2018 Bullitt Environmental Prize recognizes Bahamian marine biologist
Bahamian marine biologist Nicola Smith won the 12th Annual Bullitt Environmental Prize, the Bullitt Foundation announced today.
Smith, a PhD candidate in marine biology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, is the first person from the Caribbean to win the award.
The Bullitt Foundation — an environmental philanthropy based in Seattle, Washington — “recognizes people from varied backgrounds who have demonstrated the ability to become powerful environmental leaders. The goal of the program is to help broaden and diversify the leadership of the global environmental movement”.
Winners of the Bullitt Environmental Prize receive $100,000 over two years to advance their work. The fellowship will allow Smith to pursue post-doctoral research in marine conservation ecology, with a focus on past interactions between humans and marine environments to understand their social, ecological and economic impacts.
Smith’s research focuses on invasive species, coral reef fish ecology and data-poor tropical fisheries.
Reacting to her win, Smith said, “I’m just stunned. I found out about this award on twitter. And I just applied for it. I wrote a few essays and then all of a sudden, I get this call to come for an interview months later.”
She said the prize money will allow her to “tap into this idea that I had three, four years ago”.
Smith said she intends to study the history of the sponging industry in The Bahamas over the past century. She said by understanding the history, she hopes to predict how the market might change and find ways to make the industry more sustainable. She will also study the association between sponges and fish in The Bahamas.
According to its press release, the Bullitt Environmental Prize is awarded to people who bring new perspectives to environmental work.
“Marine environments face multiple threats, yet 2.6 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of protein,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation and first national organizer of Earth Day in 1970. “Nicola’s research on unreported fish catches and invasive marine species has implications far beyond her home waters in The Bahamas.”
As the only person of Afro-Caribbean descent in her PhD program and in most other professional settings, Smith has helped organize groups on diversity and inclusion during marine biology events to overcome a sense of isolation and marginalization, according to the foundation’s press statement.
“Fishing is a way of life in The Bahamas and in many places around the world, including nearby coastal communities around the Salish Sea,” said Smith. “These places are heavily dependent on healthy marine environments for their cultural and economic survival,” she added.
Past winners of the Bullitt Environmental Prize include a soil carbon researcher, wildlife conservation leader trying to reduce conflict between wolves and ranchers, veterinarian with a doctorate in public health who studies zoonotic diseases, a researcher focused on climate change adaptation and an advocate for organic food security.
The 2018 Bullitt Prize is being presented to Smith at an awards banquet in Seattle. Danni Washington, host of “Xploration Nature Knows Best”, will offer the keynote address.