China's mangrove campaigner Liu Yi won the Whitley Award on Wednesday night for grassroots nature conservation.
The 26-year-old student, who is in his last year for his master's degree at Xiamen University in south China's Fujian Province, received the award on Wednesday night from HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) at the Royal Geographical Society in London for his efforts in restoring and expanding the mangrove forests that protect coastal communities from sea surges and benefit biodiversity in the eastern coast of China.
Liu became the youngest ever recipient of a Whitley Award presented by the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN) -- a charity in Britain which administers the international awards program and celebrates its 15th anniversary this year.
Edward Whitley, founder of the fund, 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. The example given by people like Liu Yi is an inspiration for us all."
As part of his prize, he receives a Whitley Award project grant of 30,000 pounds ($59,205) donated by HSBC Private Bank, plus long-term support and the opportunity to seek further WFN funding, currently worth more than 400,000 pounds a year.
"I would use all the award money for the work we're doing in China if I could win it," he said earlier in an interview, not sure about the results.
The award to Liu recognized his work in five south eastern provinces of China, where he is spearheading a campaign to protect, restore and expand the region's mangroves -- highly unusual trees which thrive in salty waters, where they stabilize coastlines, provide an important wildlife habitat and protect coastal communities from sea surges.
Through the 7-year campaign, Liu is promoting research, encouraging forest rehabilitation and providing public education, community development and training. The program has so far involved 200,000 people, mostly volunteers, and replanted more than 150,000 mangrove trees.
Liu is now eager to spread his work across to other coastal parts of China, where 70 percent of mangrove forests have been lost.
The judges also picked two winners for the scheme's top prize -- the Whitley Gold Award -- which went jointly to Rodrigo Hucke- Gaete from Chile and Cagan Sekercioglu from Turkey with 60,000 pounds project funding each. Other Whitley Award and Associate Award winners came from Bangladesh, Borneo, Brazil, Guatemala, Haiti, India and Peru.
According to Whitley, what's special about the award is that the Whitley Fund for Nature will also strive to support the winners by offering them opportunities to seek further funding in future years and by uniting them with other donors and conservation organizations.
"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," he added.
A total of 11 campaigners from ten countries were shortlisted for the awards.