In 2004, John Weller had just finished a grand-scale photography project celebrating the Great Sand Dunes National Park. He was looking for a new endeavor when a friend brought him a paper by Antarctic Ecologist, David Ainley. This paper described the Ross Sea, Antarctica as the last intact marine ecosystem left on the planet. The paper kept John awake at night: he simply hadn’t been aware of the plight of our global oceans. He flew out to California to meet David and together they made a pledge to work towards promoting a Ross Sea marine protected area. The Last Ocean was born.
At the time, John could not have imagined the immensity of this feat – the complexity of the international politics, the seemingly impossible logistical challenges and costs, and the insane time commitment. Now, eight years later, this dream – international protection for the last intact marine ecosystem on earth – is close to becoming a reality.
It took years of negotiating with tourism operators and scientists, but John managed to journey to the remote reaches of the Ross Sea four times. Along the way, he successfully captured the breathtaking scenery and wildlife both above and below the ice. As a Colorado native, scuba diving was never part of his repertoire. But half the Ross Sea story was underwater. He had to learn scuba diving. Over the course of hundreds of training dives, John mastered the art of underwater photography. He then donned a drysuit and dove in the icy waters of McMurdo Sound in the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
Along the way, John worked with David to rally scientists, facilitating and supporting international gatherings to generate discussion about the Ross Sea. John has given numerous talks and had multiple photography shows featuring his Ross Sea work, most recently at the National Wildlife Museum of Art. For his profound efforts towards Ross Sea conservation, John was also granted a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation. He is only one of only a handful of photographers to ever receive this honor.
In 2006, John recruited New Zealand cameraman Peter Young to the cause. New Zealand was the country that initiated and continues to lead the Ross Sea toothfish fishery. And while this fishery is internationally managed, NZ is one of the biggest players. John knew that Last Ocean needed a New Zealand counterpart.
Peter launched a Last Ocean Trust in New Zealand and set out to produce a feature documentary on the Ross Sea. His documentary, The Last Ocean, has just been released on the NZ Film Festival circuit with sold out shows in Auckland and Wellington. The documentary, and NZ’s role in threatening the last intact marine ecosystem left on the planet, is now making headlines across NZ.
In 2009, John met toothfish researcher, Cassandra Brooks, recruiting her to the project. Cassandra has worked at the center of the project ever since, acting as a scientific consultant, editor, researcher, and writer. John and Cassandra are getting married on September 1, 2012!
The Last Ocean campaign has been steadily building, especially over the last year as international conservation groups have come on board, all the way utilizing John’s stunning photography to inspire public and political support. The newly formed Antarctic Ocean Alliance, a partner of the Last Ocean, released a major report calling for a massive Ross Sea no-take marine reserve. Greenpeace just launched a Last Ocean campaign in support of protecting the Ross Sea and received thousands of signatures and letters to the NZ government in just the first few days. As the NZ public rallies for the Ross Sea, the government and NZ fishing industry are feeling the pressure. Last year, talk of a Ross Sea MPA was murmured at the international meeting, this year we’re pushing for action.
As a final push for the Ross Sea, John is producing a 60-minute film, featuring tens of thousands of his still images from the Ross Sea to the Arctic, the Bahamas to the Pacific Islands, to put the Ross Sea in a global context. He’s been invited to show his film at the New Zealand IceFest in Christchurch next month on his recently developed Outdoor Ocean Theater. This theater, which features a 24-foot screen and 10,000-lumen projector, will broadcast the Ross Sea issue in dramatic fashion to critical audiences in New Zealand. John has also used this theater, with the support of the Pew Environment Group, to aid shark conservation legislation throughout the world.
Finally, John has signed a contract with Rizzoli Publications to produce a large-scale book of Ross Sea images and stories. This book, to be released in 2013, will be translated into more than a dozen languages so that it can be a powerful tool in the international Last Ocean campaign.
John’s breathtaking photography has been and continues to be the heart and soul of the Last Ocean campaign. His photographs are now recognized internationally as the face of the Ross Sea, and the urgency of protecting the marine life there.
To those of you who’ve supported John and the Last Ocean along the way, THANK YOU!! We are on our way to seeing a Ross Sea marine protected area, largely due to your support!
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