Champions of the sea honored at gala

Cayman’s ocean warriors were out in force Saturday night at the annual Festival of Seas gala, hosted by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute.

This year, organizers added an awards element to the event, recognizing people who have played a vital role in keeping the oceans healthier over the past year.

The gala also marked another milestone for CCMI. which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Among the winners on Saturday were Aaron Hunt, who received an award for being a Community Coral Champion, for his work in organizing dive groups to help grow and restore coral on local reefs and to educate people on the importance of a healthy reef.

Janice Blumenthal, who works with the Department of Environment, was named Change Maker of the Year for her work on turtle-friendly lighting planning, while Johanna Kohler, who also works with the DoE, was given an award for Science and Research Project of the Year for her shark research efforts.

The Tourism Advocate of the Year award went to Royal Palms Beach Club for its “Don’t Suck” paper straw initiative, while the Marine Conservation Company of the Year was won by Butterfield for its Seabins project.

Claire Hughes, of Plastic-Free Cayman, won the People’s Choice Award for her efforts in organizing beach cleanups and other initiatives to help cut down on plastic waste found on island.

According to CCMI, the awards recognized “inspired leaders, bold innovators, creative thinkers and those who give generously and tirelessly of their time and talents. This network of committed individuals and organizations pushes us to think bigger, reach further and strive for greater solutions in an effort to realize our vision of a world with vibrant oceans and healthy coral reefs.”

The judges were Katie Alpers, Nadia Hardie, Natalie Urquhart, Catherine Childs and Nicoela McCoy.

The keynote speaker at the gala, which was held at Grand Old House, was Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and a noted filmmaker, explorer, and advocate on water issues.

At the gala, CCMI highlighted its “Call to Action,” which includes a pledge to strengthen regional coral restoration by maintaining two major restoration sites and growing 1,000 corals in its nurseries; engaging hundreds of local children in two major coral restoration activities on Grand Cayman; creating a documentary to show how restoration can bolster wild coral populations on local reefs; and supporting three guest speakers at the CCMI Coral Reef Discovery Series on Grand Cayman next year, which will be broadcast live.

To learn more, visit https://reefresearch.org.