Press release | 02 Feb, 2023

Outstanding conservationists honoured by IUCN

Vancouver, Canada, 6 February 2023 (IUCN) – IUCN and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) honoured three outstanding conservationists at the Fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Vancouver today. Dr Eleanor Sterling and Dr Kristina Gjerde were awarded the Fred Packard Award, while Dr Maria del Carmen García Rivas was presented with the Kenton R. Miller Award - in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to conservation in protected areas around the world.

“These are the highest honours that the Commission can give, and reflect our deep appreciation for the awardees and their tireless, inspirational service to protected areas and the conservation of nature. I want to express my warmest congratulations to them all,” said Dr Madhu Rao, Chair of the IUCN WCPA.

The Fred Packard Award is named for the individual who served as Secretary to the IUCN WCPA in the 1970s and is presented by the Commission in recognition of “outstanding service to protected areas”.

Dr Eleanor Sterling is a biologist and social scientist serving as Director of the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology after more than two decades leading the American Museum of Natural History’s Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. She received the Fred Packard Award in recognition of more than 30 years’ work advancing just and effective conservation. With experience in North and South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania, Dr Sterling’s research has built the tools to place Indigenous knowledge at the heart of conservation practice. Her work pioneered new approaches to biodiversity monitoring, resulting in over 120 publications, stronger protected area management, and the establishment of locally-managed conservation areas in biodiverse and unique ecosystems. In particular, she was key to shaping the IUCN-WCPA Strategic Framework for Capacity Development at the 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney and has since guided the implementation of elements supporting Indigenous peoples and local communities.

Dr Kristina Gjerde is a lawyer and Senior High Seas Advisor to the IUCN Secretariat, who received the Fred Packard Award for her efforts to secure protections in international law for the ocean beyond national jurisdiction, over the course of three decades. A global advocate for marine protected areas, she has authored over 150 publications and since 2002 has been instrumental in leading the WCPA High Seas Specialist Group (initially with Graham Kelleher and later Pat Halpin) to advance a global strategy for high seas marine protected areas. Alongside her work with IUCN, she co-founded the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative, the Sargasso Sea Commission, the High Seas Alliance and the Deep Ocean Stewardship Initiative. Dr Gjerde has also served as an advisor on many international science and policy boards, including the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and Schmidt Ocean Institute.

Named for Dr Kenton R. Miller, a leading figure in conservation, the Kenton R. Miller Award for Innovation in Protected Areas Management celebrates individuals who are taking bold steps to safeguard protected and conserved areas. In 2023, the Kenton R. Miller Award is focused specifically on the stewardship of marine protected areas.

Dr María del Carmen García Rivas is a researcher and ranger with 25 years’ experience working with communities to protect wildlife and restore ecosystems. Dr García Rivas received the Kenton R. Miller Award for her leadership of the Hurricane Insurance Project in Puerto Morelos National Park and her role as a role model for other women rangers and conservation professionals. She was one of Mexico’s first female diving instructors, and amongst the first women to work with the country’s fishermen and navy. A documentary about her work won high praise at the 2022 NGO International Film Festival.

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Harriet Brooker, IUCN media relations,, tel: +44 7960 241862