Ocean waves crashing during sunrise.

Each year since 2004, the Seattle Aquarium has presented two outstanding individuals with our highest honors during a special event celebrating their accomplishments. The annual Ocean Conservation Honors dinner raises the visibility of ocean conservation, highlighting and celebrating the honorees’ aspirations and impact, and sharing the passion for the work and the difference our actions make on behalf of ocean health. 

This year, of course, we can’t host our annual gathering—but we can still heighten awareness around the urgency of marine conservation and work to inspire the next generation of leaders by presenting the 2021 Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award and Seattle Aquarium Sylvia Earle Medal. 

The Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award honors individuals who are leaders and innovators in conservation research, with a particular focus on climate change, plastic pollution, sustainable fisheries and tourism, marine protected areas and socioeconomics. Special consideration is given for researchers working on projects in the Salish Sea or Coral Triangle, who have a special connection to the Seattle Aquarium, and those with strong educational or science communication elements to their work.

We’re happy to announce Dr. James Estes as the recipient of this year’s Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award. A world-renowned marine ecologist and professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Cruz (retired in 2018), Dr. Estes is best known for his work on kelp forest ecosystem structure and function—particularly how it relates to sea otters as a keystone species. Hear directly from Dr. Estes and learn how he remains active in his retirement in our Q&A blog post.

Dr. James Estes
Dr. James Estes, recipient of the 2021 Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award

The Seattle Aquarium Sylvia Earle Medal honors individuals whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect and advance the mission of the Seattle Aquarium: Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment. Formerly the Seattle Aquarium Medal, the award was renamed in 2018, after we presented Dr. Sylvia Earle with our first Seattle Aquarium Lifetime Achievement Award.

We are honored to present Cristina Mittermeier with this year’s Seattle Aquarium Sylvia Earle Medal. A marine biologist and activist who pioneered the concept and field of conservation photography, we give her this award in recognition of her “visionary, courageous journalism that beautifully tells the story of our planet and the people dependent on it,” notes Seattle Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson. In his letter inviting her to accept the award, he writes, “You honor our common desire to share stories of hope, stories that inspire people to act on behalf of the ocean, and stories that will persuade the unconvinced. You seek to learn from Indigenous peoples’ ancient practices of sustainable living in harmony with nature. The Seattle Aquarium shares these values.”

Cristina Mittermeier
Cristina Mittermeier, recipient of the 2021 Seattle Aquarium Sylvia Earle Medal. Photo: Paul Nicklen/SeaLegacy

Interested in learning more about (and seeing!) Cristina’s pioneering work? Read our Q&A blog post with her

We’re happy to be able to continue the important work of honoring outstanding leaders in the field of marine conservation during this unusual and challenging time, and sincerely hope to acknowledge 2022’s award recipients in person next year. 

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