Indianapolis Prize finalist Carl Safina
Even though he grew up in the big city, Carl Safina's heart was with the natural world at a very young age. Particularly -- the ocean.
His father was a fisherman and he took young Carl along on weekend trips in the Atlantic Ocean from the time his son can remember.
His mother Rose says "The way my husband presented things was what Carl learned -- a quiet way, not showing anything down anybody's throat, but just to open their eyes and their ears."
Carl Safina learned the lessons well and -- like his father -- he carries on the tradition today of presenting his message of conservation in a quiet way -- opening up the eyes and ears of others. Since he can't bring everyone on board an ocean-going boat, he writes stories about the ocean. He uses fish and turtles to take people below the surface of the water -- and birds to take readers everywhere else. "Any issue in the ocean that you want to talk about", he says, "you can basically get to if you have an albatross as your traveling companion." He has written six books that use the very creatures he is trying to preserve as tour guides to the problems that impact them.
His non-fiction stories are deeply rooted in science, attracting attention from casual readers and scientists alike. His unique way of communicating helped ban high-seas driftnets, changes to U.S laws regulating fisheries, and toward conservation efforts aimed at tunas, sharks, and other sea life. Along the way, he founded the Blue Ocean Institute to create more awareness of the importance of conservation. As stated on the organization's website: "Blue Ocean translates scientific information into language people can understand and serves as a unique voice of hope, guidance, and encouragement."
He completed his education at Rutgers University -- earning a Masters Degree and a Ph.D in ecology. But it is his writing, and communication skills, that give his work true impact. He figured out during the 1980's that fish, shark and turtle populations were rapidly declining in nature. In his mind, he likened the declining sea life to the American bison -- once plentiful, now rapidly disappearing. He knew that he could make change on a global scale, but only by reaching out to those outside of the scientific community. Fellow ecoologist Malcolm Bowman: "Carl is a highly regarded ecologist by training -- so he understands the ocean, life in the ocean, how it all works, and the role the humans have had in exploiting the ocean."
One of the most egregious examples of human interference with the environment came in 2010, when a failed oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico discharged over 200-million gallons of crude oil into the environment. It led to his latest book: "A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout." It is a story of industry mismanagement and has already made progress in mobilizing environmentalists to press for more oversight of deepwater drilling operations and stricter regulatory guidelines. While the effects of the spill have been devastating to the Gulf, he believes the damage can still be mitigated. "I'm trying to give people hope", he says with characteristic optimism, "I'm trying to tell everybody how much is at stake, how much of the world is still alive and worth saving -- and how dangerous the trends are and how much we are poised to lose."
Carl Safina has won a number of awards for his work -- both in conservation and literature. As a finalist for the 2014 Indianapolis Prize, he could win an unrestricted $250,000 award to help in the work of preserving his beloved oceans, as well as the prestige that comes with winning one of the most highly-visible awards for conservation in the world.