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It’s safe to say that the organizers at the South Carolina Aquarium all breathed easier when they saw local weatherman Neville Miller show up without an umbrella Saturday night.

We couldn’t have had better weather for the outdoor black-tie gala if we’d paid for it, and it set the perfect tone for all the aquarium’s third annual celebration recognizing some outstanding environmental conservation efforts—both local and global.

A great crowd gathered, dressed in their finest, to recognize one local individual, Charles Lane, who became an early crusader for preserving Lowcountry wetlands, including the old rice fields that contribute so greatly towards supporting the wild ducks he loves to hunt. We ran into Charles and his brother, Hugh, during the cocktail hour held on the aquarium’s grand terrace overlooking Charleston Harbor. They were in fine, jovial spirits, especially Charles, who sported a cummerbund featuring a large needlepoint alligator.

Well, if Mother Nature blessed us with ideal weather, she couldn’t resist a little mischief as the no-see-ums were out in force while the sun edged closer towards the horizon. Lee Deas seemed to have anticipated the springtime ritual of several hundred well-heeled Charlestonians doing the Beaufort Salute as they tried to swat the tiny winged teeth away from their faces. Lee said, “I thought about bringing some cigars and lighting up because the smoke drives off the bugs, but I thought I might get some odd looks.” She introduced us to her friend Jake, who originally hails from Augusta, Georgia. He and my wife, Elisabeth, played the name game, and before long they discovered they had mutual friends from a wedding Elisabeth would be in the next weekend. “Just tell them you met ‘Critter,’” Jake said. What an appropriate nickname for someone we met at a shindig celebrating nature and wildlife.

A few steps away we encountered Charleston First Lady Charlotte and
Mayor Joe Riley
. As we wrapped up our brief conversation, the mayor, always the gentleman, turned the tables on me and asked, “Why don’t I take your picture?” Moments latter we ran into another first lady, Jane, who was there with her husband, President George Benson of the College of Charleston. President Benson and I enjoyed catching up as we scratched our heads in disbelief after calculating that it was two and a half years ago when we sat down for an interview for a Charleston magazine profile I wrote upon his first arriving at the college.

The cocktail hour breezed by, and we soon joined our lively table hosted by the aquarium’s Beth Nathan. We thoroughly enjoyed a brilliant multicourse dinner catered by Iverson Brownell and his staff as we applauded the evening’s honorees. In addition to Charles Lane, the aquarium honored Mead Westvaco for its commitment to place in conservation many of the hundreds of thousands of acres of timberlands the company is currently divesting itself of.

On the global front, the aquarium honored siblings Alexandra and
Philippe Cousteau Jr., grandchildren of famed underwater explorer and
conservationist Jacques-Yves Cousteau
, for continuing their family’s conservation legacy through EarthEcho International. Philippe accepted for his sister, who is currently on a 100-day journey across five continents for her Blue Planet expedition.

The unassuming Philippe closed the ceremony portion of the evening with a quietly impassioned and optimistic speech about the importance of carrying on his family legacy through direct action. All together, the three honorees
perfectly illustrated the Environmental Stewardship Awards’ focus on how individuals, businesses, and nonprofit organizations can all work together locally, regionally, and globally to protect our precious natural resources. The dancing that followed dinner seemed a perfect response to these encouraging examples of good citizenship.

Oh, but one last treat before the dancing started: Beth Nathan spirited our group away for a behind-the-scenes look at the Turtle Hospital, where we visited one very special lady, DeBordieu, a 320-pound loggerhead turtle who seemed to be giddily anticipating her release back into the wild a week later.

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