Ross Sea Marine Protected Area with Cassandra Brooks


After 10 years of working on trying to get the Ross Sea protected, Cassandra Brooks saw her hard work come to fruition.

This is not your “normal” story of an Marine Protected Area getting protected. This is a story of a woman, Cassandra Brooks, starting her life out; her career out, 10 years ago as a fisheries biologist studying Toothfish in Antarctica. She went from a biologist to a science communicator, an outreach person speaking about the Ross Sea and ensuring it’s protection, and then to a Ph.D. student studying marine policy, and how marine protected areas become implemented.
Throughout those entire 10 years she was working in Antarctica.

During this time she worked with colleagues from around the world. She formed amazing relationships with other peers that provided insight and invaluable information for the website she was working on Last Ocean and she met her husband, John B. Weller. They started a family. And they were so passionate about the Ocean and the Ross Sea, that they named their children: Adelie (after the Adelie Penguin). This is the story of a family who has dedicated the last 10 years of their lives in hopes that a remote piece of ocean will be conserved for our children. They didn’t anticipate that the Marine Protected Area would be enacted within their lifetime. They had hoped it would be implemented in their daughter’s lifetime; however, in a fortunate turn of events led to the MPA implementation of the Ross Sea LAST FRIDAY, October 28th.

I wanted to do this interview with Cassandra, because I wanted you, the Speak Up For Blue Community, to understand how difficult it is to put into effect an MPA. You hear about an MPA being implemented, you might share it on social media, you will be grateful and think happy thoughts for a few moments or the rest of the day;  but in reality an MPA is the combined efforts of hundreds of people who want to create something amazing, and they have to start somewhere. It is not uncommon for these people to be involved in these efforts for years, sometimes decades. Sometimes the process will outlast the careers of these conservationists. It is hard work. There are ups, but there are a lot of downs. You must work with the governments within and sometimes outside of a nation. In the case of the Ross Sea, there were 24 different countries involved in this international Marine Protected Area. 24 Nations including the US, Russia, and China. Not countries you would necessarily expect to get along, much less agree to protect a piece of Ocean. Especially with the US elections going on, and Russia being targeted as the negative influence on the elections. This is the year that Russia hosted the meetings where the MPA was implemented. Perhaps hosting and declaring 2017 as the year of Ecology encouraged Russia, which was previously opposed to the MPA, to finally agree with the designation of the MPA. And now we have it.

The benefits of this MPA are really two-fold. First, there is an established Toothfish fishery for the Ross Sea. It is not technically overfished, as it has not been declared as such. There isn’t much information on the fishery, as it is difficult and expensive to conduct such research; but needless to say is that some type of management of the fishery is necessary. As history has dictated our inability to effectively manage fisheries; especially one that is so remote. The second aspect is the fact that it allows researchers to study the effects of climate change on a system that is removed and remote from much human influence, if any. It allows researchers to study how climate change truly effects the natural world. The natural world of Antarctica.

The Ross Sea MPA implementation is extremely important, in this evolving, changing climate, both naturally and politically. In a world where sometimes one country can’t even agree on establishing a Marine Protected Area, but here…24 countries did. It allows the Ross Sea to remain intact away from human influence. Any other industry that tries to establish itself there will have a hard time without taking the necessary and established precautions (hopefully). The Ross Sea is a testament showing that international treaties are possible and that through them we have the opportunity to protect the environment. We’re able to be PROactive, not REactive. We don’t have to wait for the collapse of a fishery, or for climate change to devastate an ecosystem. We are proactive in a way where WE decide that we want to manage an ecosystem for preservation, before it is destroyed or altered beyond recognition by humans.

This Post is dedicated to George Hamilton

George Hamilton was a climate scientist and Associate Research Professor in the glaciology group at the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine. His work extended to both poles of the Earth and was “second to none” according to the President of the University of Maine, Susan J. Hunter.

I did know have the pleasure of meeting George; however, his work was used in the planning of the Ross Sea MPA and will contribute to the future research in the area as well as the rest of the continent. Many of the people that worked on the Ross Sea MPA knew George or knew or him. I extend my deepest sympathies to the family, friends and colleagues of Dr. Hamilton.

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