Scientist awarded for helping to make people love sharks
A scientist who has saved whale sharks in Belize from extinction has been
honoured by the Princess Royal as the third woman in a row to win a
prestigious prize for conservation.
Dr Rachel Graham was awarded the Whitley Gold Award by Her Royal Highness
Princess Anne at the Royal Geographic Society in central London.
The £60,000 award, supported by Sir David Attenborough and the World Wildlife
Fund (WWF), will go towards further conservation work to try and save sharks
and rays from overfishing off the coast of the Central American country.
Dr Graham has dedicated 20 years of her life to saving endangered species like
the whale shark, a ‘gentle giant’ measuring up to 40ft long that feeds
mostly on plankton.
The 43-year-old Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Gulf and
Caribbean Sharks and Rays Programme, has won legal protection for the
species in Belizean waters.
She also led innovative schemes to encourage people to protect rather than
fear sharks by letting schoolchildren, students, planners and
decision-makers see the gentle animals in the wild.
Dr Graham’s success is a further boost for women conservationists with last
year’s Gold Award having gone to Angela Maldonado of Colombia for saving
night monkeys and the 2009 prize to Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka of Uganda for
her work with gorillas.
The same ceremony also saw the presentation of Whitley Awards worth £30,000
each in project funding to six other conservation leaders from Argentina,
Croatia, India, Indonesian Borneo, Russia and Uzbekistan.
A short video
about the work of each winner has been made with voice over from Sir David.
Georgina Domberger, Director of the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), the
UK-based charity behind the international awards scheme, said an increasing
number of conservation projects in Eastern Europe are being rewarded for
their efforts to help protect animals as the area develops.
Cave systems in Croatia, saiga antelopes in Uzbekistan and bats in Russia are
being protected thanks to the award.
"The aim of the Whitley Awards is to identify and applaud inspirational
conservation leaders, and support their efforts to make even greater use of
their scientific expertise and local knowledge to deliver real and lasting
benefits for people and wildlife and the places both share,” she said.
The Whitley Awards scheme is an annual competition, first held in 1994. In the
18 years since the scheme began, it has given grants worth more than £6m to
support the work of conservation leaders in 70 countries.
The Gold Award 2011 is, for the first time, being sponsored by WWF-UK to
celebrate its decade of support for the Whitley Awards, and acknowledge the
golden jubilee of WWF-UK’s formation in 1961.
I am so proud of my good friend whose efforts to study and save sharks for a more balanced marine environment have yielded benefits for us here at home and around the world. Congrats Rachel! Lucky us for having someone as dedicated in our waters.
Belize’s own Dr. Rachel T. Graham was presented with a prestigious conservation award by no less than Her Royal Highness, Princess Anne, at the Royal Geographic Society in London. Graham saved whale sharks from extinction in Belize and her twenty years of work to preserve the Jewel’s underwater wildlife won her the coveted Whitley Gold Award for 2011. The award is given by the UK based charity, Whitley Fund for Nature, and this year it was sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund-UK as part of its fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Graham is the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. She has been working to put in place a national action-plan to protect sharks, sting rays and other ocean species that attract tourists to our waters, but are threatened by overfishing. Along with a trophy, Graham was awarded just under two hundred thousand dollars in funding for her project.
This is the third consecutive year that the award was won by a female conservationist. Six other organizations from around the world also won funding for their projects.