Overjoyed, surprised and humbled is how Lia and Ryan Pereira described the feeling of learning they had been nominated as the Port's NSW Environmental Citizen of the Year for their marine conservation efforts.
The couple behind Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounters and not-for-profit research and rehabilitation group Sea Shelter are one of 16 finalists in the state-wide Australia Day awards, with the winner to be announced on June 5 - World Environment Day.
"It's incredible to be recognised but it's not why we do what we do," Mr Pereira said. "It's a passion. We couldn't run Irukandji if we weren't making a difference. That's why me and Lia do what we do, why we do the clean ups, why we do the rescues, why it's so important to keep the research going."
Through Irukandji, the couple break down stigmas around sharks and rays, showcase why marine animals and habitats are important to protect and pass along their passion for conservation in a bid to inspire others to champion the cause.
Sea Shelter, established in 2017, complements the Pereiras efforts through their business by focusing on rescuing and nursing sick and injured marine animals back to health, releasing them into the wild once recovered and contributing to research with a focus on sharks and turtles, which are abundant in Port Stephens.
Since opening Irukandji in Anna Bay in August 2020, Sea Shelter volunteers have rescued 94 animals. Currently, Sea Shelter has three eastern long-necked turtles - two struck by cars, another attacked by a bird - in care plus two female green sea turtles that were full of parasites, among other injuries.
Krill, a 10 to 15 year old female turtle, was found floating in Corlette close to three months ago. She is due to be released in the next two months. Beryl, a mature, egg-laying female estimated to be more than 50 years old, was found on a beach in Lemon Tree Passage.
So sick when she was found, rescuers believed she was dead. Her chance of recovery was 5 per cent. However, she has been in care nine months and is on a slow road to recovery. She is expected to remain in care at least another another nine months.
"We know more about the moon than we do about our oceans and marine life," Mr Pereira, an environmental scientist and marine biologist, said. "Consistent research will go a long way towards helping us protect our marine animals and oceans, just like if everyone does a little bit - it helps."
The Pereiras will not be waiting by the phone on Saturday to see if they have won the award - they will be busy running a marine clean-up 'return and earn' event.
Clean up participants return their rubbish to Irukandji and are rewarded with'Shark Bucks' which are valid dollar for dollar at Irukandji.
The person who collects the greatest amount of rubbish on Saturday will be rewarded by being invited to release Krill when she is ready to be returned to the wild.
The state nomination follows the Pereiras win of the Port Stephens environmental award in January for their marine conservation efforts.
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