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The Top 5 Ocean Heroes of 2016

There is much work to be done, but these five (or so) environmental superstars helped to make our world's oceans a safer and healthier place in 2016.

2016 was a hard year for the ocean, but it would have been terrible without these folks. Though last year's headlines were marred by coral bleaching and animal extinctions, activists across the world continued to fight for just and sustainable oceans.

There is much work to be done in 2017, but these five (or so) environmental superstars helped to make our world's oceans a safer and healthier place.


1. President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of the Republic of Palau

Palau is a tiny nation comprised of around 250 islands, meaning there are way more fish than there are people. But President Tommy Remengesau Jr. has catapulted the country to the forefront of marine conservation.

Palau has launched several initiatives to reduce fishery bycatch and to create a marine reserve where no mining or fishing can take place. In the past, Remengesau signed into law a huge shark sanctuary and treaties against illegal and unregulated fishing.


2. Daniela Fernandez

Named one of Glamour’s 2016 Women of the Year, Daniela Fernandez founded the Georgetown Sustainable Oceans Alliance while she was still a student in college.

It’s a first-of-its-kind organization that is meant to collect solutions for ocean sustainability from students, scholars and conservationists. Her work is geared toward millennials like her, and she hopes to get these young people engaged to save the oceans before it’s too late.


3. Ian Urbina

Last year, Ian Urbina published his series “The Outlaw Ocean” in the New York Times, examining the lawlessness and cruelty that can happen in uncharted waters.

His investigative journalism brought light to environmental degradation and illegal fishing, as well as the slave-like conditions of fishing-boat employees and murder in the open ocean. His work has brought new eyes and urgency to the plight of international waters.


4. Ric O’Barry

The star of the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” was detained last year by Japanese authorities as he sought to travel to Taiji, Japan, and protest the town’s cruel annual dolphin hunts.

O’Barry runs a nonprofit called The Dolphin Project, which raises awareness of the plight of dolphins worldwide in the wild and captivity, with particular focus on Taiji’s dolphin drives. O’Barry told the AP he became a political prisoner of Japan because of his efforts to protect the lives of these dolphins.


5. David Attenborough

The man, the voice, the legend. Sir David Attenborough remains a hero to us for all years, but especially 2016 with the premiere of the breathtaking "Planet Earth II."

Attenborough guides audiences along beautiful strips of jungle and ocean, mountains and rivers, and ends his narration with a plea for action: “It’s surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on Earth."


Honorable Mention: Audrey Kim

OK, we promised you only five, but our sixth ocean hero is only 6 years old — and that just seemed too perfect to pass up. Our postscript is Audrey Kim, a kid from Irving, California, who wrote to President Obama about preserving the oceans from oil spills and pollution.

After the president responded, Audrey raised over $1,800 for the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, which takes in injured seals and rehabilitates them to eventually continue their lives in the wild. Thank you, Audrey and co., and we can't wait to see what you accomplish in 2017!


Learn about how you can help vulnerable marine animals by signing up with Oceana.


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