The contest

Judges for GQ's Better Men Better World contest are choosing five finalists. The public will choose the winner by popular vote beginning Aug. 5. Check out Cyrus Buffum's profile at thegentlemensfund.com/bmbw.

Charleston could be seeing one of its own in a spread in GQ magazine.

Cyrus Buffum, 26, is one of 122 men around the nation nominated for GQ's Better Men Better World search. The nominees had to be a "man who strives every day for the betterment of society through charitable work, volunteerism, and community involvement."

Buffum exemplifies all of these things with his advocacy for clean water as executive director of Charleston Waterkeeper, an organization he founded in September 2008.

"It's a job with many hats and hidden titles," he said.

His days are consumed with water-quality research, cleaning up litter, administrating, fundraising, developing relationships with local organizations and many other tasks.

Charleston Waterkeeper volunteer Natalie Taylor, who has been with the organization for about six months, nominated Buffum a couple of weeks ago. He said she alluded to the nomination several times, but he was humbled and shocked when he saw himself on the GQ website.

"I saw the title of the contest and he was the first one to pop in my head," she said.

Taylor said she felt Buffum has made such a huge difference in the community because of all the things he does to protect the Lowcountry's waterways. She also was inspired by the organization he helped create called Save Our Gulf that highlights the efforts of the Gulf Waterkeepers and provides them with support and aid in the BP oil cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico.

Buffum is a native of Cape Cod, Mass., and came to South Carolina in 2002 to attend the College of Charleston. He learned to sail at 13 and was drawn to the school's sailing program.

After graduating from college with a degree in physics, Buffum traveled to Zimbabwe with The Elias Fund, a nonprofit, education-based organization. He was there for two months traveling around the country to check on the status of the fund's partner programs.

When he returned to the U.S. he read "The Riverkeepers," a book written by John Cronin and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that forever changed his life.

Buffum was inspired to create a Charleston chapter of the Waterkeeper Alliance after reading the book. Kennedy founded the Waterkeeper Alliance in 1999. The organization has more than 190 chapters around the world that aim to preserve and protect water quality.

Buffum spent about eight months on his proposal and was driven by his passion for sailing. He said the proposal process was quite rigorous, but he prevailed and received unanimous approval from the board.

"I had a somewhat selfish desire to protect the resource I enjoy so much," he said. "Anyone that has a passion for anything is going to feel personally connected to it."

If Buffum wins, he will receive a spread in GQ, $10,000 toward his favorite charity, a trip to New York City for the Gentlemen's Fund Ball, $2,000 cash and a Movado watch.