National Marine Sanctuary Foundation Announces Ocean Awards Gala Honorees


The Ocean Awards Gala returns in person in Washington, DC on June 7th 

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Silver Spring, Md. – April 20, 2022 – The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation will honor Dr. Marcia McNutt; Eric and Wendy Schmidt and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, 11th Hour Racing, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, and the Schmidt Family Foundation; and Diving With A Purpose at the 2022 Ocean Awards Gala on June 7th as part of Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW). 

“This year we celebrate the anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary Act and five decades of ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes conservation. It is an honor to recognize the outstanding contributions of Dr. Marcia McNutt, Diving With A Purpose and Eric and Wendy Schmidt and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, 11th Hour Racing, Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, and the Schmidt Family Foundation for their work enhancing our understanding of our global ocean, inspiring ocean leaders, and developing innovative solutions that protect our shared future,” said Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. 

The Ocean Awards Gala returns in person this year in Washington, D.C., in the Ronald Reagan Building atrium on the evening of June 7, 2022. The gala annually recognizes champions of marine and Great Lakes stewardship. Previous honorees include Presidents, Members of Congress, and world-renowned scientists and conservationists. Tickets and sponsorships are now available. 

The Lifetime Achievement Award acknowledges individuals who are making an exceptional impact on ocean science and research, conservation, or policy. Dr. Marcia McNutt is a geophysicist and the president of the National Academy of Sciences.  She has made tremendous contributions to ocean science and conservation throughout her career – from groundbreaking discoveries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the development of new cutting-edge technologies at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) to her work at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. As director of USGS, she led a team of government scientists and engineers who helped contain the oil and cap the well. For her contributions, she was awarded the U.S. Coast Guard’s Meritorious Service Medal.  During her time as president and chief executive officer MBARI, the institution became a leader in developing biological and chemical sensors for remote ocean deployment, installed the first deep-sea cabled observatory in U.S. waters, and advanced the integration of artificial intelligence into autonomous underwater vehicles for complex undersea missions. 

“Dr. McNutt has been an extraordinarily effective leader in many aspects of research, policy, advocacy, and operations, skillfully leading an array of influential and important institutions ranging from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to the U.S. Geological Survey to her role at AAAS,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA Administrator. “Her leadership has influenced the direction of geosciences in America, and her encouragement of early career scientists, especially women, has directly contributed to a stronger, smarter, and more diverse scientific community in this country.” 

The Conservation Innovation Award recognizes a company or organization for its significant contributions to marine conservation and supporting cutting-edge science to improve our understanding of the blue planet. Established in 2006 by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, The Schmidt Family Foundation works to restore a balanced relationship between people and planet. Wendy leads the foundation’s two grant-making and investment programs: The 11th Hour Project, which partners with communities around the world working for renewable energy, resilient food systems, healthy oceans and the protection of human rights, and Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, which supports scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs in developing technologies that restore ocean health. In 2009, the Schmidt’s founded Schmidt Ocean Institute, which works to explore the ocean by offering scientists access to a world-class philanthropic research vessel and by working with the scientific community to excite interest in the ocean and inform the wise stewardship of our planet. A competitive sailor, Wendy Schmidt extended her oceans-focused work to the sporting world through 11th Hour Racing, works with the sailing community and maritime industries to advance sustainable solutions and practices that protect and restore the health of the ocean. 

“There is no one way, no single solution, to protect our Ocean—we need all hands on deck,” said Wendy Schmidt, co-founder and president of The Schmidt Family Foundation and co-founder of Schmidt Ocean Institute and 11th Hour Racing. “The teams I am privileged to work with each day and our many partners bring dedication and ingenuity to this work. We are honored to be recognized for our efforts to connect passionate people and organizations around the world who share our vision of a healthy, restored Ocean.” 

The Sanctuary Wavemaker Award celebrates the work of the 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. Diving with a Purpose (DWP) is focused on the conservation and protection of submerged heritage resources by providing education, training, certification and field experience to adults and youths. Its special focus is the protection, documentation and interpretation of African slave trade shipwrecks and the maritime history and culture of African-Americans who formed a core of labor and expertise for America’s maritime enterprises. The Foundation specifically recognizes DWP for its work in the Florida Keys and Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuaries and for training youth in the fields of maritime archaeology and ocean conservation. 

“The Diving With a Purpose organization is honored to receive the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Sanctuary Wavemaker Award,” said Erik Denson, Board Member and Lead Instructor of Diving with a Purpose. “DWP’s vision of Restoring Our Oceans and Preserving Our Heritage, while inspiring the Next Generation of Explorers, Scientist and Environmental Stewards could not be realized without the support and partnerships with our National Marine Sanctuaries and the Foundation. We are proud of the work that Diving with a Purpose does to preserve and tell the story of our rich maritime heritage while connecting past and future generations. Our Oceans and Great Lakes are critical resources for all of us, we cannot survive without them!”    


About Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2022 

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 2022 is “Sea: the Future.” This year, CHOW is part of the Save Spectacular campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. 

In 1972, the United States enacted a wave of landmark legislation to protect and sustain the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes, including the amendments to the Clean Water Act, the Marine Mammal Act Protection Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. These Acts fundamentally changed how the United States managed marine, Great Lakes, and coastal environments. 

In the last 50 years, the challenges impacting the health and sustainability of the planet and the communities that rely on them grew and became more complex. Climate change and climate-related impacts are fundamentally changing our ocean and Great Lakes. Coastal development places increased pressures on marine ecosystems. Multiple demands on marine and Great Lakes resources lead to challenging policy and regulatory questions for managing uses. And biodiversity loss weakens ecosystems and their ability to withstand stressors, adapt to climate change and help regulate our global climate. Capitol Hill Ocean Week will host conversations that address these challenges, as well as the common solution they all share: humanity.  

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 with Leadership, Lifetime Achievement, Conservation Innovation, and Sanctuary Wavemaker Awards.  

In 2021, CHOW centered on achieving justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in our ocean and Great Lakes. The conference offered an opportunity to examine how exclusionary practices and systemic racism negatively impact conservation, science, and policy. Panelists emphasized how anti-oppression and anti-racism work will improve the health and quality of life of people, as well as the sustainability of our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes and the communities that depend on them. The discussions of 2021 will carry into to CHOW 2022 and beyond. 

Sponsorship information is available for Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2022 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