UK marine biologist and scuba diver Emily Cunningham has been presented with a Women of the Future award for her work in ocean conservation. The accolade recognises trail-blazing women across a variety of sectors, and she was the sole ocean professional to be short-listed.
The award is not her first: three years ago, Divernet reported that Cunningham had been selected by the North American Association for Environmental Education as one of 2020’s “30 global leaders under the age of 30”.
Working at the frontline of ocean conservation in the UK and internationally for more than a decade, Cunningham has secured more than £5m in funding to lead the development of two pioneering coastal conservation projects, and served on the Marine Conservation Society board.
She is co-founder of the international local-government movement Motion For The Ocean, through which 20 regional authorities have now passed an Ocean Recovery Declaration pledging to take action towards that end, with others planned to follow soon.
Cunningham has spent the past 18 months working on an expedition ship in Antarctica and the Americas, and is currently writing her first book.
“Emily’s love and commitment to the ocean was hugely inspiring and grounded in expertise,” the judges commented at the Women of the Future awards ceremony in London on 15 November.
“Her potential for global influence is clear from growing Motion For The Ocean, the publication of her upcoming book, and global advocacy.”
“It’s still not quite sunk in,” said Cunningham. “I was thrilled to be short-listed, but to win is mind-blowing. Working in ocean conservation can be a thankless task, given the scale of challenges facing our ocean, so it means a lot for all my efforts over the past decade to have been recognised in this way.
“I don't dive as much as I want – do any of us? – but I have done some nice recreational diving of late,” she told Divernet. “I'm in Tenerife on expedition now and hoping to fit a few dives in!” Her adventures can be followed on Instagram and Facebook.
Oldest female diver named
A very different award for women has just come in the form of a Guinness World Record (GWR) for oldest female scuba diver, and it has gone to 96-year-old Jane Rhodes Martin.
Last year Martin, who lives in Florida, had spent her birthday scuba diving in Isla Mujeres, Mexico with family and friends, and they submitted evidence and a claim to GWR on her behalf. The official certificate has just been delivered, backdated to the day before her 95th birthday (23 March, 2022).
The former teacher from New York took up scuba in the 1980s after retiring at 55. She and her husband, who died in 2008, then spent much of their time diving around the world and she is still said to enjoy the sport, though her current ambition is to become the oldest visitor to space.
The oldest male diver is also American: William Lambert won the record when he was two days over 100 on 7 September 2020 by diving in an Illinois lake, though he had not been a regular diver and is not known to have continued with the sport.