Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen receives global award for dedication to the watershed

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John Wathen, well-known for taking pictures to capture the environment. (Nelson Brooke / Black Warrior Riverkeeper)

On Saturday, June 11, longtime avid environmentalist and Hurricane Creekkeeper John Wathen accepted the Terry Backer Award for his exceptional dedication to his watershed, going above and beyond to protect, educate and advocate for Hurricane Creek. Read on for more about the award and why Wathen is a shoo-in to receive it.

About the award

Waterkeeper organizations across the state and around the world have had an immeasurable impact on preserving our waterways now and for future generations. Among the incredible list of his contributions to the environment, Terry Backer, namesake of the award, founded the second-ever Waterkeeper organization, The Long Island Soundkeeper Fund. There are now over 350 Waterkeeper organizations globally.

Tragically, Backer passed away from brain cancer in 2015. To commemorate his legacy and honor waterkeepers who embody his grit and passion for the environment, the Terry Backer award was created.

According to those who knew him, Backer was spirited, determined, charismatic and effective—all principles that the Terry Backer award is bestowed.

A well-deserved honor

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John Wathen himself, on the job. (Nelson Brooke / Black Warrior Riverkeeper)

Candidates for the Terry Backer award are nominated by their peers, who also vote for the winners. 

Wathen was nominated by the Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Mike Mullen, who says he was exceedingly generous in his work for Hurricane Creek, out of his love and respect for his watershed.

As the official Hurricane Creekkeeper in Tuscaloosa, Wathen patrols the watershed and collects evidence and information about the water quality, along with overseeing management of the watershed and working with Waterkeeper Alliance to fulfill their mission.

“When I think of environmental heroes, two of the first names that come to mind are Terry Backer and John Wathen. It is an honor and pleasure to protect vital and vulnerable waterways with John as a fellow member of Waterkeeper Alliance and Waterkeepers Alabama.”

Charles Scribner, executive director, Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

Along with his work for Hurricane Creek, Wathen is an avid photographer, taking stunning photographs detailing the beauty of nature, and even the horrors of major natural disasters. Wathen has received national and international attention for his photojournalism.

“As Hurricane Creekkeeper it has been my honor to work in the watershed and meet some of the best people around. Receiving the Terry Backer Award is one of the high peaks of my career as an environmental advocate. It is especially meaningful during in this celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. I’d like to thank all of the Tuscaloosa folks and many others around the country for our success.”

John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper, in a statement on his blog

Watch the award presentation

Although Wathen was unable to attend the national conference in Washington DC and accept the award in person, you can watch Mike Mullen’s award presentation and Hurricane Creekkeeper’s acceptance comments below.

Learn more about the Friends of Hurricane Creek here.

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Gabby Gervais
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