Amanda Vincent Earns World’s Leading Award for Animal Conservation

Dr. Amanda Vincent becomes first marine conservationist to win Indianapolis Prize

INDIANAPOLIS – Today officials from the Indianapolis Prize announced Amanda Vincent, Ph.D., as the 2020 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 2020 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 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 2020 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 Specialist 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.


For extended biographies of the Indianapolis Prize Winner and Finalists and multimedia assets, click here to access the Indianapolis Prize press kit. To learn more about previous Indianapolis Prize Winners, visit Connect with the Prize on Facebook and Twitter.

A History of Indianapolis Prize Winners

The Indianapolis Prize was first awarded in 2006 to Dr. George Archibald, the co-founder of the International Crane Foundation. The 2008 winner was George Schaller, Ph.D., known as one of the founding fathers of wildlife conservation, and both a senior conservationist for the Wildlife Conservation Society and vice president for Panthera. In 2010, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Ph.D., founder of Save the Elephants, received the Prize for his pioneering research in elephant social behavior and for leading the way in the fight against the poaching of African elephants. Steven Amstrup, Ph.D., chief scientist for Polar Bears International, received the 2012 Prize for his work promoting the cause of the world’s largest land carnivore. In 2014, Dr. Patricia C. Wright, founder of Centre ValBio, became the first woman awarded the Indianapolis Prize for her dedication to saving Madagascar’s famed lemurs from extinction. Dr. Carl Jones received the 2016 Indianapolis Prize for his species recovery success on the island of Mauritius, including the echo parakeet, pink pigeon and Mauritius kestrel. Russ Mittermeier, Ph.D., Chief Conservation Officer of Global Wildlife Conservation earned the 2018 Prize for championing the concept of biodiversity hotspots and protecting the endemic species relying on those critical habitats.

About the Indianapolis Prize

The Indianapolis Prize recognizes and rewards conservationists who have achieved major victories in advancing the sustainability of an animal species or group of species. Winners receive an unrestricted $250,000 award. Remaining Finalists each receive $10,000. Since 2006, the Indianapolis Prize has administered more than $1.3 million in unrestricted cash awards. The Indianapolis Prize is a signature conservation initiative of the Indianapolis Zoological Society, Inc.

About Project Seahorse

Project Seahorse is a marine conservation organization based at The University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, and Zoological Society of London, UK. Project Seahorse generates cutting-edge research and uses it for highly effective conservation interventions in fisheries, protected areas, trade and policy. Directed by Prof. Amanda Vincent, a global leader in marine conservation, Project Seahorse collaborates with researchers, governments, conservation groups, industry and local communities worldwide. Connect with Project Seahorse on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

About the Institute of the Oceans and Fisheries at The University of British Columbia

The Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, UBC envisions a world where the ocean, freshwater systems, and those dependent on it – from microbes to plankton, fish to marine mammals, and human populations – are healthy and their resources are used sustainably and equitably. With climate change, overfishing, and habitat loss destabilizing vital ecosystems, a transformative shift is needed to avoid a global ecological and economic collapse.

Media contacts

Melanie Laurendine
Conservation PR Specialist

Judy Palermo
Director of Public Relations

Emily Sandberg
VOX Global

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