Sapodilla Tom, Belize’s beautiful gentle giant better known as the whale shark and as the world’s largest fish, can sleep easier knowing that one of its main admirers and protectors has been honoured by the Royal Family with a prestigious award that provides an impressive amount of funding.
Dr Rachel Graham, one of Belize’s more enthusiastic environmental heroes, was awarded the Whitley Gold Award by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne at the Royal Geographic Society in London.
The Gold Award, supported by Sir David Attenborough and sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) carries a £60,000 grant; money Dr Graham said will go towards furthering her conservation work including the protection of sharks and rays in Belize’s Caribbean waters.
Dr Graham has dedicated 20 years of her life to saving endangered species like the whale shark and is well known in Belize for her work in educating people that sharks and rays should not be feared, but rather respected for their important role in the environment, especially Belize’s Barrier Reef, an incredibly rich but also fragile ecosystem. She has worked tirelessly and successfully to win legal protection for whale sharks.
Sir David Attenborough, highlighting Dr Graham’s work with fishermen and schoolchildren in Belize, said that due to her efforts, “Sharks are now being seen as valuable friends rather than fearsome enemies”.
The Whitley is an annual award that, according to Georgina Domberger, Director of the Whitley Fund for Nature, seeks to “identify and applaud inspirational conservation leaders, and support their efforts to make even greater use of their scientific expertise and local knowledge to deliver real and lasting benefits for people and wildlife and the places both share.”
The award has been running for 18 years and has given grants worth more than £6m to support the work of conservation leaders in 70 countries.
Here at Chaa Creek we applaud Dr Graham’s work, and the WWF for acknowledging it. In our rainforest-to-reef approach towards highlighting the rich biodiversity and fragile interdependency of Belize for our guests, we have come to realise how important Belize’s grass roots environmentalists are in educating the world, and especially Belizeans, about the need for genuine respect and conservation of all parts of our natural environment – even those creatures sometimes regarded as being scary.
So from the management and staff of the Lodge at Chaa Creek, congratulations, Dr Rachael Graham and please keep up your wonderful work in Belize.