After debuting at the New Zealand 2012 International Film Festival, TV viewers will get a chance to see the shocking documentary that calls into question New Zealand’s reputation as a clean, green model of environmental stewardship.
The Antarctic toothfish will never be a poster child for endangered species. It is as unattractive as its name suggests; a name so unappealing as it is descriptive that it was given a makeover in the 1970’s and was reborn as the Chilean Sea Bass.This toothy, deep-sea predator with a face that only a mother toothfish could love might not have the cute appeal of a roly-poly panda, but its preservation is less about its own protection than the impact its decimation would have on its natural environment.
Documentary 'The Last Ocean' follows the efforts of a group of dedicated scientists to protect The Ross Sea, the last pristine stretch of ocean in the world, and one that by rights should have been protected 50 years ago.
In 1961, the 12 countries with an active scientific presence in the Antarctic region signed a treaty to create the world’s largest marine reserve. Unfortunately the surrounding ocean, known as the Ross Sea, was not similarly protected and is considered part of the global commons.
There are myriad reasons to leave the last ocean alone and only one reason to remain, money.
The discovery of prodigious numbers of the Antarctic toothfish by a New Zealand fishing vessel in 1996 soon got dollar signs dancing in the eyes of the fishing industry worldwide.
The toothfish was certified as a sustainable resource by an independent consultancy, paid for by (you guessed it!) this selfsame fishing industry. Now, 3000 tonnes of toothfish are caught and exported each year by more than 20 nations.
However, the scientists behind 'The Last Ocean', some of whom have been studying the ecology of the Ross Sea for decades, maintain that there’s not enough data on the toothfish for fishing to be conducted on a commercial scale.Moreover, the toothfish is an important link in the ecostystem of the Ross Sea, and the depletion of its stocks will have a devastating impact on this previously unmolested environment.
New Zealand’s part in plundering these pure waters paints a shameful stain on our reputation as a world leader in environmental protection, but it also opens up a conversation about what sustainability really means.
'Sustainably managed', much like 'organically produced' or 'fair trade', is often cynically viewed as a marketing buzzword used to shift products, but it’s primary purpose is to represent a socially responsible choice for consumers.
How can we as consumers really be sure of what we are buying when commercial interests take precedent?'The Last Ocean' is a frightening omen of our planet’s future, but it’s one told with truth, humour and brittle, ephemeral beauty.
New Zealand wildlife filmmaker Peter Young captures the landscape of Antarctica with breathtaking panoramas of a primal world alongside tender portrayals of the local wildlife; cheeky Adelie penguins and adorable Weddell seals co-exist in delicate balance.
Wildlife cameraman Doug Allan believes that debate about the preservation of the last ocean would be moot if the world could share in the unique environment found in the Ross Sea.
Describing what it’s like to witness the Weddell Seals in the translucent waters, Allan says, "Underwater, under the ice with the Weddell seal is an experience that I would gladly give to everyone.
"If they could have that chance, protection of the Ross Sea would just be a done deal."
While it’s not practical (or particularly appealing) for us all to go for a dip in the sub-freezing temperatures of the Ross Sea, 'The Last Ocean' is a documentary all New Zealanders should watch and act upon.
We can’t afford to let Peter Young’s images become an historical document of what life was once like in the last untouched natural wonder of the world.'The Last Ocean' airs on Prime at 8.30pm, Tuesday 2 October