Shinnecock Indian Nation Among World’s Top Ocean Award Winners Named for 2017

Shinnecock Indian Nation Among World’s Top Ocean Award Winners Named for 2017

 Their Efforts Represent Bold Solutions to Earth’s Biggest Marine Threats

Despite the current political uncertainty regarding environmental policy writ large, the past year was historic for ocean conservation leadership.  Protecting the ocean is now recognized as vital to national security, economic security, and food security globally. For billions of people around the world—including the nearly 3 billion living near the coasts—healthy oceans mean jobs, food and safety.

On May 11th, the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, often called the ‘Academy Awards for the Ocean,’ will honor a diverse group of marine leaders in Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and Sant Ocean Hall.  Our winners collective efforts cover a range of important global conservation solutions including creating and vastly expanding marine protected areas, mitigating overfishing, reducing marine pollution, and addressing climate change.

Shinnecocks, along with other paddlers, help move a canoe from the beach into the water for the Shinnecock Indian Nation Canoe Journey 6/22/12 Photo: Michael Heller

Among the 2017 Peter Benchley Ocean Awards winners is the Shinnecock Indian Nation for their role as Tribal Co-Lead for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body whose collaborations with Tribes, states, federal agencies, and fishery management councils are finding new ways to value Indigenous Science, respect Tribal sovereignty, and protect our ocean. The Mid-Atlantic Ocean Action Plan presents the first U.S. regional ocean plan that prioritizes tribal sovereignty through increased federal, state, tribal, and local dialogue for the restoration of America’s oceans and coasts. Furthermore, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body and the Shinnecock Indian Nation have partnered to develop, maintain, and ensure the accessibility of ocean data. This collaborative project has shown that the bridge between Western Science and Indigenous Science can be achieved through principles of open data sharing if carried out in a culturally responsive and respectful manner.


To date Benchley Award winners have included five Heads of State, U.S. Secretaries of State and Defense, senators, marine scientists, journalists, explorers, youth leaders and citizen activists.

Co-founded by ocean conservation and policy advocate Wendy Benchley and author and Blue Frontier Executive Director David Helvarg, the awards are named in honor of Peter Benchley (the author of Jaws) who worked for 40 years educating the public on shark and ocean conservation issues through his numerous books, films, documentary programs, articles for National Geographic, and public appearances.


Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body Tribal Co-Lead, Kelsey Leonard (Shinnecock Indian Nation), stands with Tribal leaders from across the mid-Atlantic region at 2015 Tribal Ocean Listening Session.


The Shinnecock Indian Nation is honored to be among the recipients of the 2017 Peter Benchley Ocean Award for Excellence in Solutions.




2017 Excellence in Solutions

Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council & The Mid Atlantic and Northeast Regional Planning Bodies

Our nations first ever ‘National Ocean Policy’ was established in 2010 to ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources. With this as a framework, Rhode Island quickly adopted pioneering spatial planning legislation, known as the Ocean Special Area Management Plan (Ocean SAMP), which serves as a federally recognized coastal management and regulatory tool that uses the best available science and provides a balanced approach to the development and protection of ocean-based resources. Success spread and in 2015 a breakthrough collaboration of multiple regional planning bodies (with leaders appointed at the federal, state and tribal levels), came together with significant new scientific data and enhanced policies, leading to the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions finalizing the first two regional ocean plans in our nation’s history.

Former Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body Tribal Co-Lead, Gerrod Smith (Shinnecock Indian Nation) speaking at regional planning meeting.

These collaborative efforts have focused on identifying and carrying out best practices for early coordination in decision-making; developing, sharing, and using new and better ocean data; and implementing interjurisdictional coordination actions that address priority opportunities and challenges in each region.Most importantly, they are enabling us for the first time ever to make smarter, better coordinated planning decisions for long-term enhancement of our shared ocean resources, including fisheries stocks, transportation channels, and the leasing, permitting and development of offshore energy projects. Ultimately, they are proving that securing our ocean future in a collaborative way is not only possible, but the best way forward.

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For More Information on Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body:

For More Information on Shinnecock Indian Nation Please Contact: Kelsey Leonard, Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body, Tribal Co-Lead, Shinnecock Indian Nation at


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