Environmental award given to salmon coalition director
Rebecca Benjamin addresses the audience Thursday after receiving the 2013 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award. -- Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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“I’ve often wondered what leads a person to make a difference in this world and sometimes ask myself how I am making a difference,” said Rebecca Benjamin after being awarded the ninth annual Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award on Thursday.
She addressed her comments to the 135 guests at a breakfast hosted by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at Fort Worden State Park.
“Passion is the one thing that drives any one of us to make a difference, and the importance isn’t really the size of what we do; it’s important that we do something,” Benjamin said.
Benjamin, who was one of four nominees for the award, is executive director of the North Olympic Salmon Coalition, where her passion is channeled toward the restoration and recovery of salmon in Puget Sound.
About 135 people attended the event, which is the marine science center’s main fundraiser.
Those who attended the breakfast contributed a total of $25,140, which was matched by $25,000 from an anonymous donor.
Stopps, who died of cancer in April 2012 at the age of 92, was responsible for the 1982 establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, the only refuge created during the Reagan administration.
The award was first given in 2005. Previous winners were Katherine Baril, Anne Murphy, Tom Jay and Sara Mall Johani, Al Latham, Peter Bahls, Sarah Spaeth, Dick and Marie Goin, and Judith Alexander.
Benjamin has helped the conservation and protection of wild salmon stocks on the Olympic Peninsula, the marine science center said in a statement.
“Like Eleanor Stopps, Rebecca’s success lies in her ability to build partnerships, nurture relationships, mentor others and forge strategic alliances, even among diverse stakeholders such as state agencies, landowners and project partners,” the statement said.
Early in her career, she oversaw a complex restoration project in Discovery Bay, the Salmon Creek Estuary Restoration Project, which created a stronghold for the Hood Canal summer chum, the marine science center said.
Since then, she has expanded the salmon coalition from four to eight employees, attracted project funding and added outreach and education.
Benjamin also likes birds, something she calls a “dirty little secret.”
“I have a passion for ecosystems, environmental education and especially for birds,” she said.
“It’s not really good for my image to profess passion for birds over fish, but it’s birds that get me really excited.”
Benjamin said birds and fish are linked together: Fish are a catalyst for the habitat restoration that benefits birds and other species.
“Fish habitat restoration work provides an outdoor classroom for students of all ages to get their feet wet and their hands dirty so they can have an opportunity to develop their own relationships with the environment,” she said.
Passion also was displayed by Janine Boire, marine science center executive director.
“We live in a period where the rate of change is ever accelerating, and this uncertainty is scary; it scares me,” Boire said, with tears in her eyes.
“When I look for hope and I need reassurance, I tell myself that human beings are able to do extraordinary things for our children,” she said.
“I think that we have in places like the Port Townsend Marine Science Center the ability to create the extraordinary experiences that can lead us into the future.”
That environmental passion is shared by young people was demonstrated by the event’s final speaker, AmeriCorps volunteer Danae Presler, who turned 24 on Thursday.
“I used to think about the problems that were plaguing our oceans and think that I was drowning. I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how,” Presler said.
“Working at the marine science center has showed me the way. It has shown me the power of public education, taught me to lead by example and instilled a relentless determination to make a difference.”
For more information about the marine science center or to make a contribution, visit www.ptmsc.org or phone 360-385-5582.
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.
Last modified: October 03. 2013 6:07PM