Today officials from the Indianapolis Prize announced Amanda Vincent, Ph.D., as the 2021 Winner of the world’s leading award for animal conservation. Vincent is the preeminent authority on seahorse ecology and conservation.
A self-proclaimed “ocean optimist,” Vincent, a professor at the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries at The University of British Columbia, where she directs Project Seahorse, was the first biologist to study seahorses in the wild, document their extensive trade and establish a project for their conservation.
“Dr. Amanda Vincent’s determination to protect our oceans and the species that inhabit it is nothing short of heroic,” said Dr. Rob Shumaker, President and CEO of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, Inc., which presents the Indianapolis Prize every other year. “Dr. Vincent brings a collaborative, culturally sensitive and solutions-focused approach to ocean conservation. She inspires people to action and drives positive outcomes for marine species. It’s our privilege to recognize and reward her for her immeasurable impact on ocean conservation and the future of seahorses around the world.”
Vincent has dedicated her career to understanding and advocating for seahorses, which serve as flagship species for a wide range of marine conservation issues. She is credited with bringing the world’s attention to the 44 known species of seahorses and developing an effective approach to conservation that has also improved the status of many other marine fishes, such as sharks, rays, groupers and eels.
“It is a great honor to be named the 2021 Indianapolis Prize Winner. This prestigious global award allows me to advocate for vastly more attention to the ocean – which accounts for 99 percent of the living space on Earth – and all the species on which the marine ecosystem depends,” said Vincent. “Through the perspective of seahorses, we have inspired many, many people globally to safeguard ocean life. The Indianapolis Prize now gives us an even bigger platform to invite and empower people to take meaningful conservation action.”
Though she was initially drawn to research seahorses’ extraordinary biology (only males become pregnant, and some species are monogamous), Vincent soon discovered the threats they faced and catalyzed her research into action in 1996, when she successfully led the global conservation community to include seahorses on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List — the world’s authoritative guide to the status of biological diversity. Six years later, she played an instrumental role in persuading the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to adopt landmark legislation to limit the global seahorse trade to sustainable and legal exports. Together, these efforts furthered the legitimacy of marine conservation and created policies to effectively and sustainably manage fisheries all over the world.
Vincent’s achievements were made possible through her collaborative leadership in global seahorse conservation. After discovering the overfishing of seahorses for use in traditional medicines, aquarium displays and souvenirs, she partnered with local communities, industry groups, aquariums and governments around the world to develop sustainable approaches to seahorse trade, rather than work to ban all trade outright. Her conservation cooperation also enabled Vincent to generate 35 marine protected areas — dedicated areas of the ocean where no fishing is allowed, and the populations of seahorses and other marine fishes thrive.
She and her Project Seahorse team are now focused on bringing an end to harmful fishing practices such as bottom trawling, where industrial nets are dragged across the ocean floor, catching everything in their paths and destroying vital habitats such as coral reefs, mangroves and seagrass beds in the process. Bottom trawling is the single biggest threat to seahorses.
Vincent is the eighth Winner of Indianapolis Prize and the first to focus exclusively on marine conservation. In 2006, the Indianapolis Zoological Society created the Indianapolis Prize to recognize and reward conservationists who have made significant progress in saving an animal species, or multiple species, from extinction. Every other year, the Indianapolis Prize awards $250,000 to one Winner, while five Finalists receive $10,000 each. The Finalists for the 2020 Indianapolis Prize include: P. Dee Boersma, Ph.D., Christophe Boesch, Ph.D., Gerardo Ceballos, Ph.D., Sylvia Earle, Ph.D. and John Robinson, Ph.D. The individuals will be recognized at the Indianapolis Prize Gala.
Vincent was named the Indianapolis Prize Winner by a nine-person jury. The jury evaluated Vincent and the five Finalists for the significance of their achievement in the conservation of an animal species or multiple species, the measurable outcomes resulting from their work, the quality of science involved in their efforts and demonstrated cooperation with zoological societies and other conservation institutions.
“Dr. Amanda Vincent literally changed the tide in marine conservation,” said Jon Paul Rodriguez, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, who served as the nominator for Vincent’s 2021 Indianapolis Prize application. “Every major management action and policy decision taken on behalf of seahorses during the last few decades has been led or hugely influenced by her. She’s an inspiration to everyone in the conservation world.”
Since 1996, Vincent and Project Seahorse have trained more than 175 professional conservationists and inspired countless amateur conservation advocates to contribute to seahorse science and conservation through a citizen science program called iSeahorse. Because of Amanda’s drive, there are now active seahorse conservation projects across six continents.
Vincent serves the international conservation community as chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Seahorse, Pipefish and Seadragon Group. She also chairs its Marine Conservation Committee, which supports, enhances and mobilizes expertise in marine species globally. Vincent holds a doctorate from the University of Cambridge, England and a Hons. B.Sc. from the University of Western Ontario in Canada. She was a Finalist for the Indianapolis Prize in 2010 and 2016.