Acclaimed photographer John Weller was drawn to the plight of Antarctica’s Ross Sea after learning this place — the last large intact marine ecosystem left on earth — was under attack by an unsustainable fishery. His decade-long journey to tell the Ross Sea story brought him there four times, including more than 50 dives under the ice.
Weller will share photographs and stories from his book “The Last Ocean” from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cambria.
Pollution, climate change and overfishing have intrinsically changed every other part of the world’s ocean. Researchers estimate that humans have caught as much as 90 percent of the top ocean predators since 1950.
“The ocean seems infinite and immutable,” Weller said. “But the truth is horrifying. We’ve pushed ocean systems to the brink of collapse worldwide. The fact that we have damaged the ocean so deeply should be of grave concern to all people. The Ross Sea story is not just about a fish, or the incredible organisms that live at the edge of the world. This is our story — the story of our struggle to become sustainable.”
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But Weller believes that conservation in the Ross Sea could be the start of a tide change in international marine management. A massive marine protected area in the Ross Sea is under discussion at the highest levels of government around the world.
“Ross Sea protection would require the agreement of 25 nations,” he said. “Imagine all these voices speaking as one in defense of the ocean. It has the potential to both protect one of the world’s last great places, and set the stage for sweeping changes in how we manage oceans all over the globe. There is a lot riding on the fate of the Ross Sea.”
Despite feeling continually humbled by the extremes of the Ross Sea, Weller said the most humbling moment occurred on a dive under the ice:
“Under the ice in McMurdo Sound, there’s a series of underwater ice caves formed by crushed sea ice. The entrance to the cave complex is an archway 10 feet tall. Beyond that is a cathedral of light.
“As I entered this underwater cave, time stood still. It was as if I were entering an ancient place. And it is. Those caves form every year, and have for eons. I swam through the first chamber of that cave and was about to turn around when I saw another cave, with an archway about waist-high. I peeked through that archway and saw a photograph I knew I needed to take.
“I swallowed some fear and pushed myself through the archway into the second chamber of the cave. There, I saw a photograph I will never forget. Benthic creatures were arranged on a pile of rocks on the sea floor. A crack in the ice ceiling looked like a plume of blue smoke. I was carrying a tripod and a camera, so I put it together, working with my camera to get this photograph.
“All of a sudden, there was a smack. It felt like something had hit me in the back of my head with a hammer. My vision blurred, and my muscles tensed. I rotated in the water, lost air from my dry suit, and found myself on the sea floor completely dazed, and with a building sense of panic. …”
He lived to tell the tale, which he will conclude at his talk Sunday afternoon.
Weller’s visit is sponsored by Greenspace. A $10 suggested donation will be collected at the door, with proceeds going to support the coastal, watershed and forest conservation work of Greenspace.
For more information, contact Connie Gannon at 927-2866 or firstname.lastname@example.org.