The Dauphin Island Sea Lab Foundation hosted the 7th annual Marine Environmental Awards Luncheon. The event was sponsored by Regions Bank for the fourth year in a row.  The Foundation recognized the environmental stewardship of environmental reporter and filmmaker Ben Raines and the Baldwin County organization, Leave Only Footprints. Award-winning fishery biologist Dr. Steve Murawski was the keynote speaker. 

Raines was recognized with the Gulf Coast Marine Environmental Excellence Award for his work in bringing attention to the coastal community through his reporting and filmmaking. His work includes the documentaries on America’s Amazon: The Mobile-Tensaw Delta and The Underwater Forest. 

"I went to film school, but I've had 20 years of intensive environmental training thanks to the Sea Lab,” Raines said. “I've been on top of whale sharks thanks to the Sea Lab. I've been underwater in the ancient forest thanks to the Sea Lab. So, this is a great pleasure and a great honor."

Ben Raines accepts the Gulf Coast Marine Environmental Excellence Award from DISL Foundation Executive Director Helene Hassell.

Baldwin County’s Leave Only Footprints, created in 2007 to coordinate city, state, business,  and individual efforts and resources to ensure the sustainability of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach and their valued national assets, received the Gulf Coast Marine Environmental Leadership Award. 

“This Leave Only Footprints program, we have been studying it for years prior to actually implementing it,” Noel Hand with the city of Gulf Shores explained. “The City of Orange Beach, City of Gulf Shores, Alabama Coastal Foundation, the visitor's bureau, and all of our businesses along the beachfront had to come with a unified message to give our visitors, because we had a mess on our hands.”  

His colleague Phillip West with the City of Orange Beach added, “We have six and a half million visitors annually and although they leave about $4.5 billion behind, they also leave a lot of boogie boards, coolers, koozies. We have about 70,000 pounds of material we picked up in Orange Beach over the summer. We have another 80,000 pounds in the water with a marine crew. It's changing the look of our beaches. We naturally have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We're just trying to keep them looking like the most beautiful beaches in the world. Thank you very much to the Foundation for recognizing this program.” 

Noel Hand and Phillip West for Leave Only Footprints accepts the Gulf Coast Marine Environmental Leadership Award from DISL Foundation Executive Director Helene Hassell.

Following the presentation of the awards, Dr. Murawski took the podium. He worked for NOAA for 35 years, retiring as the Director of Scientific Programs and Chief Science Advisor for the National Marine Fisheries Service. For the last several years, Dr. Murawski’s work focused on assessing the environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which occurred in 2010. 

“Many of us in this business, got into this business so that we could make a difference,” Dr. Murawski opened with in reference to the focus of the afternoon. “Trying to make a difference at the local scale, such as beach pick up, to trying to make a difference in national and international policy. There are roles for everybody to play. And to recognize people who are really making a difference in our life is important.” 

The Marine Environmental Awards Luncheon continues to grow each year.  In addition to the large crowd of adults, this year’s event was also attended by high school students from Bayside Academy, Murphy High School, and UMS-Wright. The student tables were sponsored by Harbor Financial, John Goodloe, Dr. John Dindo, Dr. John Valentine, and Austill Lott. 

“It was good for the students,” UMS-Wright Science Teacher Monique Thomas said. “Our seniors will visit the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in March, and this was a good introduction for their visit.”

Mrs. Thomas added that the students will conduct their own oil spill simulation in class. Dr. Murawski’s overview of his research connected to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill made for a good introduction to their future project.