Disney’s Worldwide Conservation Fund has named UCF biologist Linda Walters and Winter Springs High School teacher Paul Sacks  among its conservation heroes for 2013.

The Disney Conservation Hero Award recognizes “local citizens for their tireless efforts to save wildlife, protect habitats and educate communities.” Individuals were nominated by non-profit environmental organizations. Each winner and their nominating organization will share a $1,500 award.

Walters, Sacks and their partner, Brevard Zoo outreach coordinator Jody Palmer, were recognized for their years of work to restore the Mosquito Lagoon’s oyster population. The team works with community volunteers to restore oyster reefs in Florida’s Mosquito Lagoon in order to improve water quality and help protect wildlife and shorelines.

Over the past few years they have garnered more than 35,000 volunteers to help make and deploy over 34,000  “oyster mats,” helping to restore 62 reefs by providing a site for future oyster larvae to grow. Elementary school children, community groups, UCF students, faculty, staff and organizations and Walters’ family have volunteered many weekends to help put together the mats and drop them into the lagoon. Through Palmer’s efforts, Brevard Zoo regularly holds sessions to teach zoo attendees how to make the oyster mats that are dropped into the lagoon and serve as home to new oysters.

Another 13 teams from around the world earned Disney Hero Awards, including teams that are protecting sea turtles in the Caribbean, red pandas in Nepal and the endangered maleo bird in Indonesia.

The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, founded in 1995, is a key pillar in Disney’s efforts to protect the planet for future generations and help kids develop lifelong conservation values. The DWCF grants program provides financial support for the study of wildlife, the protection of habitats and the development of community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems around the world. In addition, the DWCF has expanded its focus to provide special grants that help connect kids and nature through exploration and discovery.