Press Releases

Whitley Award donated by The Corcoran Foundation

Sammy the sea turtle saviour: the conservationist leading communities in coastal stewardship of Kenya’s delicate marine ecosystem

Along Kenya’s coast, the future of life above and below water relies on sustainable management by communities. Conservationist Sammy Safari has received a prestigious Whitley Award for turning the tide for fishers, mangroves and turtles in East Africa’s oldest marine reserve.

The Whitley Awards are presented annually to individuals from the Global South by UK-based charity the Whitley Fund for Nature. Sammy is one of six conservationists to be recognised in 2021 for their commitment to conserving some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular natural habitats. During a virtual celebration, they received messages of support from charity Patron HRH The Princess Royal and Trustee, Sir David Attenborough.

Sir David Attenborough, WFN Trustee, said: “Whitley Award winners are local environmental heroes, harnessing the best available science and leading projects with passion. I admire their courage, their commitment, and their ability to affect change. There are few jobs more important.”


Coastal Watamu in the Malindi Watamu Marine National Park and Reserves is home to over 600 species of fish across its reef and seagrass habitat, as well as all seven species of marine turtle. Their migratory routes pass through its stunning lagoon, bordered by the widest range of mangrove species on East Africa’s coast.

Without sea turtles, marine ecosystems in the National Park would be significantly affected. They play an important role in maintaining the ecosystems by sustaining healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs – a key habitat and nursery ground for other marine life – helping to balance marine food webs, replenish fish stocks, capture carbon and facilitate nutrient cycling from water to land.


This previously small fishing community experienced a tourism boom accounting for up to 50% of income. COVID-19, however, has caused hotels and businesses to close and unemployment is now widespread in an already impoverished area. Pressures on natural resources are mounting with a surge in illegal fishing, a high risk of mangrove cutting, and endangered turtles exposed to poaching – a major concern for the area.


Sammy, Anti-Poaching Manager of the Local Ocean Conservation project, has dedicated more than 20 years of his life to protecting sea turtles and their delicate marine habitats. The organisation leads practical conservation, community involvement, education, and research. Since it began, it has protected and monitored more than 1,000 nests and seen more than 75,800 successful hatchlings. Additionally, it has engaged a total of 1,949 fishers and fishmongers to change their ideology on poaching, leading to an average of 1,500 bycatch rescues annually.

Through his anti-poaching team and extensive network of informers, Sammy will use his Whitley Award to ramp-up efforts in response to COVID-19. He will improve governance of the marine park by developing compliance guidelines with local communities. He also plans to minimise community reliance on extractive marine practices by supporting a community food garden, which will improve inclusive and sustainable livelihoods. Red worm farming will also be introduced to halt wild bait digging, which hinders mangrove regeneration.

Whitley Award winner, Sammy Safari  said: “Over the past two years, I have been working hard to increase the capacity, skills and efforts of our anti-poaching efforts and we have seen direct results from these positive steps. I now want to continue this, and the Whitley Award will be fundamental in helping me to show local people the benefit of sustainable practices and how this in turn will help improve their livelihoods.

“I grew up under the guidance of my father who taught me how important it is to protect nature and all that it offers. I now have children of my own and hope they will one day follow in my footsteps and create a lasting legacy.”

Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Sammy’s inspirational commitment to protecting the future of sea turtles and educating his community about marine conservation reflects his passion and understanding of this fragile ecosystem. He has successfully worked to change the mindset of poachers to recognise that they can benefit economically from conservation within this critical turtle nesting site. It is because of this that he is being recognised with a Whitley Award.”

This year’s Whitley Gold Award, worth £100,000 GBP, honours Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu for her outstanding work securing justice for wildlife and citizens. Paula is pioneering a new approach, that protects the country’s wildlife and habitats while recognising Kenyans’ legitimate aspirations for economic development. CEO of WildlifeDirect, her Whitley Gold Award will enable her to expand her efforts, empowering concerned citizens through the first ever Environmental Justice Desk, educating field rangers in the collection of evidence admissible in court, and defending iconic habitats from unchecked development by powerful interest groups that override environmental concerns with impunity. Paula will foster a culture of public participation in environmental decisions and promote African leadership of wildlife conservation across the continent.

Whitley Gold Award winner, Paula Kahumbu, said: “I want to see a global shift in the narrative where Africans are the storytellers about African wildlife and assume the lead in efforts to protect it”.


  • Lucy Kemp | A community-based approach to conserve the Southern Ground-hornbill | South Africa | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by Anne Reece
  • Nuklu Phom | Establishing a biodiversity peace corridor in Nagaland | India | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the MAVA Foundation
  • Iroro Tanshi | Bats from the brink: Participatory action to save the short-tailed roundleaf bat | Nigeria | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by the Arcus Foundation
  • Kini Roesler | Hooded Grebe: Guardian of the Patagonian Steppe | Argentina | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The Frank Brake Charitable Trust
  • Sammy Safari | Transforming the future of sea turtles through coastal stewardship | Kenya | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The Corcoran Foundation
  • Pedro Fruet | Building bridges to encourage coexistence with the Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin | Brazil | Winner of the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Foundation


  • Paula Kahumbu | Justice for people and wildlife | Kenya | Winner of the Whitley Gold Award donated by the Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature


Press materials available:

  • Copyright-cleared photographs of Kini’s project are available here.
  • A tailor-made short film featuring Kini narrated by WFN Trustee, Sir David Attenborough, is available here.

Notes to Editors:

  • Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) is a UK registered charity supporting grassroots conservation leaders across the Global South.
  • The Whitley Awards are prestigious international prizes presented to mid-career conservationists leading successful projects in their home countries. Each winner receives training, media profile and £40,000 in project funding over one year.
  • Whitley Awards are normally presented to winners by charity Patron, HRH The Princess Royal, at an annual ceremony in London. This year, the winners were celebrated on a virtual stage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The Whitley Gold Award is worth £100,000 and recognises a past Whitley Award winner who has gone on to make an outstanding impact. Joining the Judging Panel, the Gold recipient also acts as a mentor to Whitley Award winners and an international ambassador for conservation success.
  • Since its formation 28 years ago, the Whitley Fund for Nature has given £18million to more than 200 conservation leaders in over 80 countries.
  • WFN operates a rigorous application process involving expert panel representation from international NGOs including WWF-UK, Fauna and Flora International (FFI), the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). This year, WFN received 107 applications that passed through four stages of assessment, reviewed at every step by expert screeners and panellists who kindly offer their expertise voluntarily.
  • The Whitley Awards are open to individuals working on wildlife conservation in countries that are poor in capital for conservation but rich in biodiversity.
  • Whitley Award winners receive professional media and communications training, network with leading conservation organisations, meet WFN donors and are interviewed by the media. The associated publicity of winning a Whitley Award puts a spotlight on their important work, boosting profile both in the UK and winners’ home countries.
  • The 2021 Whitley Awards week has been generously sponsored by Earlymarket LLP, Whitley Awards Partner.
  • Whitley Award winners join an international network of alumni eligible to apply for Continuation Funding. Awarded competitively, these grants allow winners to scale up effective conservation solutions over multiple years. Half of WFN’s annual Continuation Funding is directed to nature-based solutions that benefit the climate, wildlife and human wellbeing.
  • WFN is generously supported by: Anne Reece; Arcus Foundation; The Frank Brake Charitable Trust; The William Brake Foundation; The Badenoch Fund; The Benindi Fund; The Corcoran Foundation; Earlymarket LLP; The Evolution Education Trust; Thomas Gibson; Global Wildlife Conservation; The Britta & Jeremy Lloyd Family Charitable Trust; Lund Trust, a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing; MAVA Foundation; Charles and Ruth Plowden; The Foundation for the Promotion of Wellbeing; The Rabelais Trust; The Rufford Foundation; Fondation Segré; The Shears Foundation; Maurice and Vivien Thompson; The Constance Travis Charitable Trust; The Waterloo Foundation; Garfield Weston Foundation; Whitley Animal Protection Trust; the Friends of Whitley Fund for Nature; all our partners and supporters and those donors who have chosen to give anonymously.