Mason environmentalist awarded Blue Planet Prize for lifetime achievement in conservation

June 18th, 2012
Thomas Lovejoy, University Professor of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University, was awarded the 21st annual Blue Planet Prize, the international environmental award sponsored by the Asahi Glass Foundation in Japan.

The Blue Planet prizes are awarded to individuals or organizations each year that make outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application in helping to solve global environmental problems. Lovejoy accepted the award during a press conference in Rio on June 17, and will receive a prize of 50 million Yen (approximately $626,000).

He received the award for pioneering work in biodiversity science and conservation, including how human-caused habitat fragmentation causes biodiversity loss.

"It's a pleasure to join in congratulating both our esteemed faculty member and the commitments to biodiversity which he so ably represents," says Peter Stearns, Provost of George Mason University. "His work is a central part of our larger educational and research program on sustainability."

Lovejoy's career spans multiple decades and includes many creative and important contributions to research on the severe impact of land use on biodiversity and ecosystems. He began his career in the mid-60s, researching ecosystems in the Amazon rainforest. This led to the Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project, the largest long-term experiment in the history of landscape ecology. Now in its 33rd year, the project was responsible for showing that fragmentation of animal habitats is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, along with climate change.

Lovejoy was one of the first to point out that the Amazon rainforest was in crisis and was a pioneer in educating the public of this problem. His work in policy included the first published projection of global extinction rates.

Lovejoy also developed "debt-for-nature swaps," in which a portion of a nation's foreign debt is forgiven in exchange for investments in conservation. Debt-for-nature swaps are now among the largest sources of financing to support international environmental projects.

Lovejoy has been decorated twice by Brazil and in 2011, along with other environmentalists, was awarded the first Joao Pedro Cardoso Medal of the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil, for his work worldwide in conservation and environmental policy.

"I am delighted by the recognition of the importance of biological diversity. I am also humbled and honored to become a Blue Planet Prize Laureate and thereby join so many distinguished Laureates since the inception of the prize," says Lovejoy. "Much of what I am being honored for was achieved in collaboration with others, so I salute and thank them for their help and inspiration."

Two Blue Planet Prizes are awarded each year, one to an individual and the other to an organization. The other recipients were William Rees (Canada) and Mathis Wackernagel (Switzerland) for their development and advancement of the Ecological Footprint, a comprehensive accounting system for comparing human demand on ecosystems to ecosystems' capacity to self-renew.

Provided by George Mason University

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