Ocean Awards Gala Honors Protection of Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Papahānaumokuākea

The gala returns in 2021 with a new virtual format to celebrate the voices of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Silver Spring, Md. – April 15, 2021 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation announced that the 2021 Ocean Awards Gala will honor the dedicated Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, kūpuna, commercial, recreational and subsistence fishers, divers, researchers, environmentalists, and elected and governmental officials who had the vision and commitment to protect the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and establish Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.

The gala will take place virtually and be streamed on Thursday, June 10th at 7:00pm ET / 7:00pm PT / 6:00pm HT.

The Ocean Awards Gala annually recognizes champions of marine and Great Lakes stewardship. Previous honorees include Presidents, Members of Congress, and world-renowned scientists and conservationists.

Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, said, “Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument protects a place found nowhere else on Earth. We are fortunate that over 20 years ago, a grassroots coalition fought for protection of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.  This place of natural beauty and cultural significance shows how the ocean unites us. It is an honor to recognize those who brought this vision to life at the Ocean Awards Gala.”

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was established in 2006 and was expanded in 2016 to become the largest contiguous fully protected conservation area in the United States, and one of the largest marine conservation areas in the world. The 1,350 mile stretch of coral islands, seamounts, banks and shoals supports an incredible diversity of coral, fish, birds, marine mammals and other flora and fauna, many of which are unique to the Hawaiian Island chain. With the highest density of sacred sites in the archipelago, it is of great cultural and spiritual importance to Native Hawaiians. In 2010, Papahānaumokuākea was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for both its natural and cultural values. 

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands hui, a grassroots coalition of Native Hawaiian cultural practitioners, commercial, recreational and subsistence fishers, kupuna, divers, dedicated researchers and environmentalists, lead the campaign to protect this fragile ecosystem and recognize its cultural importance.  In 2000, the 84 million acre Northwestern Hawaiian Island Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve was established, laying the groundwork for creation of the monument.

The Ocean Awards Gala is part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW), the nation’s premier conference focused on the sustainability and health of the ocean and Great Lakes, hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  CHOW  convenes policymakers, scientists, business leaders, educators, students, and members of the public to engage in dialogue on significant issues that impact our ocean and Great Lakes. The CHOW 2021 program will explore the intersection of people and the environment and how we ensure that all communities have equal access to opportunities to maintain a healthy environment to live, learn, and work. The program takes place June 8-10 and is free and open to the public.  

For more information, visit the 2021 Ocean Awards Gala webpage or the 2021 Capitol Hill Ocean Week webpage.


Contact: Chip Weiskotten

Director of Strategic Communication






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 America’s 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.