Along with Mary Coakley, eight other individuals, including oceanographer and author Dr. Sylvia Earle, former vice president Al Gore and actress Hayden Panettiere, were named recipients of the “Ambassador for the Planet” award, which recognizes environmental stewardship. The event included a VIP reception, music and dinner, as well as a silent auction to benefit the Wyland Foundation of Laguna Hills.
“What the awards are all about are individuals that have made a large effort to protect and preserve our planet’s resources,” said Sue Ann Balogh, the foundation’s education director. "(Mary Coakley) was chosen as our local ambassador. She kind of epitomizes ‘one person can make a difference.’ She came up with a way to beautify and educate.”
The award carries a significant amount of prestige, in that it is not awarded annually. The last time it was presented was 1998.
“We felt that there were so many people struggling to make a difference right now,” Balogh said.
The Wyland Foundation encourages “environmental awareness through education programs, life-size public arts projects, and community events.”
“The Map” was created to do exactly that.
The unique in-ground sculpture, measuring 63 feet in length and 30 to 50 feet in width, contains 55 realistic painted bronze fish and invertebrates embedded in Lithocrete and depicts the La Jolla Shores coastal underwater park and reserve.
“The intent for ‘The Map’ is it’s actually going to be a valuable teaching tool for all San Diego and San Diego county schools,” Coakley said. “Wyland always tells the children to dream big. We hope ‘The Map’ will be a tool to help children of all ages to dream big and preserve our marine environment. It’s the kind of thing I think has the potential to have a big impact on children of all ages.”
A La Jolla resident for 25 years, Coakley said she was completely unaware of the Kumeyaay history and the underwater park before she got involved in the project almost four years ago. With more than 2 million visitors to La Jolla Shores each year, she sees the potential to inspire thousands and thousands of people.
Coakley hopes to broaden the project’s scope by creating an online educational resource for teachers. She would also like to see it jumpstart renovations to the boardwalk and sea wall, or perhaps even serve as impetus for the formation of a non-profit to benefit the San Diego shoreline.
“She has taken art and the message in a very creative way to young people,” said marine artist Wyland, the foundation’s namesake. “She’s passionate, like I am. She did it. She made it happen.”
“It’s over the top,” said Coakley of being named an ambassador. “It’s such a tribute to the community and all the people who have made this map a reality. ‘The Map’ started out with a few fish and a few dive sites. It’s grown to be something I never dreamed it would be.”