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Doco highlights Antarctic fishing harm

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

New Zealand filmmaker Peter Young brings global attention to the harm commercial fishing is causing in the Ross Sea.

Six years ago Christchurch documentary film-maker Peter Young accepted an invitation to film in the most pristine ecosystem on earth, the Ross Sea, Antarctica.

His resulting documentary tells the story of the race to protect Earth's last untouched ocean, from our insatiable appetite for fish.

"I probably would have said no if I hadn't been to the Ross Sea before. Nowhere have I seen such untouched and outstanding beauty. It's Mother-Nature in her most pure form."

Antarctica is unique in that it is the only continent on Earth without a native human population. It is a place owned by no one therefore owned by everyone. An international treaty signed more than 50 years ago turned the continent into the world's largest nature preserve but the waters around Antarctica were not afforded the same protection. The trip Young made marked the beginning of The Last Ocean, a documentary that exposes the impact that commercial fishing is having on the Ross Sea ecosytem.

Commercial fishing began in 1996 and was initiated by New Zealand after the Government encouraged a major New Zealand fishing company to explore potential fishing grounds in the Ross Sea. A single vessel made the journey south and found Antarctic Toothfish. Word got out and the floodgates opened. That one boat from New Zealand quickly grew to near on 20 from a dozen different nations and they've been taking around 3000 tonnes of Antarctic Toothfish every year.

"Scientists, who for years needed environmental impact reports to take a pee, were now watching boats just offshore hauling 40 year-old fish from the ecosystem."

The Ross Sea has taken all preceding history to develop and yet, says Young, we treat it like a larder, destroying an incredible natural treasure for what is little financial gain.

"Toothfish or 'Chilean Sea Bass' from the Ross Sea fishery amounts to a little over one per cent of New Zealand's total fishing revenue. The Ross Sea has far greater value as a pristine ecosystem than it does as a fishing ground."

US Ecologist Dr David Ainley, who has been studying the Ross Sea for more than 40 years, describes it as a 'living laboratory.' It was a scientific paper that he wrote in 2004 that became the impetus for The Last Ocean.

"The Ross Sea is a place that can teach us about the workings of all marine ecosystems. We have lost 90 per cent of top predators from the world's oceans through fishing, but in the Ross Sea all of the top predators are still intact, it's totally unique."

Young says that The Last Ocean project is more than a documentary describing it as a growing movement of passionate people keen to raise awareness and to promote the establishment of a Marine Protected Area that covers the entire Ross Sea. At its foundation are many of the world's leading Antarctic scientists.

"We need to ask ourselves what is the true value of the Ross Sea and should we be leaving one last untouched and undamaged piece of ocean for the next generation?"

This year, representatives from 25 nations are meeting to decide about the marine protection of the Ross Sea. New Zealand is a 'key' player in that process. Young says that while New Zealand has been instrumental in developing the fishery, it can also be part of the solution.

"This is a chance for New Zealand to provide real leadership, not in fishing but in conservation. New Zealand led the charge into this fishery we should lead the charge out. Everyday New Zealanders need to see this movie and understand that their voice counts and that they can make a difference. "

Peter Young presents The Last Ocean as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, which is a national event extending the cinematic options of audiences and filmmakers throughout New Zealand, featuring a programme of over 150 films.

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