Oceana Belize recognizes Dr. Rachel Graham and Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts 2022 Ocean Hero Awardd

Saturday, October 1st, 2022

(l-r) Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts, Janelle Chanona, Dr. Rachel Graham

Marine conservationist Dr. Rachel Graham, well known in San Pedro Town and throughout Belize, was one of the recipients of Oceana Belize‘s Ocean Hero 2022 award. The other champion of the sea awarded with the prestigious recognition was marine ecologist Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts.

The extraordinary Belizean professionals were recognized at the 12th annual award ceremony that was held virtually on Thursday, September 29th.  Oceana’s Vice President, Janelle Chanona, spoke of the awardees. “The Belizeans we’ve been honored to recognize as Ocean Heroes are testament to the fact that when the odds are against us, that is when our resilience rises. That is when we are our strongest. That is when the hope we dare to grasp with both hands drives us forward,” said Chanona.  Oceana’s Vice President added that the 2022 Ocean Heroes are front liners behind the scenes. They are the researchers crunching the numbers to tell the story.

The program showed videos showcasing the work of Graham and Ricketts. Chanona said because of the data collected through their work programs, people don’t just survive but thrive as well.

Dr. Rachel Graham

Dr. Graham filming the spawning of wrasses in Panama. Photo courtesy of Dr. Graham, Rick Miskiv, and Steve Mandel.

Dr. Graham shares she has been fascinated with the sea from an early age. Her journey in research started with her passion for marginalized animals, including rays, sea turtles, and sharks. That passion took her across the globe. Some places blessed with her research in environment and development include Latin America, Africa, and Micronesia. Dr. Graham has worked in this field for 25 years with fishers and partners in Belize to identify threats, research needs, and conservation opportunities for threatened marine wildlife and their critical habitats. In 2014, Rachel founded the international Non-Governmental Organization MarAlliance, with an office in San Pedro. The NGO promotes impactful and inclusive grassroots science and conservation of marine wildlife. Dr. Graham’s dedication to marine conservation has inspired many Belizeans who are now actively involved in protecting ocean wildlife and coastal biodiversity. “I think the biggest lesson for all of us is that conservation is a marathon. It’s not a sprint. It takes many years to achieve these successes, and it’s taken 25 years of my life to get to some of the successes, and the knowledge, and the scientific discoveries that I’ve made,” said Graham. “It gives me great pleasure to see huge changes also in the public in Belize, away from being scared of sharks, now being scared for sharks. Wanting to see more of these marine wildlife species in our oceans who are so critical to our ecosystems.” Dr. Graham pointed out how important these species and ecosystems are for the tourism industry.

She continued speaking about the resilience of the country’s fisheries and food security. “When we are faced with over 90% decline in big fish in our oceans, we need to fight for what we have left and re-wild our seas. I hope you will join us for this fight because it’s a big one, but it’s one worth fighting for,” Graham noted.

Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts

The other ocean hero, Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts, has had a lifelong connection with the sea and has been in love with Belize’s Barrier Reef from the first time she was exposed to it. She grew up in the Capital City of Belmopan, where discussions about the reef were quite common in her household, which piqued her interest in studying and learning about coral reef ecology and ecosystems management. Over the past two decades, Ricketts has applied her expertise in marine sciences to advance marine conservation and scientific research throughout Belize to advance academic interests, policies, and regulations. In 2010, Ricketts co-founded the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute, designed to build scientific capacity for the sustainable use and conservation of Belize’s natural resources.

The Oceana Ocean Hero Awards has honored more than 20 Belizeans for their exceptional ocean conservation, advocacy, and education accomplishments. Past award recipients include Lionel “Chocolate” Heredia, Dr. Melanie McField, former Fisheries Minister Rene Montero, Lisa Carne, Jamal Galves, Miguel Alamilla, Captain Romauldo “Romi” Badillo Sr., Janet Gibson, Wil Maheia, Luz Hunter, Madison Edwards, Michael Heusner, Captain Earl David Jr, Guadalupe Lampella, Dale Fairweather, Neville Smith, the late Lowell’ Japs’ Godfrey, Kevin Andrewin and Chef Jennie Staines.

The stained-glass awards were designed and made by local artist Leisa Carr-Caceres of Belizean Craft and Colors. The San Pedro Sun congratulates Dr. Rachel Graham and Dr. Leandra Cho-Ricketts for their well-deserved recognition and wishes our new Ocean Heroes all the best in their future projects.

If you missed the virtual program of the 2022 Oceana Ocean Hero award ceremony, click here.





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