The following text is excerpted from remarks delivered on June 11 by WCS President and CEO Cristián Samper and WCS Board Chair Ward W. Woods at the 2015 WCS Annual Gala, Turning Tides, at the Central Park Zoo.
Cristián Samper, WCS President and CEO
We are here this evening to celebrate the marine environment that covers more than two-thirds of our planet.
Our oceans support a fantastic diversity of marine life and sustain the lives of more than 2 billion people, touching us through the food we eat and the air we breathe.
We feel this connection in a visceral way here in New York.
Indeed, New York is itself a city of islands.
From our earliest days as a bustling port, the ocean has been a focal point of our lives.
In New York’s local waters we find an incredible range of marine life, including whales, more than 40 species of sharks and rays, deep ocean corals and hundreds of species of fish.
We are working to discover and protect this diversity, and to inspire people to conserve it.
As President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society, and on behalf of our Board of Trustees and my WCS colleagues worldwide, I want to welcome you to the WCS Central Park Zoo and our 2015 Gala: Turning Tides.
This is a special year for WCS. We are celebrating our 120th anniversary.
I am privileged to lead an organization in which there is such a feeling of pride among staff for our work since our founding in 1895 as the New York Zoological Society.
Today, we host more than four million visitors to our zoos and aquarium in New York every year and conduct field conservation in more than 60 countries across the world.
For this year’s gala, we have chosen to focus on our marine efforts – both locally and globally.
William Beebe did our first observations of deep ocean life.
Roger Payne recorded whales songs and studied their natural history.
And Archie Carr studied marine turtles in the Caribbean.
Today, we are still describing new species of dolphins using molecular tools.
We use satellite tags to study the movement of elephant seals off the coats of Patagonia, covering distances of more than 10,000 miles during the year.
We use this knowledge to inform conservation action and to measure the impact of our work.
We have helped establish dozens of marine protected areas in many countries, most recently in Gabon and Argentina.
We are working with governments and partners to secure the protection of 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020.
We work with fishermen in Belize to promote the use of no-take zones and catch shares to build sustainable fisheries.
We are also developing a global strategy for the protection of sharks and rays, in partnership with other conservation groups.
In addition to our work in all the world’s oceans – in the waters of 23 countries – we bring an unwavering commitment to the waters around our home in New York.
Since 1902, we have owned and operated the New York Aquarium – first at its original location in Battery Park, and then at our Coney Island home, where we have been based for close to 60 years.
For hundreds of thousands of visitors each year the aquarium is a window into the sea, teaching them about the ocean and its marine life through engaging exhibits and opportunities for citizen science.
In 2012 New York was hit by hurricane Sandy. Many people and places were impacted.
The New York Aquarium was seriously damaged, although most of the animals were saved thanks to our amazing staff. But we are resilient, and decided to rebuild and expand the aquarium.
Last year, we broke ground on the largest expansion of the New York Aquarium, building a new 57,000-square-foot Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit, scheduled to open in 2017.
We are rebuilding parts of the old aquarium and doing new interpretation to reflect the most current science, and addressing issues like fisheries and climate change.
We plan to invest more than 250 million dollars to give New York the world-class aquarium it deserves.
Our aquarium is also the home of our New York Seascape program – our research and conservation initiative focused on the region’s rivers, harbor, and ocean.
This program is quintessential WCS: harnessing the power of our zoos and aquarium and our field conservation work.
My colleagues Jon Dohlin and Caleb McClennen are here with us tonight. They have been great leaders in this effort, showing how our parks and field offices can work together, and partnering with other to have a greater impact.
At WCS we rely heavily upon the leadership, generosity and passion for conservation of a number of dedicated individuals. Tonight we recognize three such persons.
Ward W. Woods, WCS Board Chair
As WCS Trustee and Chair of the Advisory Committee for the New York Aquarium, Barbara and Don have been singular champions of the New York Aquarium and its mission.
Time and again, when we have needed help to move our agenda for a visionary, modern aquarium forward, Barbara and Don have stepped right up.
But as important as their commitment to the aquarium is, Barbara and Don’s generosity and charitable giving does not end there.
In addition to her work on conservation and animal welfare, Barbara has been a longtime champion of education, health, and the arts.
She has been Chair of both the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research and the Elmezzi Graduate School of Molecular Medicine.
She was recognized as Woman of the Year for her support of the Guardian Angel Home in Brooklyn and received the Veritas Award from the Dominican Sisters of Amityville.
Don has been equally generous in his service and philanthropy.
After founding the Donald Zucker Company in 1961, Don has expanded activities of the firm from real estate to construction, development, and asset management.
Don has served our city with distinction as Special Advisor for Construction to New York City Mayor Ed Koch and as Chairman of the School Construction Authority under Mayor Giuliani.
The recipient of awards too numerous to mention, Don has served as President of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons and on the Executive Committee of North Shore-LIJ Health System.
Barbara and Don Zucker have been especially dedicated to the New York Aquarium. They have been the lead donors to our Campaign.
Tonight I am honored to announce that in addition to their generous leadership gift for the Ocean Wonders: Sharks! exhibit in 2012, they have made a new commitment: a generous challenge grant to the Campaign for the New York Aquarium -- matching additional gifts up to $2.5 million.
I hope some of you will be moved to take advantage of the Zuckers’ fantastic faith in WCS, its vision, and its leadership with gifts of your own.
One thing is certain. There is no one more committed to the importance of conserving marine life and habitats in New York and around the world than Barbara and Don.
Barbara and Don, tonight we recognize you for all that you do for conservation and for your unmoving faith in the capacity of our WCS New York Aquarium to be a world class institution for marine protection and education.
From all of us, thank you.
Our next honoree is a person that has devoted her life to the ocean and is the founding Executive Director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which opened in 1984.
Monterey has truly established itself as the gold standard of American aquariums, inspiring countless other institutions – including ours – with its fantastic commitment to conservation.
Leading the charge all this time has been Julie Packard.
Julie has played a critical role in engaging her public in ocean conservation and – most recently – developing a consumer and business initiative to support sustainable seafood practices.
Those of you who have participated in WCS’s Sip for the Sea events know how much we have been influenced and inspired by the work that Julie set in motion.
Julie also serves as a Trustee of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which has been a key supporter of WCS and its marine programs since 1995.
She has supported the cause of marine conservation in countless other ways – including as a board or committee member for groups ranging from the California Nature Conservancy to the World Wildlife Fund to the Pew Oceans Commission.
Julie received the prestigious Audubon Medal for Conservation in 1998 for her commitment to conservation. She was awarded the Ted Danson Ocean Hero Award from Oceana in 2004.
Please join me now in welcoming our good friend and distinguished guest Julie Packard to receive her award as our 3rd honoree this evening.
Zoos and aquariums have a key role to play in connecting people with nature. They are windows into nature.
WCS hosts more than 4 million visitors every year and zoos and aquariums in the United States host more than 180 million visitors each year.
But if we want to build a sustainable future of our planet, we need to reach even more people. And we need to do this by partnering with others.
To conclude this evening’s program, I am pleased to announce here tonight an expanded strategic partnership between WCS and the National Geographic Society.
In Washington tonight, National Geographic president and CEO Gary Knell is making the same announcement at their annual gala.
We will be combining WCS’s unique science and conservation expertise with National Geographic’s reach, estimated at 700 million people a month through its media platforms, products, and events.
Together we will work to halt the decline of threatened species in the landscapes and seascapes where they live.
In the process we will:
At the entrance to the New York Aquarium is the original Bathysphere.
In this submersible, Otis Barton and naturalist, explorer, and Bronx Zoo founding curator William Beebe made their record-setting 1934 dive – to over 3,000 feet.
For the dive, the Bathysphere flew the flags of the New York Zoological Society and the National Geographic Society.
It is especially fitting to announce our new partnership as we look to our local seascape this evening.
In February 1925, William Beebe set off on the New York Zoological Society’s very first oceanographic expedition.
Five months later, Beebe and his colleagues settled into the Hudson Canyon.
A mere “thirty leagues from Broadway,” he later wrote, he pulled up 32 kinds of deep-sea fish from the canyon’s depths.
Tonight we celebrate our return to these great waters where our marine research began.
Just yesterday, with encouragement from WCS and its supporters, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council voted to protect deep-sea corals from North Carolina to New York, including in the Hudson Canyon.
I think Beebe got it right all those years ago when he wrote:
“Long after the last animal and insect from the heart of Africa and New Guinea has been collected and named…strange fish and other creatures will still be brought to light within a day’s motor boat run of New York City.”
Our honorees this evening embody that spirit of discovery and inspire us to continue working to educate New Yorkers to protect the wonders above and below our local waters and around the world.
Thank you very much for your support and enjoy the evening.