Wendy Benchley, Award Co-Founder

Wendy Benchley has been working on blue and green issues for the past 50 years. Her two favorite phrases are ‘action is the antidote to despair’ and ‘bravo’ for pushing conservation progress forward. She has used these simple words to both encourage and celebrate countless people and organizations facing steep obstacles and to hold them through the inevitably long periods—years, even decades—where it seemed only little progress was being made. She is more hopeful than ever that the world understands how important protecting the ocean is to both humanity and wildlife.

Wendy co-founded the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards™ as a decade long annual award honoring Peter’s legacy, in order to shine a light on the exceptional ocean conservation work being done by people who were making a huge difference, but who were not being recognized. The Benchley Awards have honored eighty-three winners for excellence and achievement across a wide array of marine disciplines. The Benchley Awards are now retired.

As of 2018, Wendy continues to lobby Congress and talk with world leaders, scientists, policy makers, technology experts, filmmakers, students—anyone— who she thinks can make a difference in addressing the ocean’s most pressing challenges. Her current focus is 1) driving support for a first-ever global treaty to protect the High Seas 2) raising public awareness to permanently protect the Pacific White Shark Café, a stretch of ocean where white sharks move year after year between the waters of California, Mexico, Hawaii, and the high seas 3) tackling the dangerous and rapidly growing crisis of plastics in our seas 4) pushing for the creation of more marine protected areas that are effectively managed to meet the U.N. goal of protecting 10 percent of the ocean by 2020.

Wendy a self-described marine policy wonk (a blue nerd!) and love a living in Washington, D.C with her husband John Jeppson, where she is actively engaged in the marine policy community and participates in many high-profile blue gatherings such as the ‘Our Oceans’ Conferences (originally spearheaded by former Secretary of State (and Benchley Award winner John Kerry), Capitol Hill Ocean Week (aka CHOW), and The Economist’s World Ocean Summit. She is energized by cross-pollinating ocean conservation ideas at these gatherings and tries to leverage every conversation to keep the blue agenda moving forward.

Her passion for diving and the environment exploded in the early 70s after the release of Jaws. She and Peter traveled the world for the next 30 years on expeditions where we witnessed dramatic changes to ocean wildlife and its habitats. This experience motivated her to march in the streets for smarter, stronger environmental & marine policies and to run for office in her home state of New Jersey, where she was elected to serve three terms as Princeton Borough Councilwomen.

She sits on the Board of WildAid, global leaders in reducing demand for illegal wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horn and shark fin. WildAid has been hugely successful in changing attitudes and sharply reducing demand for shark fin soup in China. She has actively supported the Environmental Defense Fund in both Board and Advisory roles for the last three decades. Wendy is an Advisory Board member of Ocean Champions, a non-profit political organization that lobbies Congress on behalf of the oceans. And, she is a Board Member of Blue Frontier, a grassroots group that engages citizens to protect marine wildlife and coastal communities.

Wendy was honored to receive the 2014 International SeaKeepers Society Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given annually to an individual or an organization that has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to ocean conservation and the 2017 Pegasus Foundation Wings Award for excellence in animal and habitat protection. Click here to see a video tribute. She was thrilled to be inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame in 2015 and to receive the Beneath the Sea, Diver of the Year Environmentalism Award in 2016.

Click to hear more about Wendy’s ocean conservation work.  


David Helvarg, Award Co-Founder

David Helvarg is co-founder of the Peter Benchley Ocean awards, Executive Director of Blue Frontier Campaign, and an author. He is editor of the Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide and the executive producer of the “Blue Vision Summit”, a high-level gathering of ocean activists, marine scientists and policy-makers held biennially in Washington, D.C. He is an award-winning journalist, who worked as a war correspondent in Northern Ireland and Central America, covered a range of issues from military science to the AIDS epidemic, and reported from every continent including Antarctica.

David has produced more than forty broadcast documentaries for PBS, The Discovery Channel, and others. His print work has appeared in publications and online including The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian, Popular Science, Sierra, Parade Magazine; his reporting has taken him to every continent including Antarctica. His books include: Blue Frontier, The War Against the Greens, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, Rescue Warriors, Saved by the Sea, and his latest, The Golden Shore - California’s Love Affair with the Sea, now out in paperback. David is a licensed Private Investigator, avid body-surfer, and accomplished scuba diver.