Federation Celebrates Annual Pelican Awards

Ocracoke Observer publishers Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach for their Dedicated Service to Coastal Community Journalism


The North Carolina Coastal Federation celebrated Thursday this year’s Pelican Awards, recognizing 14 recipients from along the coast for their coastal stewardship.

In years past, the event drew hundreds to the Crystal Coast Civic Center in Morehead City for the awards ceremony, a silent auction, oysters and a range of treats specially prepared for the summer event.

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers opted to hold the celebration online using Zoom. The virtual event kicked off with a coastal social featuring a special toast to the coast followed by the awards program honoring the Pelican Award recipients.

“Once again we’re blessed with a rich group of wonderfully talented and dedicated people who enable the Coastal Federation to fulfill its mission as an organization. It’s with great pleasure that we can thank them for their contribution and the inspiration they provide for our work,” Todd Miller, executive director of the federation, told Coastal Review Online.

“Doing this event virtually is a challenge, and I hope we don’t have to present our awards in this manner in future years,” he said. “Nothing replaces being able to spend some time together celebrating what has been accomplished, and having rich conversations that renew and establish new friendships and working partnerships.”

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is a member-supported nonprofit organization focused on protecting and restoring the North Carolina coast. The Pelican Award program began in 2003 to recognize individuals, businesses and government agencies that have shown exemplary coastal stewardship.

The federation provided the following information about the 2020 Pelican Award winners.

Ocracoke Observer publishers Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach for their Dedicated Service to Coastal Community Journalism

Peter Vankevich and Connie Leinbach

Vankevich and Leinbach, who worked to provide vital information to island residents following the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian in early September 2019, were helpful sources for Coastal Review Online, the Washington Post and other news media in reporting to the world the situation on the island.

Coastal Review’s relationship with the publishers was well established before the storm but has become more valuable while working to report the continuing challenges Ocracoke faces and the community’s resilience. They were key partners in the multipart series on changing attitudes toward climate science on the North Carolina coast that was part of the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines initiative.

“We are honored to receive the Pelican Award from the North Carolina Coastal Federation. The Ocracoke Observer’s mission is to provide news and information that impacts the Ocracoke community, much of which coincides with issues of interest to the Coastal Federation. We are also pleased to be a collaborating partner with the Federation’s Coastal Review Online,” Vankevich said in an email.

“In 2013, the Coastal Federation honored Ocracoke watermen James Barrie Gaskill and Gene Balance with this prestigious award for their commitment to restoring the coastal habitat in rebuilding oyster reefs off Beacon Island in Pamlico Sound. Although diminished, this now tiny island continues to be an important brown pelican rookery. To follow in their footsteps is both humbling and another reason to be proud,” he continued.

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