National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Announces 2023 Ocean Awards Gala Honorees

The Ocean Awards Gala takes place in Washington, DC on June 8th, World Ocean Day 

Event caps Capitol Hill Ocean Week; more info at  

Silver Spring, Md. – April 20, 2023 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will honor The Honorable Raúl M. Grijalva, U.S. Representative from Arizona; The Honorable Ed Case, U.S. Representative from Hawai’i; Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala; and William J. Ailā Jr. at the 2023 Ocean Awards Gala on June 8th as part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW). 

“This year we celebrate the anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act and five decades of ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes conservation. It is an honor to recognize the outstanding contributions of Congressman Grijalva, Congressman Case, Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala, and William J. Ailā Jr. as champions advocating for climate change legislation and investments, protection of oceans and coasts, and strident advocates for environmental justice and engagement with Native Hawaiian, tribal, and indigenous peoples,” said Shannon Colbert, Vice President, External Affairs of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. 

The Ocean Awards Gala will take place in Washington, D.C., in the Ronald Reagan Building atrium on the evening of June 8, 2023. 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 Leadership Award will celebrate Congressman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and Congressman Ed Case of Hawai’i. This 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.  

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva has been a leading voice on environmental and social justice issues since being elected to U.S. Congress more than two decades ago. In 2018, he became Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, a role in which he successfully elevated climate action, environmental justice, Indigenous affairs, and the decolonization of U.S. Territories to the forefront of federal policy. Some of Rep. Grijalva’s most celebrated accomplishments as Chair include passing the Great American Outdoors Act into law; securing major ocean and climate action wins through passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Inflation Reduction Act, and must-pass National Defense Authorization Act; passing the Environmental Justice For All Act, the most comprehensive environmental justice legislation in history, through Committee; holding the first congressional hearings in history on issues critical to Indian Country, including Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Indian Boarding Schools, and tribal consultation and co-management of public lands; and passing the historic Puerto Rico Status Act through the House.  

Congressman Ed Case has represented Hawaii’s First Congressional District since 2019 and previously represented Hawaii’s Second Congressional District from 2002 to 2007. Congressman Case was born and raised in Hawai‘i, was introduced to the ocean before he could walk, and has spent a lifetime in and advocating for our world’s ocean. As a leader in ocean policy in Congress, Congressman Case was an early advocate for and was instrumental in the designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and current efforts to expand protections for the Pacific Remote Islands. A member of the House Appropriations and Natural Resources Committees, he has worked to ensure that indigenous communities, including Native Americans, Native Hawaiians and Alaska Natives, are involved in all aspects of marine natural resources management. Congressman Case also co-led reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Program, and continues to fight for ocean-based climate solutions, sustainable climate ready fisheries management, and international cooperation and coordination in saving our world’s oceans. 

The Sanctuary Wavemaker Award will be given to Solomon Pili Kahoʻohalahala and William J. Ailā Jr. This award celebrates dedicated citizens who conduct critical work that benefits national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments and are active advocates and ambassadors for national marine sanctuaries. 

Sol Kahoʻohalahala is descended from a long line of Hawaiian navigators, keepers of the land, waters, and the sea. Among his many contributions to the protection of the ocean, he established the Maunalei Ahupuaʻa Mauka-Makai Managed Area and is a co-founding member of the Maui Nui Makai Network, supporting traditional Hawaiian mauka-makai resources management communities on Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi and Maui islands. He advocated and met with US Congressional members and Executives of the Obama Administration, culminating in the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, creating the world’s largest marine protected area, and currently serves as its native Hawaiian elder on the reserve advisory council. He also serves as Chairperson of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. He is the current native Hawaiian member on the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument community group and a member of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition. 

William Ailā grew up fishing and diving near his great-grandmother’s beach home on the Wai`anae Coast, on the island of O’ahu where he learned from her the values of respect for the ocean and conservation of its resources. A lifelong native Hawaiian fisherman, he has practiced Indigenous sustainable fishing practices throughout his entire life. As Director of the Hawai’I Department of Land and Natural Resources and chair of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, he proved his commitment to protecting areas that have deep cultural importance as well as significant natural resource value and expanded Hawaii’s Natural Area Reserve program, streamlined permitting for restoration of Hawaiian fishponds and helped create the first community-based subsistence fishing area in Haena, Kauai. William was instrumental in the creation and expansion of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and was the former chair of the Papahānaumokuākea Reserve Advisory Council. He is a member of the Pacific Remote Islands Coalition, a group brought together by a love for the ocean that connects and sustains us working to expand and increase protections for these special islands, atolls, and reefs. 


About Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2023 

The Ocean Awards Gala is part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. The CHOW conference agenda is now available on the registration website. The theme for CHOW 2023 is “Ocean x Climate.”  

Understanding global climate change and mitigating and adapting to its impacts is inextricably linked to our one ocean and its biodiversity. How we manage our global ocean to ensure it thrives for future generations is central to combatting climate change, protecting the health of coastal communities, and sustaining our economies. This extends to the role of national marine sanctuaries and protected areas in strengthening resilience, and communicating the need for more ocean-climate actions. 

A nationally representative survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation revealed insights into Americans’ opinions on ocean conservation and climate change. The poll shows that Americans of all backgrounds overwhelmingly want the government and businesses to do more to protect the ocean, and over half recognize that climate change is the biggest threat to the diversity of life in our ocean.   Over one-third of respondents who live in coastline counties say they have personally seen the effects of climate change on the ocean and coasts.  

Convened by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation every June, CHOW brings together scientists, policymakers, scholars, businesses and conservation leaers 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 2023 are sold out and individual gala tickets were not sold this year. However, there is still a chance to attend the Ocean Awards Gala! The top fundraiser of the Foundation’s first annual peer-to-peer CHOW fundraising campaign will win a pair of tickets to the gala for the rare chance to network with a who’s who of marine conservation in the United States. Sign up to fundraise here 


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 


Contact: Chip Weiskotten 

Director of Strategic Communications