Last Ocean – a labour of love

By Peter Young, founder of the Last Ocean Charitable Trust.

By way of my first introductory blog I thought I would shed some light on how and why I became involved in the Last Ocean project, which has been a significant part of my life over the past few years.

For me, it all started when Colorado photographer John Weller turned up on my doorstep in Christchurch four years ago. At the time I was a freelance documentary cameraman. I hadn’t met John before but it struck me that he was a man on a mission. He had recently read a scientific paper written by US Antarctic ecologist Dr. David Ainley, titled ‘Acquiring a Base Datum of Normality for a Marine Ecosystem: the Ross Sea, Antarctica’.

Essentially, Dave’s paper pointed out that the Ross Sea was the nearest thing we have to an intact ocean ecosystem on Earth and that it was a living laboratory providing valuable information about the workings of all marine ecosystems. It also said that the natural balance of the Ross Sea ecosystem was under threat from recent commercial fishing.

John met Dave and they agreed to work together on raising the awareness of the Ross Sea. That night in Christchurch I was invited to join them, beginning with a trip to the Ross Sea to film for a project called The Last Ocean. There was no pay and it was to take me away from my family for four weeks over Christmas. I seriously considered saying “no” and would have – if I hadn’t been to the Ross Sea before.

Twenty-five years prior to John knocking at my door, I had spent 4 months at McMurdo Station washing dishes and mopping floors. It was menial work but every minute was worth it for the ‘after hours’ opportunities it presented us – slipping on the skis and sliding out of town on the many adventures we had.

One of my adventures took me to a scientific fishing hut a few kilometres from McMurdo Station where the scientific team were catching, tagging and releasing Antarctic toothfish. It was 1985 and Art DeVries had just discovered the unique glycoprotein anti-freeze that allows toothfish to live in the sub-zero habitat.

Back then as a dishwasher, I knew the Ross Sea was special, and today as a cameraman, who has filmed in every continent on Earth, I know it even more. Nowhere have I seen such untouched and outstanding beauty as in the Ross Sea. It is without doubt one of the world’s greatest natural treasures, not just for its stunning ice-capes, seascapes and amazing wildlife but for the sum of all those parts – the ecosystem.

While filming there with John, what really hit home was that I was witnessing one of the purest natural orders on the planet – an ecosystem that had evolved for MILLIONS of years without any major human interference. But at the same time, not far away, an international fishing fleet had also discovered this relatively untouched ecosystem and were enjoying it for very different reasons –  the lucrative returns from one of the Ross Sea’s key predators, Antarctic toothfish.

It felt so wrong that we were fishing in this last wild place and so I wanted to do something about it. That’s how I became involved in the Last Ocean project and I have been working on it with Dave Ainley, John Weller and a growing team ever since.

John Weller (L) and Peter Young (R) on the Ross Ice Shelf.

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