UK’s Top Conservation Prize Goes to Costa Rican Marine Conservation Activist

Randall Arauz STRP’s Central American Director
HRH Princess Ann announced the six winners of the UK’s top conservation prize – the Whitley Awards – to a packed audience at the Royal Geographical Society in London last night (29 April).

The Winner of the Whitley Gold Award – the top award worth £60,000 – is Randall Arauz of Costa Rica, Central American Director of Sea Turtle Restoration Project, US, and President of PRETOMA, Costa Rica.

The goal of this campaigning environmentalist is to stem the collapse of sharks and sea turtles off Costa Rica in the eastern Pacific. Arauz is focusing on industrial longline fishing that is destroying marine biodiversity, and the cruel practice of cutting off sharks’ fins and throwing the shark back into the sea. His work has already been highly instrumental in the protection of other endangered marine species such as turtles and dolphins.

“We must end industrial longlining fishing as it is practiced today. This barbaric practice is driving sea turtles and sharks to extinction. We must once and for all end the cruel practice of slicing of shark’s fins and throwing the still breathing animals overboard to their deaths,” said Randall Arauz. He continued, “If we don’t, we will leave nothing for our children and future generations but empty oceans.”

Arauz has worked as the Central American director of the U.S.-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project (www.seaturtles.org) for nearly 10 years and is also the founder and President of its sister organization in Costa Rica, known by the acronym PRETOMA (www.tortugamarina.org).

“This is a great honor for Randall and we are ecstatic that his important work, and his new organization is receiving the attention it deserves. This award will help bring the awareness we need today to the plight of the oceans and the magnificent marine species that are threatened with imminent extinction. We plan to continue to work with Randall to create a new generation of marine environmental leaders in Latin America,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

Each year these prestigious awards have grown in value and number from £15,000 when they started in 1993 up to £940,000 this year as additional donors contribute prizes. The Awards recognize the most outstanding conservation work by individuals around the world fighting to safeguard the planet’s resources and wildlife.

“The commitment and dedication of all our Whitley Award finalists is humbling and inspiring. We short-listed 8 finalists who have joined us in London for this week from as far afield as the Gobi Desert in Mongolia; the Pacific Islands; Costa Rica and Africa. They are all fighting to save wildernesses from being ruined; wildlife from being driven to extinction. They have achieved remarkable successes. Each has overcome daunting obstacles to emerge as national champions in their countries.

Arauz, our Gold Award winner, has led a life which spans being a scientist researching turtles; to a tour guide; to saving turtles on the beaches, to seeing turtles decimated offshore and then realizing that the long line fishing which has killed 90% of the turtles is also destroying the shark populations.

Arauz can talk to anyone ranging from the local fishermen to the fishing companies to the President of Costa Rica. He is poised to broaden his work down the coast to Salvador and Guatemala. He has done the science, knows his facts and has campaigned to change the fishing laws” said Edward Whitley, founder of the Whitley Awards and Chairman of the Whitley Laing Foundation

Five other winners also received awards of £30,000 each. They include:

Achilles Byaruhanga, Uganda: Byaruhanga is leading efforts to conserve one of his country’s most important wetlands – Nabajjuzi wetland – through local community initiatives such as ecotourism, agro-forestry and bee-keeping.

Jargal Jamsranjav, Mongolia: Jamsranjav is working to protect areas of the world’s last great wildernesses, the Gobi desert. She is helping to train its herders to become guardians of the environment by monitoring wildlife themselves and developing conservation initiatives.

Dr Rodrigo Medellin, Mexico: Medellin’s mission is to save the bat not just in his native Mexico but throughout Latin America. Bats play a crucial role in protecting ecosystems and are allies to both agriculture and rural development, yet over 25% of bat species are endangered.

Alifereti Tawake, Fiji: Tawake’s innovative approach to reversing the decline in his country’s marine resources is paying dividends. So successful has this been in pilot areas that the government is now considering returning control of all its 410 traditional fishing areas to local control. This award is sponsored by WWF-UK.

Ka Hsaw Wa, Burma: Co-founder of Earthrights International, Ka Hsaw Wa has been fighting for many years to expose human rights and environmental abuses in Burma. In 1999 he helped set up the Earthrights college in Thailand to train indigenous people in the skills needed to protect their rights and the environment.

For further information/photos please contact Simon Forester on 0207 921 5443/ mobile 07932 755515 or Colin McCallum on 01428 643748/ mobile 07941 233760.

For more information on PRETOMA and Sea Turtle Restoration Project visit www.tortugamarina.org & www.seaturtles.org

Notes to Editors:
For further information including speeches, photos of the award winners’ work and further background on the Whitley Awards, please go to the website:
www.whitleyaward.org

Photo/Tarek Chowdhury

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