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Gina Lopez accepts 2017 Seacology Prize

October 12, 2017

“No matter how much money you have, no matter what intellectual or economic theory you have… if it’s not based on a deep foundation of caring and empathy, it’s just not going to work.”

This was the message Gina Lopez gave the crowd after receiving the 2017 Seacology Prize. Fighting back tears, she wondered aloud why she was struggling to maintain her composure, then answered her own question:

“Maybe it’s because you are actually listening.”

Lopez has walked a difficult, sometimes frustrating path as a high-profile environmental activist. Last year she was appointed to the Philippines’ highest environmental post, secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, only to have her position quickly revoked by a legislature compromised by mining interests she had angered.

Lopez’ story is quite different from most past Seacology Prize winners; she comes from a privileged background and already has a large national following. But she has spent much of her life working for the Philippines’ most vulnerable communities and the country’s unique ecosystems, home to some of the highest rates of biodiversity and endemism in the world.

Lopez took the occasion of winning the Seacology Prize to promote iLOVE,a new conservation organization she founded after her stint as DENR Secretary was abruptly cut short, and compared iLOVE’s vision and strategy to Seacology’s. She stressed the importance of giving island communities a stake in the use of their resources and a share of the profit, and the need for policy makers to consider how development affects these communities. She repeatedly called on the wealthy and powerful to rediscover their empathy for the less fortunate.

“The key to genuine economic growth—which must result in social justice—the key and the foundation, is love,” she said. “I come from a business family, so of course I believe in business. But it can’t be money for money’s sake.”

Lopez has decided to donate the $10,000 included with the Seacology Prize to support several island-based projects, including a sustainable-development project on Kinatarcan, a small, sparsely populated island near Cebu.

We were humbled by the response from the Philippines to this year’s Seacology Prize. Thousands of people there shared the news and tuned into our Facebook Live stream of the ceremony, and prominent media outlets covered and praised our decision to award the recognition to Lopez. A second event will take place in December in Manila, honoring Lopez’ work in her home country.

You can see our video profile of Lopez, and her moving acceptance speech, at our YouTube channel.