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Princess presents conservation accolade to Indian biologist

LONDON,UK: 21 MAY 2008 - HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) tonight presented one of the world’s top prizes for grassroots nature conservation – a Whitley Award - to Dr Deepak Apte, of India, for his work to protect the marine life of the Lakshadweep archipelago.

Dr Apte, a 42-year-old marine biologist with the Bombay Natural History Society, was one of 11 people honoured at the ceremony, held at the Royal Geographical Society, London, by The Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) – the UK-based charity which administers the international awards programme and which this year celebrates its15th anniversary.

As part of his prize, Dr Apte receives a Whitley Award of £30,000 (US$60,000 approx) - donated by The Shears Foundation - plus long-term support and the opportunity to apply for further WFN funding, worth more than £0.4m a year (US$0.8m),

In all, HRH The Princess Royal gave out prizes worth £350,000 (US$700,000). Dr Apte’s Whitley Award recognised his work amid the remote reefs and atolls of the Lakshadweep archipelago, off the west coast of Kerala, India. The area supports a rich range of marine species, including whale shark, sperm whale, saw fish and giant clam. For his project, Dr Apte, a 42-year-old biologist with the Bombay Natural History Society, is working with islanders to monitor and improve the marine environment and the lives of Lakshadweep communities, who depend on the sea for almost all their resources. The approach has been so successful there are now high hopes that Lakshadweep will soon become India’s first interconnected network of marine protected areas.

Speaking before the results were announced, the fund’s founder, Edward Whitley, said: “The aim of the Whitley Awards is to find and support the environmental leaders who are helping to build a future where nature and people co-exist in a way that benefits both.  Once again, this year’s finalists have risen to the challenge. They have impressed and heartened us by telling us their conservation success stories, and by demonstrating what can be achieved when vision, passion, intelligence and determination are brought to bear.  An added bonus is that they give us hope. The example given by people like Deepak Apte is an inspiration for us all.”

The awards ceremony was co-hosted by BBC broadcaster Martha Kearney and held in front of a 350-strong audience that included Sir David Attenborough, leading scientists and environmentalists and celebrity conservation supporters.

Edward Whitley added: “As well as providing our winners with a substantial financial prize, we also strive to support them in wider ways – for instance, by offering them opportunities to seek further funding in future years and by uniting them with other donors and conservation organisations. They also become part of the Whitley Fund for Nature’s network of past finalists which, after 15 years, now takes in over 100 dynamic environmentalists in more than 50 countries, making it an invaluable source of experience, ideas and best practice.”