, and ancestors of this beautiful space we share. She carries on this legacy left by her late Father, Tribal Chief Fred Collins. Her leadership is backed by an understanding of what it means to take care of our place, be good stewards, and foster community. 

Chief Fred Collins was an outspoken advocate for a thriving future on the California Central Coast and beyond. He was a dreamer and a doer, with a tenacity that moved mountains. In his time as Chair of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council, he fought tirelessly demanding respect for the cultural heritage and rights of the Chumash Peoples and environmental justice for all. His legacy shaped the Central Coast we see today in many ways. In 2015, Fred and the Northern Chumash Tribal Council nominated the Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary to protect more than 7,000 square miles of coastal waters. In November 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced their intent to realize Fred’s dream and begin the designation of the Chumash Heritage Sanctuary–just 40 days after Fred passed into spirit. The list of Fred’s many accomplishments could go on, but the breadth of his influence is impossible to fully encapsulate. His legacy will carry on for many generations to come as he continues to inspire us to fight for a thriving future. 

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. The Leadership Award will honor Brenda Mallory, the 12th Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the first African American to serve in that position.  

Chair Mallory has decades of experience in both the private and public sector, including spending nearly 20 years at the Environmental Protection Agency and CEQ, serving in a number of senior roles. Chair Mallory first served as the General Counsel of CEQ under President Obama where she helped shape many of President Obama’s signature environmental and natural resource policy successes. Now, as Chair, she is advancing President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda and is particularly focused on addressing the environmental justice and climate change challenges the nation faces while advancing opportunities for job growth and economic development. Chair Mallory was the first in her family to attend college, graduating from Yale University with a Bachelor of Arts in history and sociology before earning a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School. 

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, policymaking, advocacy, and/or innovative partnerships. The award will celebrate National Geographic Pristine Seas, an exploration, research and media project that inspires the creation of marine protected areas around the world.  

Founded and led by National Geographic Explorer in Residence Dr. Enric Sala, the Pristine Seas team uses a combination of expeditions, science, policy, filmmaking, and strategic communications to support national and local conservation efforts. The project has helped to create 27 marine reserves that cover more than 6.6 million square kilometers of ocean. These “national parks of the sea” preserve the wonders of the ocean while increasing the food supply, providing economic benefits, and building resilience against a changing climate. 


About Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2024 

Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), which is comprised of the CHOW conference, the Ocean Awards Gala, and CHOW Hill Day, is hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation during World Ocean Month. The CHOW conference agenda is now available on the registration website. The theme for CHOW 2024 is “Leadership.” 

The vision, ambition, innovation, cultures, and collaborations of leaders powers the movement to protect our ocean and our blue planet by tearing down systemic inequities, reversing biodiversity loss, and tackling climate change. To tackle these herculean challenges, we must lift up and connect leaders everywhere to drive change, break down barriers, embrace responsibility and service, and build and support diverse alliances and communities. 

At the heart of this work is people. Global and national ocean protection strategies rely upon coastal communities, traditional and new, but don’t always center them. Leaders in local communities with historical relationships to the ocean, are the frontline responders and most impacted by a changing climate, pollution, and the loss of species. And they will be the ones to turn policy into action and make the solutions we need work. 

CHOW 2024 calls upon leaders from all walks of life to come together to drive attention and innovation to protect our ocean and center people at the core of ocean solutions. Together, we will explore international, national, and local communities and the traditional and new ways they are adapting to a changing climate, saving and protecting species, and sustaining their relationships with the ocean for a brighter, sustainable, and equitable future. 

Convened by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation every June, CHOW brings together scientists, policymakers, scholars, businesses, and conservation leaders to address pressing conservation, science, and management issues facing our oceans and Great Lakes. The conference is held in conjunction with the Foundation’s Ocean Awards Gala, which recognizes champions of marine and Great Lakes stewardship through Leadership, Lifetime Achievement, Conservation Innovation, and Sanctuary Wavemaker Awards.  

Sponsorship opportunities for CHOW 2024 are available. Registration for the CHOW conference is free and open to the public for both in-person and virtual attendance. A limited number of individual tickets to the Ocean Awards Gala will be available for purchase later this month. Check capitolhilloceanweek.org for updates and more information.  


The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, established in 2000, is the official non-profit partner of the National Marine Sanctuary System. The Foundation directly supports America’s national marine sanctuaries through our mission to protect species, conserve ecosystems and preserve cultural and maritime heritage. We accomplish our mission through community stewardship and engagement programs, on-the-water conservation projects, public education and outreach programs, and scientific research and exploration. The Foundation fosters innovative projects that are solution-oriented, scalable and transferable, and develop strategic partnerships that promote the conservation and recovery of species and their habitats. Learn more at marinesanctuary.org 


Contact: Chip Weiskotten 

Director of Strategic Communications