2021 Partners in the Spotlight Awards
In 2021, we recognized these partners who have expanded and enhanced recovery of our most imperiled marine species.
Atlantic Salmon: Maranda Nemeth
Maranda Nemeth has been named a Partner in the Spotlight for her work with the Midcoast Conservancy to remove the Coopers Mills Dam and to partially remove the Head Tide Dam on the Sheepscot River. These two important restoration projects were conducted through a partnership of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, the Midcoast Conservancy, and The Nature Conservancy in Maine. Combined, the two projects restored access to more than 60 miles of Atlantic salmon spawning and rearing habitat in the Sheepscot River in the Merrymeeting Bay recovery unit. The restoration of the Sheepscot River is a top priority as it hosts one of the remaining eight river-specific stocks in the Gulf of Maine distinct population segment. The Sheepscot population is of particular importance to recovery as it contains the only river-specific stock in the Merrymeeting Bay recovery unit and is the southernmost stock in the Gulf of Maine DPS.
Maranda is originally from Pennsylvania, where she graduated from Allegheny College. She worked for several years as an environmental scientist for an engineering firm and as a restoration stewardship coordinator for a local watershed association prior to moving to Maine in 2018. In 2019, Maranda was hired by the Atlantic Salmon Federation to be the manager of the Maine Headwaters Project. The project is a multi-year initiative focused on removing barriers to fish passage for endangered Atlantic salmon and other diadromous fish. In her capacity as the manager of this program, Maranda will soon be managing and overseeing the construction of another important project—the removal of the Walton’s Mills Dam on Temple Stream in the Sandy River in the Kennebec River watershed. This effort is being partially funded by NOAA Fisheries. It will restore access to more than 52 stream miles and more than 2,200 units of high-quality salmon habitat. Restoration of access within and to the Sandy River and its cold water tributaries has been identified as a high-priority recovery action.
Central California Coast Coho Salmon: San Mateo Resource Conservation District
In 1939, visionary farmers in San Mateo County, California formed the first conservation district in California and one of the first in the nation: the San Mateo Resource Conservation District. Today, the RCD provides comprehensive, integrated services addressing wildlife, water, climate, and agriculture. In the last decade, they have focused their restoration efforts on conserving salmonids and their habitat, especially endangered Central California Coast (CCC) coho salmon.
The RCD has a remarkable ability to foster new, and strengthen existing, partnerships with public and private landowners in San Mateo County. It has accelerated progress on key actions identified in the 2016–2020 Priority Action Plan and CCC Coho Salmon Recovery Plan. Significantly, in 2019, the RCD completed the Butano Creek Reconnection Project. It restored access to 8.6 miles of spawning and rearing habitat, addressed water quality issues in Pescadero Creek lagoon, and minimized flooding in the town of Pescadero. Building on the success of this project, the RCD is already working to remove two barriers in Pescadero Creek upstream of this project, which would restore salmonid access to 3.5 miles of high-quality habitat. Because of the Butano Creek Reconnection Project, for the first time in 10 years, habitat conditions were suitable to support 10,000 juvenile coho salmon released from the Southern Coho Salmon Captive Broodstock Program. The RCD played a central role in coordinating and collaborating among NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Monterey Bay Salmon and Trout Project, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife to ensure the release was both a success and conducted in accordance with COVID-19 measures. Further, their funding of critical monitoring equipment will help monitor the success of these and future release efforts, as well as ongoing salmonid monitoring in the Pescadero Creek lagoon.
Other notable recent efforts include their leadership of the Integrated Watershed Restoration Program in San Mateo County and the Pescadero Roundtable. These exemplary collaborative partnerships are effectively promoting restoration solutions in the Pescadero Creek watershed. Finally, through their Drought Relief Program, the RCD has helped farmers conserve, strategically manage, and store water. This ensured that critically important stream flow is maintained throughout this current drought and into the future.
Cook Inlet Beluga Whale: Barbara Carlson, Friends of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge
Barbara Švarný Carlson is Unangan (the group identity for the indigenous peoples of the Aleutian Archipelago). She is originally from Unalaska in the Aleutians, and now resides in Anchorage. She remembers an elder mentor who told her that he saw belugas (xaadax̂ in Unangam tunuu) in Makushin Bay, on Unalaska, before World War II, after which time they ceased to be observed in the area, perhaps due to boat traffic. She is the President and Executive Director of Friends of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge (FAR). She is described by colleagues and friends as a person who gets involved and gives of herself generously in order to accomplish goals she considers important.
In her position with FAR and as a private citizen, Barbara has been a passionate and dedicated advocate for Cook Inlet beluga whales for two decades. In 2007, Barbara spearheaded the creation of the Anchorage Coastal Beluga Survey, the first collaborative citizen science effort with NOAA Fisheries, Defenders of Wildlife, and others to collect data on the distribution and behavior of Cook Inlet belugas. This effort resulted in a peer-reviewed manuscript that has been cited multiple times. Barbara has continued FAR’s support and involvement as the efforts to recover this endangered whale have evolved. Barbara was one of the first people to volunteer to serve on the planning committee to create the annual Belugas Count! event. Under her guidance, FAR volunteers have staffed multiple Belugas Count! viewing stations since the event’s inception in 2017. FAR has also been an integral part of the Belugas Count! festival at the Alaska Zoo. It was Barbara who convinced the Mayor of Anchorage to proclaim September 9, 2017 as Belugas Count! day in the Municipality of Anchorage and secure his attendance at the festival. Her methodical attention to detail and accuracy have contributed significantly to the development of survey methods and data sheets for beluga monitoring that are used in these outreach events and other monitoring efforts.
On a broader scale, Barbara is known for her conviction and dedication to supporting and conserving the coastal ecosystems that support Cook Inlet beluga whales, most specifically the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. As Executive Director, Barbara contributes to all FAR projects. She was an active participant in the creation of the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, and supported the management of invasive plant infestations in Potter Marsh. Not one to shy away from complex and high-profile issues, Barbara navigates the political landscape with knowledge and respect for all parties with whom she engages. This approach has brought success for the benefit of the refuge as well as Cook Inlet belugas. She is a great leader, prolific writer, and incredible friend. She inspires dedicated FAR volunteers to show up again and again to help fight for conservation and stewardship of Cook Inlet belugas as well as the refuge’s other wildlife and habitats.
Hawaiian Monk Seal: Diane Pike
Diane Pike stumbled into the monk seal world in 2008 when she volunteered to help locate a mom and pup pair that were spotted on Molokai during a NOAA aerial survey. Little did she know where that road would lead her! At that time, finding reproductive females giving birth across the main Hawaiian Islands was still a relative novelty. Diane’s involvement in monk seal conservation expanded alongside these promising signs of recovery in the species itself. Later that year, she facilitated NOAA’s efforts to tag that pup, and in observing the process and learning about the important work happening in her backyard, she was hooked.
The following year, a monk seal pup, now well-known by his flipper tags as KP2, was found abandoned by his mother on the island of Kauai. Diane was part of a small team that stepped up to help monitor this seal after he was rehabilitated and released back into the wild on the island of Molokai. They spent countless hours monitoring his increasingly habituated interactions with people at the Kaunakakai Wharf, and conducting outreach with the community. Through this series of events, Diane grew to understand what seals and people on Molokai needed in order to coexist. That knowledge has made Diane an invaluable asset to NOAA’s scientific efforts ever since.
Diane filled the role of marine mammal response coordinator on Molokai for many years. She became the go-to monk seal expert on Molokai for more than a decade, an amazing asset to research and recovery efforts there. She has reliably responded to stranded seals, monitored injured and compromised individuals, helped to collect important health and stranding response data, and documented and retrieved carcasses for postmortem examinations. Her impressive contributions to monk seal population assessment data include recording thousands of sightings and engaging the local community in reporting them as well. In 2019, Diane stepped in to assist at Kalaupapa National Historical Park during a period of significant staff transition. She worked hard to fill in gaps and bring new staff up to speed, all while assisting with monitoring and tagging a large cohort of pups born in the park that year. Her work in the field and in engaging the community in Kalaupapa and island-wide have contributed greatly to monk seal conservation. She has assisted with numerous field research projects and has played an instrumental role in pup monitoring and tagging. Diane’s boots have logged countless miles hiking the rugged shorelines of Molokai to accomplish all this. She has enriched the lives of those she encountered professionally and personally along the way.
North Atlantic Right Whale: Katie Moore, U.S. Coast Guard
Katie Moore has long been an important contributor to North Atlantic right whale recovery efforts. Katie serves as a Living Marine Resources Subject Matter Expert with the United States Coast Guard (USCG)-Atlantic Area. She has worked in this capacity to help further right whale recovery from Maine through Florida for close to 20 years. The USCG is an important partner working with NOAA Fisheries to help protect North Atlantic right whales. Katie’s role includes program direction, oversight, administration, resource planning, and technical leadership related to marine life. This year, we are recognizing the USCG’s and Katie's efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales, though their efforts extend to helping protect other species as well. The USCG not only supports our stranding and disentanglement responders, but they also communicate information to mariners about right whales in partnership with NOAA Fisheries. Katie’s coordination is critical to successful outcomes and communications. For example, a North Atlantic right whale that had been seen entangled in unidentified fishing gear since late 2020 was found floating off the coast of South Carolina on February 27, 2021. A multi-agency effort was initiated to investigate the carcass and retrieve the entangling gear. With Katie’s involvement, the USCG Sector Charleston assisted in re-locating the carcass the following day within a very limited timeframe due to poor weather conditions. Katie and the USCG’s involvement in this event helped NOAA Fisheries gather important information on entanglement gear and wounds that will aid in determining the most effective measures needed for recovery. This is but one example of numerous special circumstances that Katie and the USCG have provided assistance with right whale rescues.
Through Katie, USCG also advises NOAA Fisheries on the enforceability of proposed regulations aimed at reducing entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes. Katie attends Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team meetings, where her expertise is greatly appreciated. Throughout her tenure, Katie has been a constant advisor and collaborator on numerous NOAA Fisheries teams, including serving as a founding member of the Southeast U.S. Implementation Team and on the newly reconvened Northeast U.S. Implementation Team (including 2 years as Team Lead). Partnerships are essential to North Atlantic right whale recovery. Katie has played a critical role in establishing, developing, and overseeing long-term partnerships between NOAA Fisheries and the USCG to further the recovery of North Atlantic right whales.
Pacific Leatherback: Tetepare Descendants' Association
There has been a precipitous decline in Western Pacific leatherback nesting over the past few decades. Information collection, data sharing, and coordinated conservation action is critical to reverse this trend. We take this opportunity to highlight a special partner whose efforts to protect key Western Pacific nesting beaches has helped to prevent Pacific leatherbacks from vanishing.
Tetepare Island is in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. It is the largest uninhabited tropical island in the Southern Hemisphere. When commercial logging threatened Tetepare at the beginning of the century, the descendants of Tetepare’s former inhabitants formed an alliance to protect and conserve the island for the benefit of all descendants and future generations. The Tetepare Descendants’ Association is made up of local community members and is one of the largest landowners’ associations in the Solomon Islands. Over the years, it has transformed into a world-class community-based conservation organization that leads one of the largest integrated land and marine conservation initiatives in the country. Over the last 15 years, TDA has been actively engaged in recovering one of the few key leatherback nesting populations remaining in the Western Pacific. TDA works on Tetepare Beach and Rendova Beach, which are key nesting beaches for leatherback conservation in the western Pacific.
TDA has been an essential partner for implementing NOAA's Species in the Spotlight Action Plan. TDA Rangers work tirelessly, carrying out overnight foot patrols, tagging and measuring nesting females, and protecting nests from predators and poachers. Along with their international collaborators, they hold training workshops that have fostered renewed enthusiasm from local communities adjacent to the nesting beach. They engage the community and encourage their participation in the leatherback monitoring program despite logistical challenges and limited funding.
TDA is truly committed to the conservation of Pacific leatherbacks. They work nearly year-round in difficult conditions because they are invested in recovering this species. The challenges on the ground are many, but TDA continues to persist with unwavering determination.
Sacramento River Winter-run Chinook Salmon: John Hannon, Bureau of Reclamation
John Hannon with the Bureau of Reclamation is a champion for restoring Chinook salmon and steelhead habitat in the Central Valley of California. Through John’s tireless work, he has motivated the restoration community. He has formed strong partnerships among the local communities, tribes, farmers, environmental groups, and federal and state agencies. John leads the Sacramento River restoration effort as part of Reclamation’s and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Central Valley Project Improvement Act Fish Program. It is a great example of a successful public-private partnership that balances habitat conservation with responsible use and stewardship. It’s a partnership among federal and state agencies, the Northern California Water Association, the Sacramento River Forum, River Partners, and Chico State University. It produces tangible benefits to ESA-listed and economically important salmon and steelhead populations, including winter-run Chinook salmon.
As a partner in restoring Central Valley salmon habitat, NOAA Fisheries is well aware of how challenging it is to make on-the-ground restoration happen. We marvel at all that John has accomplished in the Sacramento River. John has moved projects from conception to construction at an unmatched pace with as many as seven habitat improvement projects at a time. Since 2017, 13 projects were completed, resulting in new spawning areas and approximately 26 new acres of much needed rearing habitat.
Additionally, John finds time to lead other important Central Valley salmonid recovery projects. He led Reclamation’s planning efforts to reintroduce winter-run Chinook salmon back to historical habitat in the McCloud River, and continues to restore habitat on the American and Stanislaus rivers.
Southern Resident Killer Whale: National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Killer Whale Research and Conservation Grant Program
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. established the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program with a contribution pledge in 2015 to support efforts to advance understanding and conservation of killer whales. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) administers this grant program, with a primary focus on activities that aid in the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale population. In the first 6 years, the program has awarded 38 grants totaling $4.4 million. This drew an additional $8.4 million in grantee match for a total conservation investment of more than $12.8 million. These awards have fostered collaborative efforts across three strategies, combining science with management action and restoration activities.
- Increase prey availability: support projects that increase availability of key salmon runs that are a critical part of the Southern Resident population’s diet
- Improve habitat quality: support projects that reduce threats to priority killer whale habitat from pollution and contaminants, vessel traffic, and noise
- Strengthen management through research: support research to improve monitoring of demographics and distribution, health assessments, and effectiveness of management actions
In addition to awarding grants, NFWF has taken on several special projects to bring people together to support recovery of Southern Resident killer whales. NFWF, working together with NOAA Fisheries, coordinated the workshop that brought partners and perspectives to the table to contribute to the Priority Prey Report in 2018. In 2019 and 2020, NFWF and Shell Oil Co. supported increased education and awareness of the transboundary Be Whale Wise program, reaching new audiences. The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Grant Program was also able to support some additional time on the water in 2020 for multiple research projects. They hoped to gain insight into any responses from whales to reductions in vessel traffic, whale watching, and research activities brought about by COVID-19 conditions.
In addition to supporting research and conservation projects, NFWF has been dedicated to making sure the results and outcomes are shared with managers and decision-makers. In 2019, NFWF and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. held a symposium for grantees to share their data, results, and successes with each other. This would enable better coordination with managers to ensure uptake of the information into management and recovery programs in the United States and Canada. The symposium allowed for valuable discussions and set the stage for further advancing the strategies and goals of the grant program.
NFWF has been a key partner in moving essential projects forward. NFWF serves as a conduit for action as they have successfully engaged funders, including SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., Shell Oil Co., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Fisheries, and many grantees over the life of the program, providing critical support for research and conservation of Southern Resident killer whales.
White Abalone: Jim Moore, Laura Rogers-Bennett, and Ian Taniguchi, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Three scientists with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) have been instrumental in helping to develop and implement the recovery program for white abalone since the species was listed as endangered in 2001: Dr. Jim Moore, Dr. Laura Rogers-Bennett, and Mr. Ian Taniguchi. Each has devoted their long and illustrious career advancing our understanding of abalone health, ecology, and conservation. They served on our NOAA white abalone recovery and implementation teams and are co-principal investigators on several NOAA grants that aim to advance our white abalone recovery program. We are pleased to recognize their lifetime contributions to white abalone recovery and conservation by honoring them with our Partners in the Spotlight award.
Dr. Jim Moore
Dr. Moore began leading the CDFW Shellfish Health Program in 1999. Disease and invasive species prevention has been a top priority for him ever since the inception of the white abalone captive breeding program. With so many partners moving white abalone from one location to another, and the eventual outplanting of white abalone back to natural habitats, maintaining the optimal health of white abalone during every stage of their captive lives was critical. Jim developed several disease treatment and health maintenance protocols and a streamlined health-testing program and schedule. He conducted novel research to help uncover factors that improve the likelihood that our captive abalone will not be compromised health-wise when they leave our facilities and return to the ocean.
Dr. Laura Rogers-Bennett
Dr. Rogers-Bennett joined CDFW in 1999, at about the same time NOAA was on the verge of listing white abalone as the first endangered marine invertebrate. Laura was part of the skilled scuba diving team that collected our first lonely adult white abalone to begin the now well-established captive breeding program. When the captive breeding program faced a crisis in Ventura, California due to disease and poor water quality, Laura spearheaded an effort to move the captive breeding program to the University of California Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory. The lab’s state-of-the-art facilities and skilled staff ensured safety, great water quality, and health care. Laura’s interdisciplinary approach and high-quality research has advanced the scientific rigor of our program, making it more defensible and more likely to achieve its ultimate goal: white abalone recovery!
Mr. Ian Taniguchi
Mr. Taniguchi began his career with CDFW in 1992. Like Laura, Ian was part of the skilled scuba diving team that collected 21 white abalone broodstock to advance our captive breeding initiative. Ian has continued to lend his abalone removal techniques to collect additional broodstock and boost the genetic diversity of our captive breeding program. In addition, his eagle eyes have helped identify wild and outplanted white abalone during rigorous monitoring efforts. Ian has helped design and deploy abalone outplanting modules that keep abalone safe while they acclimate to their natural environment. Ian, along with Laura, led the CDFW outplant team during the first white abalone outplanting effort in 2019. He continues to coordinate closely with all of the outplanting partners in preparation for future outplanting efforts.