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Oct 4, 2016

Ocean Heroes Janet Gibson and Wil Maheia Honoured by OCEANA

OCEANA has two new Ocean Heroes. Since 2012, every year, OCEANA Belize selects Belizeans to honor as Ocean Heroes. The winners are those who accomplish tremendous work in ocean conservation, advocacy and education. This year saw a big number of nominations, but only two were lucky enough to join the ranks of previous winners like Miguel Alamilla, Jamaal Galves and Lisa Carne. News Five’s Andrea Polanco attended the award ceremony on Friday night in Belize City. Here’s her story:

 

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

Janet Gibson and Wil Maheia are the latest Ocean Heroes to be recognized by Oceana Belize. They were awarded for the work that they have done which includes the establishment of a marine reserve and the call to ban gillnets. Vice President, Janelle Chanona tells us why the recipients came out on top from a pool of a hundred nominations.

 

Janelle Chanona

Janelle Chanona, Vice President, OCEANA Belize

“It’s really about recognizing Belizeans who are dedicating themselves tirelessly to the commitments of safeguarding, protecting, preserving and sustainably developing our resources to ensure that they will always be there for the enjoyment of Belizeans today and future generations.  Janet Gibson has been as you will see in the video part of every marine strategy that Belize has participated in. She helped to establish Belize’s first marine reserve, and she has been integral to spawning aggregation site protection. It has just been an incredible body of work and even though she is retired from her last employer, we know that she will continue well into the future to play a role in the development and protection of Belize’s marine resources.  Wil Maheia is from southern Belize. One of the people that nominated him is the former minister of sustainable development Minister Leisel Alamilla really encapsulated it so well in saying that Ocean Heroes should be big dreamers. And Wil is definitely a big dreamer. He has these big ideas about alternative sustainable livelihoods and he really helped to bring fly fishing as an alternative livelihood to southern Belize. And really stressing the importance of everyone taking a stand for to ensure that their children and their children’s children can enjoy the things that he has seen. He has been on the forefront on the gillnet issue. It pains him personally that we may never see another sawfish in the wild again and that is just in his lifetime. It has really been- I know that there are different ways of getting there, but definitely he is somebody that helps to keep key issues in fore and relevant to all of us. And we think that both those Belizeans exemplify heroic spirits.”

 

Janet Gibson

Gibson has almost four decades in environmental work under her belt. She was overwhelmed with the recognition.

 

Janet Gibson, Ocean Hero

“I was totally overwhelmed. It is a special feeling when you win an award like this that really comes from your peers that you are recognized by all the people that you’ve worked with over many, many years, it really means a lot to me.  Belize has really done a lot. If you just think of the network of marine reserves that we have is really well known within the region, however, we now have to really strengthen the management of those reserves we now have in place. We have also made a huge achievement in having a Coastal Zone Management Programme and you may have heard that the Government recently approved of the Coastal Zone Management Plan. Again, it is a matter of now waiting to see how that plan is truly implemented. Despite all the work that we have done, we still have a problem with the health of the reef. The Reef is not all that healthy, so there is a lot more work to be done.”

 

Maheia, whose environmental efforts span multiple established projects, was not on hand to receive his award because he is out of the country. His wife accepted on his behalf.

 

Wil Maheia

Via Skype: Wil Maheia, Ocean Hero

“Well when I got the email, like I said, I had just landed in Johannesburg. I was just like, wow, is this real? Is this true? I couldn’t really believe it. Like I do this thing and what I do I do it all the time but I didn’t really think that there will be an award like this then. Like I would be somebody who would qualify for something like this. So I was just so stunned, so shocked and overjoyed at the same time.”

 

In a first, the Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage also recognized Froyla Tzalam through the work of SATIIM.

 

Froyla Tzalam

Froyla Tzalam, Coalition Awardee

“We are very pleased, the board, the community that we represent are very pleased with this award because it is a recognition of the work that we are doing. Like I mentioned earlier, we are a small organization and the communities that we represent are very remote. So for us to be able to get a recognition for the work it means that people are listening to the message that we have to say. So it is a good award and we are very pleased about it.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, moving forward is there perhaps an added pressure, and pressure may not be the right word, but is there a pressure to say keep doing what we are doing because people are noticing?”

 

Froyla Salam

“Absolutely. Our mandate comes from our communities. We have always believed in human led development, specifically, Mayan focused development. So for us, we see other models being developed, molds being broken to fit in with our term of development. So I have no doubt that there will be more of us to be seen in the future.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Andrea Polanco.

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