Marsh Award for Marine Conservation Leadership

This Award is run in partnership with Fauna and Flora International and recognises people and organisations who are having a profound impact on marine conservation activities in the areas where they operate.

The Award celebrates those who have been active in their communities, highlighting local leaders or organisations making a particularly special contribution to marine conservation through FFI’s organisational aims: securing the future of key threatened habitats and species; addressing root causes of biodiversity loss; assisting others in delivering conservational gains.

Nominations are put forward to Fauna and Flora International and judged in partnership with the MCT.

Pictured above: Mediterranean-Monk-Seal at Gokova-Bay taken by Zafer-Kizilkaya (2012 Award winner)

Heydi Yessenia Salazar Andino 2023

Heydi has a degree in Biology with Environmental Education and a license in Advanced Open Water Diving. All of Heydi’s work experience has been undertaken with FFI, where she started as a volunteer with sea turtles in 2007. Heydi has 16 years of experience with turtle nesting beaches and has worked as a research and field technician, training staff on the protocols of the conservation of turtles nesting on beaches and their safe release into the ocean. Heydi is currently involved in strengthening the monitoring systems in nesting areas that contribute to the knowledge of how best to protect endangered sea turtles.  

Previous Winners

Funda Kok

Funda joined the team at the Mediterranean Conservation Society in 2019 as Finance Director. She joined as the team were taking on a new Endangered Landscapes Programme grant and Funda’s expertise proved pivotal in enabling the team to increase its breadth and scale. During this time Funda was fascinated by every aspect of marine conservation and was committed to improving her knowledge of marine issues. She returned to university for an MSc in Environmental Science alongside her full-time work, as well as embarking on scuba dive training and volunteering in shark monitoring activities to further her knowledge. Funda was promoted in 2021 to Conservation Director with the aim to expand the Gokova Bay No Fishing Zone model of marine protection. Her work is focused on large scale upscaling in the nearshore and costal sea of south-west Turkey, and she is responsible for management planning and marine conservation activities, coordinating efforts with area managers, specialists and field staff to understand and increase the effectiveness of the network. Funda leads the coordination of the sandbar shark and Mediterranean monk seal monitoring programmes including supporting a data management process to build insight to enhance their protection. Funda spends time building stakeholder relationships with small scale fishers, providing support to the local fishery cooperatives, and is actively working with restaurants to promote and market invasive species to catch and sell them to boost income for local fisheries.  

Manuel da Graça Sacramento Gomes, Fundação Príncipe

Manuel, widely known as Lindo, was born and raised on the remote island of Principe, where he found his deep connection to the sea and started working full time as a spear fisher and diver. In 2007 a Portuguese scientist set up a project to understand and protect Principe’s sea-turtles and hired Lindo to help with the research. Once the project ended in 2011, Lindo and the other spear fishers remained on the island as guards, protecting the turtles and monitoring the beaches.

The creation of Fundação Príncipe in 2015 spawned an official turtle conservation project, ProTetuga, and Lindo was promoted from marine guard to ProTetuga team supervisor. He is now renowned for his approach to stopping poaching, and turtle poaching has been virtually eliminated in the area. Lindo was also invited to fill a key role at Fundação Príncipe working full time on a five-year project which aimed to establish a national network of marine protected areas. He supports the project to address the main drivers of marine biodiversity loss, working with the local government and communities. He now spends more time in community meetings and the office rather than the field, which he says was a huge change in his career and a big challenge.

Lindo still plays a key role in fieldwork, supporting others to collect valuable data and using his seamanship and local knowledge to expand his expertise in marine monitoring. He is well-known as a trustworthy and serious figure on the island, guiding conflict mediation, environmental awareness activities and consultation work. Crucially, Lindo understands the challenges these communities face and communicates how marine conservation can improve the lives of the fishers and fish traders.

Fundação Maio Biodiversidade 

Fundação Maio Biodiversidade (FMB) was founded in 2010 and is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. FMB is an NGO that protects the unique fauna and flora of Maio and creates opportunities and long-term benefits for its people though sustainable and eco-friendly economic developments. In 2016, the Guardians of the Sea initiative was established which is a locally led programme that improves protection for Maio’s marine environment.  The Guardians aim to deter illegal fishing and capture of endangered species and their patrols discourage fishing during periods when fisheries are closed to enable recovery and growth of species. Alongside this they step in to rescue trapped or injured animals. Since it began, they have made over 2,000 trips, voluntarily totalling 10,000 hours of patrol effort. It is so successful that it is being replicated by other local NGOs and the Cape Verdean government on other islands.  

FMB started its Turtle Protection Programme in 2011 and in 2012, created a new approach with patrolling teams that mixed local rangers with young biologists from other islands and international volunteers. This approach was so successful that turtle poaching decreased by 85% in one year. The International Advisory Committee for Biosphere Reserves has recommended for approval Maio’s candidacy for Man and Biosphere Reserve which crowns the FMB’s efforts who have collected crucial ecological data and led the application together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Environment.  

The Joint Enforcement Group is a tool created in 2015 that aims at pooling resources amongst 7 local institutions and authorities to battle illegal activities in Maio. The FMB created the Homestay Programme which empowers women to have their own ‘Bed & Breakfast’ type business and encourages sustainable tourism. FMB helps these women to adapt their houses to receive guests and this scheme is being replicated on other islands as it has contributed to the re-branding of Maio as an ecotourism destination. 

They train young fishers in marine conservation and field work and currently pay the studies of 2 young people from Maio, which creating unique opportunities for young people in a country with extremely high unemployment 


Soe Thi Ha

Soe Thi Ha is a marine biologist who has collected baseline data to support Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMA) and Marine Protected Areas (MPA) along the Myeik Archipelago.

Since graduating from his BSc degree in Marine Science in 2002 Soe Thi Ha worked for a shrimp and seaweed farming company and worked together with local communities to develop a suitable seaweed farming system in the working area. He has also worked with researchers from Myeik University on marine biodiversity surveys, which included specimen collections, environmental data monitoring, logistics arrangements and socioeconomic surveying.

Soe Thi Ha joined FFI’s Myanmar Programme in 2014 as a marine biologist and participated in coral surveys along the Myeik Archipelago to gather baseline data to support LMMA and MPA establishments. This continued work is ensuring marine resources are sustainably used and that more income is generated by local communities along the coastal region to improve their livelihoods.

Soe Thi Ha has also participated in awareness-raising activities for biodiversity conservation and for the sustainability of natural resources. In 2017, he was appointed as an LMMA facilitator for the establishment of LMMAs in the region. He leads the community-driven patrolling activities in the LMMAs and works closely with relevant government departments and local communities.

The establishment of the first 3 MPAs in the Myeik Archipelago in Myanmar is the outstanding contribution of his enthusiastic work with stakeholders involved. Soe Thi Ha’s continued work involves managing small grant projects and working to establish more LMMAs in the Myeik Archipelago.

Leandro Luis Tamini and Erika Gress

Leandro Luis Tamini

Leandro is a scientist, conservationist and an inventor who has spent the past 13 years studying and working to conserve the seabirds of Argentina. He is responsive, enthusiastic and fully committed to his work.

He has invented the ‘Tamini Tabla’, a device that has the potential to drastically reduce seabird mortality due to collision with trawl cables in oceans around the world. It is a weighted buoy attached to the end of the scaring lines that creates drag and prevents the lines from becoming entangled, which could save more than 10,000 black-browed albatross annually.

Leandro has also conducted ground-breaking research in Argentina which has informed the broader scientific community and his own efforts to advance seabird conservation. He initiated the first on-board observers’ program in Argentina that recorded interactions between seabirds and fisheries and established an extensive citizen science network (ECOFAM). During the first two years of ECOFAM, 30 volunteers from 13 towns spent 200 hours conducting beach surveys, collecting data on the aquatic species which had washed up on shore.

Erika Gress

Erika is a marine researcher and conservationist with over 6 years’ experience conducting research and conservation initiatives in Mexico and internationally, with her current focus being on Mesophotic Coral Ecosystems (MCEs) and Black Corals.

She was given the opportunity to lead her first project in Mexico’s Cozumel National Park after honing her project planning and leadership skills at CLP’s Conservation Management and Leadership Training workshop. Erika led her team on a 55-metre dive to study MCEs, navigating challenging waters and strong currents and using specialist skills, knowledge and experience to cope with these testing conditions. Her study revealed the biodiversity of mesophotic coral ecosystems in Cozumel Mexico and highlighted their importance and current threats.

Thanks to her dedication, Erika has been able to meet and lobby Mexican management authorities and has been approached to collaborate and help with conservation planning.

Zau Lunn

Zau Lunn has dedicated his life to marine biology and the development of a better understanding of marine and freshwater ecosystems. His work has been integral to the establishment of Myanmar’s first Locally Managed Marine Area, and his unique field experience enabled him to lead Myanmar’s first scientific scuba diving team.

He joined FFI in 2012 as FFI Myanmar’s marine conservation programme manager, overseeing FFI-Myanmar’s marine conservation projects in collaboration with national and regional level government departments and local NGOS. Over the years his role has expanded to include freshwater species, habitat surveys and conservation programmes. He has forged strong relationships across government ministries and other organisations, which has meant that Zau has been able to lead the FFI marine team to be able to gain much support and enthusiasm for their work.

Allejandro Falabrino

Allejandro Falabrino began his career as a volunteer for TRAFFIC in South America in 1988 and for nearly 30 years has been fighting illicit wildlife trafficking, particularly for sea turtles. He developed REDASO, a network for Research and Conservation of Sea Turtles in the South West Atlantic, which includes nearly 30 organisations working to make significant advances for sea turtle conservation. He has trained hundreds of people who have now developed their own nature conservation projects in Latin America and Africa, and will continue to do so, creating a permanent training centre for Latin American students interested in marine conservation.

In 1999, Allejandro founded Karumbe, a marine conservation NGO based in Uruguay, which drove the creation of the first marine protected area in the country in 2011. Thanks to the work of Karumbe, Uruguay is now firmly positioned as one of the most important areas for biodiversity conservation in the world. He works closely with local fishing communities and empowers them to actively contribute towards the protection of the natural resources on which they depend for their livelihoods.

Joanna Alfaro

Joanna Alfaro has over 20 years’ experience as a leader in the development of small scale fisheries and the protection of marine fauna in Peru and the south-eastern Pacific Ocean, on a local and national level. She has dedicated her career to conducting long-term research, working with communities, and finding innovative solutions for fisheries that support livelihoods. She has been able to earn the trust of the communities she works with so that they work collaboratively to identify conservation solutions which also protect the livelihood of the community.

Joanna co-founded the Peruvian NGO Pro-Delphinus in 1995, of which she has been President for a number of years. Her work there has led to partnerships with several government agencies and education projects in schools. She has developed links between the organisation and several Universities to support students studying marine conservation. She has also spent considerable time working with small fishing communities, recruiting fishing ambassadors to spread knowledge about fishing techniques which do not threaten species. In 2014, she participated in the first campaign led by the Peruvian government to ban the consumption of turtle meat in Peru. Joanna continues to lead on a number of marine conservation projects and is an inspiration to all those who work with her.

Patricia Davis

Patricia Davis has independently secured funding for and delivered a number of pioneering projects, working with international communities, from the Pacific islands and South East Asia to eastern Africa and the western Indian Ocean. In doing so, she has managed to bridge differences in language, culture and gender for the common purpose of conserving threatened species. She has pioneered the ‘Environmental Stewardship’ model which focuses on community-based marine conservation in return for the development of social services and infrastructure, such as repairing schools and delivering healthcare.

Following her Master’s degree, Patricia travelled to the island of Palau in Micronesia where she worked closely with fishing communities and government representatives to highlight the plight of the smallest population of dugongs in the world. It was during this period that she co-founded the not-for-profit organisation, ‘Community Centred Conservation’ – ‘C3.’ She has designed a survey technique for remote areas where dugong populations are too small to study through conventional techniques, and this has been incorporated into the internationally promoted global survey technique.

Joni Trio Wibowo

Joni Trio Wibowo is from the Indonesian island of Java, where he studied marine biology before joining the Wildlife Conservation Society where he formed the first natural resource management system for the Karimun National Park marine reserve. In 2006, Joni went to the small island of Sabang, in the province of Aceh in Sumatra, to lead efforts in rebuilding the tsunami-devastated livelihoods of several fishing communities.

Joni has been the driving force behind one of the most innovative marine conservation projects in the biological rich waters of the Indonesian archipelago. As a technical expert in the Government of Aceh’s Marine and Fisheries Task Force, and as a key FFI partner, Joni has been the catalyst behind the provincial government’s commitment to the sustainable management of marine ecosystems. Joni’s team has facilitated recognition of traditional marine rights within government policy through a Locally Managed Marine Area network. A further 122,132ha of coral reefs, sea grasses and mangrove forests have been added to Aceh’s marine network and traditional fishing grounds have been legally recognised. These changes have seen an empowered coastal community and have eliminated illegal fishing.

Zafer Kizilkaya

Zafer Kizilkaya is a seasoned conservation leader who, since 1992, has been carrying out international conservation work on coastal management and marine surveys. He is also a photographer for the National Geographic Society. In 2006, Zafer began working at the Underwater Research Society, where he assisted in the successful rescue and rehabilitation of a young and vulnerable monk seal pup.

Zafer has mainly focused on marine conservation in his native region of Turkey and is currently heading a project to help local fishermen move away from fishing and into tourism activities. The recent establishment of No Take Zones in the area has meant that local fishermen have less area to fish and with declining fish stocks it inevitably means less income for them. By convincing local fishermen to shift careers, they are able to utilise their vast local knowledge, providing cultural tours on the environment and traditional fishing activities, thereby accessing lucrative tourism markets. As a result, local communities see an increase in their income, the experience of tourists is heightened and the natural environment is protected.

Alexander Gaos

Alexander Gaos is a passionate conservation biologist who believes that a mixture of sounds science, respectful diplomacy and grassroots collaboration is essential to successful conservation action. He is leading a remarkable initiative to conserve the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle in the eastern Pacific Ocean and is a founder member and Coordinator of the non-profit Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative (ICAPO) which brings together regional marine turtle specialists to coordinate recovery efforts.

In the last two years, Alexander’s efforts have helped establish what is considered by international experts to be the most effective and important hawksbill conservation programme of the entire eastern Pacific, at Estero Padre Ramos in Nicaragua. The project generated invaluable biological data, providing the first-ever robust estimates of re-nesting intervals and nests per individual for the species in the eastern Pacific and conducted vital coastal surveys along Pacific Nicaragua. By engaging and empowering local community members, Alexander helped to raise local awareness and participation in hawksbill conservation. These efforts have set the stage for future Pacific hawksbill conservation priorities in Nicaragua, while bringing the country to the forefront of regional efforts to recover the species.