Press Releases

Whitley Gold Award winner Rachel Graham, Belize

Princess presents top conservation award to Belizean shark scientist

LONDON, UK: 11 MAY 2011 – A marine biologist from Belize tonight became this year’s winner of one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for grassroots nature conservation: the Whitley Gold Award, donated by WWF-UK.

Dr Rachel T. Graham, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Gulf and Caribbean sharks and rays programme and a member of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, received her prize from HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the Royal Geographical Society, London, during a ceremony hosted by The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) – the UK-based charity behind the international awards scheme.

To accompany the title and her Whitley Gold Award 2011 trophy,  Dr Graham also wins project funding worth £60,000 GBP, including £30,000 GBP donated by Natasha and George  Duffield; membership of the influential network of past Whitley Award winners, and professional development training.

The same ceremony also saw the presentation of Whitley Awards worth £30,000 each in project funding to six other conservation leaders fromArgentina,Croatia,India, Indonesian Borneo,RussiaandUzbekistan.

For more details, please see the Notes overleaf.

Dr Graham’s success completes a hat-trick for women conservationists with last year’s Gold Award having gone to Angela Maldonado ofColombiaand the 2009 prize to Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka ofUganda.

In Dr Graham’s case, the award recognises her work to put in place a national action plan for sharks and get more local people actively involved in protecting ocean wildlife and coastal biodiversity and so safeguard local livelihoods and Belize’s economically-important tourism industry.

It also recognises Dr Graham’s efforts to reverse the rapid decline of sharks in Belizean waters, caused mainly by over-fishing by foreign fishing fleets supplying white fish meat to Latin America and shark fins to Asia.

Commenting on the results, WFN’s Director, Georgina Domberger, said: “The aim of the Whitley Awards is to identify and applaud inspirational conservation leaders, and support their efforts to make even greater use of their scientific expertise and local knowledge to deliver real and lasting benefits for people and wildlife and the places both share.

With Rachel, the judges were tremendously impressed by her 20 years of dedication to marine conservation, her success in winning legal protection in Belize for whale sharks, and her innovative plans to let schoolchildren, students, planners and decision-makers see sharks in the wild and experience undersea Belize at first hand, so encouraging them to become advocates of the marine world.”

The prize-giving ceremony was co-hosted by the author and broadcaster John McCarthy and witnessed by a 350-strong audience comprising embassy officials, leading life scientists and environmentalists, corporate donors, WFN supporters and representatives of the media.

This year, for the first time, the Whitley Gold Award 2011 is sponsored by WWF-UK to celebrate its decade of support for the Whitley Awards, and acknowledge the golden jubilee of WWF-UK’s formation in 1961.

Glyn Davies, the director of programmes for WWF-UK says: “In WWF’s anniversary year it is tremendous to be able to support Rachel in her efforts to protect shark populations in Belize. The presence of these ‘top predators’ maintains the diversity of the entire reef ecosystem as well as maintaining the star attractions for the tourists who visit Belize’s beautiful reef.”

The Whitley Awards scheme is an annual competition, first held in 1994. In the 18 years since the scheme began, it has given grants worth more than £6m to support the work of inspirational conservation leaders in 70 countries and built a network of more than 120 Whitley alumni.  To learn more about the charity, its donors and past winners, please see:

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Media enquiries:

Pam Beddard

Publicist – Whitley Awards 2011

(t): +44 117 987 0442 or +44 7767 621207

(e): [email protected]

Awards Ceremony photographs

Copyright-cleared photographs of winners receiving their Whitley Awards will be available from shortly after the ceremony ends or can be emailed direct on request (see contact details above). Portraits of the finalists and project images are also available from the same Picasa folder or by email, on request. 

Notes to Editors

The Whitley Awards are the flagship grants of the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), a UK-registered charity. WFN’s aim is to identify the world’s most dynamic conservation leaders and support them in practical work that benefits both wildlife and local communities. The first Whitley Award was given in 1994 when a single winner received £15,000 GBP. Since then, the number and value of the prizes has grown so that the awards are now acknowledged internationally as one of most valuable accolades a conservationist can win.

To be considered for a Whitley Award, entrants need to display both a strong track record in science-based conservation work and a viable plan for taking their work further. A hallmark of the scheme is that WFN seeks to remain in close contact with past winners and facilitates the sharing of best practice, lessons learned, contacts and ideas. In this way, WFN maintains links with more than 120 international conservation leaders in over 70 countries. For more information, please see

Whitley Gold Award 2011 results

Whitley Gold Award, donated by WWF-UK 

Whitley Award donated by George and Natasha Duffield

Dr Rachel T. GRAHAM (Belize) , the Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Programme, who is protecting Belize’s sharks, rays and other ocean giants – a valuable eco-tourism attraction but increasingly imperilled by local misconceptions and unsustainable fishing by other countries.

Whitley Award donated by The Friends of The Whitley Fund for Nature

Dr Ramana ATHREYA (India), an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and a co-ordinator with Eco-Systems India, who is working on landscape and biodiversity protection inIndia’s least populated state: Arunachal Pradesh, by forming conservation alliances with Himalayan tribes-people.

Whitley Award donated by The Shears Foundation

Jana BEDEK (Croatia), a biologist, caver and President of the Croatian Bio-speleological Society who is capturing local knowledge to protect both the vast limestone cave systems which lie beneath the Dinaric Alps, stretching from Italy to Albania, and the many unusual creatures found there and nowhere else on Earth.

Whitley Award donated by The Scottish Friends of The Whitley Fund for Nature

Elena BYKOVA (Uzbekistan), , who, as Executive Secretary of the Saiga Conservation Alliance and as a researcher with the Institute of Zoology at Uzbekistan’s Academy of Sciences, is working in the desert-steppes between the Aral and Caspian Seas on safeguarding the critically-endangered saiga antelope, including by restoring local pride in traditions associated with the animal.

Whitley Award donated by Goldman Sachs

Dr Hotlin OMPUSUNGGU (Indonesian Borneo), the Sumatran-born head of Alam Sehat Lestari (Healthy, Nature, Everlasting) and a dentist, who is trying to sever the links between poverty, ill-health and ecological damage to the Gunung Palung National Park, in West Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, by letting poor communities ‘pay’ for healthcare by becoming guardians of the forests where gibbons and orangutans live.

Whitley Award donated by The Garfield Weston Foundation

Dr Igor PROKOFYEV (Russia), the director of PERESVET (Grassroots Alliance) and head of bio-monitoring at Bryansk University, who is inspiring communities in Western Russia to take part in the country’s first ever conservation movement for bats and ensuring the region remains a world-relevant haven for them, despite recent loss of habitat to urban development.

Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust

Luis RIVERA (Argentina), a biologist at Jujuy National University and the President of the CEBio Foundation, who is using colourful endangered parrots as the emblem of a campaign to boost tourism income and rally public support for the conservation of the species-rich Yungas forests, in Argentina and Bolivia, in the eastern shadow of the Andes.

Issued by:

The Whitley Fund for Nature

33 Drayson Mews

London W8 4LY

United Kingdom

+44 20 7368 6568

[email protected]