Peter Young chills with NZ’s Antarcticans in Hamilton

Last week I was in Hamilton for the Annual Antarctic Conference, a gathering of people involved with Antarctic research in New Zealand. As a filmmaker with a particular interest in the Ice, I was invited to speak on a panel discussion about making Antarctic science accessible to the wider public. The advice I gave was that the primetime network television market has pretty well dried up in regards to science and natural history so unless your science covers either cooking or crime – you need to look elsewhere. But elsewhere has plenty of options – the main one being the web. The key difference in this situation is that the audience comes to you instead of you broadcasting stories to your audience.

Whatever the situation the story needs to be told in a compelling way – I will certainly be focusing on that when I sit down to edit my doco later this year.

The conference offered plenty to think about in regards to my documentary. In particular, Matt Pinkerton’s talk about ‘Ecosystem effects of toothfish extraction in the Ross Sea region’ – a study he’s been working on for the past six years. The long term nature of ecosystem processes makes it extremely difficult to get specific results and the irony is that – like with the orange roughy fishery in NZ – by the time we find out that something is not right with the model, it will be too late. What was revealing was a graph that Matt used showing that the biomass of toothfish is already down to about 80%.

Ross Sea Antarctic toothfish catch limit, actual catch and spawning biomass 1997-2009. Source: NZ Ministry of Fisheries, Plenary 2009

A common theme with all the scientists I speak to regarding this fishery is that we need more information – research is playing catch up with the fishing industry.

The conference wasn’t all about the science. I enjoyed a talk from Dave Dobbyn speaking about his experience as an artist on the Ice. After a very ‘sciencey’ day or so Dave’s sheer passion and enthusiasm shone through. Whatever the area of interest, the real benefit of the conference is the gathering of people with a common passion for the great white continent.

I was fortunate to have Lou Sanson, CEO of Antarctica NZ squeeze in a Last Ocean talk at the end of the second day. It gave the delegates – many of whom weren’t aware of the Ross Sea fishery – plenty to talk about over dinner.

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