Kerstin Forsberg SIMarEST, who was awarded the IMarEST’s Stanley Gray Fellowship last year to support her PhD research into elasmobranch conservation and fisheries management, has been presented with the prestigious Whitley Award (which is amongst the most high profile of conservation prizes and is often referred to as a “Green Oscar”) for her work in protecting giant manta rays in Peru.
The award was presented by HRH The Princess Royal at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London last night. Kerstin, Founder of Planeta Océano, is one of six Whitley Award winners recognised for their work with local communities to protect threatened wildlife and their habitat around the globe.
Kerstin’s passion for the environment began as a child and later saw her working with sea turtles as an undergraduate biology student. In 2011, she became involved in manta ray conservation in Peru, working with local fishers and volunteers to study and conserve these marine titans.
Peru and Ecuador are thought to be home to the largest giant manta ray population in the world. With extremely low reproduction rates, mantas are at greater risk of extinction and their 7-metre wingspan makes them prone to becoming tangled in fishing gear. Targeted for local consumption and for their gill plates (which are used in Chinese medicine), the last 75 years have seen localised population declines by up to 80%.
Whilst a dead manta is worth $40-500 USD, manta ray tourism can bring in $1 million USD during the life of a single ray. For the first time in Peru, fishers are being supported by Planeta Océano to develop responsible manta ecotourism. With new income streams from tourism, fishers are starting to release incidentally-captured mantas with the knowledge that they are worth more alive.
Kerstin’s NGO has already gained legal protection for giant manta rays in the Peru. Her Whitley Award work will continue to tackle threats to mantas and reduce accidental bycatch of the species. Fishers will be given technical and financial support to benefit from ecotourism, 100 citizen scientists will be engaged with monitoring and education programmes scaled up to reach youth in Peru & Ecuador.
Edward Whitley, Founder of the Whitley Fund for Nature, said: “Kerstin’s commitment to marine conservation has helped mobilise action to ensure that giant manta rays persist in our oceans, and is using her entrepreneurial spirit to demonstrate they are worth more alive. We are especially pleased to be recognising Kerstin, as part of our 25th anniversary, and wish her every success.”
Kerstin said: “My passion for environmental conservation has been an important part of my life since I was a child. I didn’t imagine that my passion would have such an impact on marine life. We are all part of this planet ocean and it depends on all of us to conserve it.”
The winners will each receive £40,000 in funding to support their work to conserve some of the planet’s most endangered species and spectacular places.
This year’s Whitley Gold Award honours Pablo (Popi) Borboroglu, who is spearheading a campaign to protect endangered penguins across the globe. Pablo has already achieved dramatic conservation success, helping to protect more than 3.1 million hectares of marine and coastal habitats. The Gold Award, worth £60,000, will enable Pablo to justify ocean protection and underpin management for different species of penguins across Argentina, Chile and New Zealand.
2018 Whitley Award winners:
Ensuring the survival of DRC’s eastern lowland gorillas
Receiving the Whitley Award donated by Arcus Foundation
Majestic giants: safe passage for manta rays in Peru
Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The Corcoran Foundation
Conserving Rwanda’s emblematic grey crowned crane
Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The Savitri Waney Charitable Trust
Tortoises in trouble: Community conservation of Asia’s largest tortoise
Receiving the Whitley Award donated by The William Brake Charitable Trust in memory of William Brake
Game of poisons: a strategy to save Kenya’s threatened vultures
Receiving the Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK
Leopards as a flagship for wildlife corridors
Receiving the Whitley Award donated by Garfield Weston Foundation