OCEANA's Ocean Hero award celebrates the accomplishments of individuals involved in ocean conservation, advocacy and education. Today, two Belizeans, Janet Gibson, and Wil Maheia, were named the 2016 Ocean Heroes.

In her forty year (and counting) career, biologist and zoologist Janet Gibson has played an influential role in just about every marine conservation strategy or resource management strategy developed in Belize. Gibson was also a driving force in securing reserve status for two marine protected areas: Belize’s first marine reserve, the Hol Chan Marine Reserve and the Glover’s Reef Atoll, one of Belize’s three atolls. She was also a key member of the Belizean team that worked to have seven sites within the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System declared World Heritage Sites.

On accepting the award, Gibson shared, “We all talk about sustainability and it's really something hard to explain and may seem unattainable. But I think it can be achieved if we valued our resources more highly. In the longer term, all Belizeans really have to have that behavioral change and attitude towards our marine environment and to really start valuing it properly. And not shutting it away, but using it sustainably.”

Wil Maheia founded one of the most important voices in conservation in southern Belize, the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment (TIDE), in an effort to safeguard the resources he fell in love with as a child. And to ensure the fishermen he idolized would always be able to depend on the sea for a living, Maheia has simultaneously been a staunch advocate against destructive fishing gear such as gillnets as well as a facilitator of an alternative livelihoods such as fly fishing.

Maheia says his motivation has been a desire to make sure future generations get to enjoy our marine resources. “And I just feel like, what my kids wah see. What my kids kids wah see? When we are surrounded by so much wealth in terms of natural resources, that if we no take a stand now, then who will?” asks Maheia.

The Ocean Hero award began as a way for Oceana to recognize and celebrate exceptional accomplishments in ocean conservation, advocacy and education. Being an Ocean Hero mostly means taking action to protect our oceans for people and creatures today and for generations to come. The wave to that kind of impact can start anywhere…and by anyone.

Click photos for more pictures!