Remembering New Zealand’s ‘father of marine conservation’

Department of Conservation —  14/12/2015

In November New Zealand lost a great leader in marine conservation, Dr Bill Ballantine. Marine Science Advisor Debbie Freeman shares her memories of Bill and his lasting legacy…

Bill Ballantine at the Cape Rodney – Okakari Point Marine Reserve.

Bill Ballantine at the Cape Rodney – Okakari Point Marine Reserve

I first met Bill as a student at the University of Auckland when he was a marine biology lecturer. However, I had known of Bill years earlier when the Hastings Underwater Club, of which my father was a member, received a mailed copy of Bill’s newly published book “Marine Reserves for New Zealand”. I had a growing interest in marine science and was given it to read. I remember one of the first images in his book, the Earth was in a position so as much ocean is visible as possible. The result is New Zealand sitting in the middle of the “water hemisphere” — where 91% of that half of the Earth is ocean.

Dr Bill Ballantine.

Dr Bill Ballantine

I also recall reading the ‘health warning’ at the front: “Marine reserves are addictive and can affect your health. People who have them do not want to give them up. They start clamouring for more. The side effects are serious. People infected with the idea become interested, enthusiastic, active, knowledgeable, healthy and impatient… in the end they become determined, convincing and unstoppable”. These are all traits I think of when remembering Bill.

As a lecturer, Bill was passionate, lively and inspirational. His eyes would widen and his arms would begin to wave enthusiastically, whether he was describing the life history of barnacles, the homing behaviour of limpets or the scientific value of having protected areas in the ocean. Later, as a postgraduate student at the Leigh Marine Laboratory, Bill was always there when we needed him, to talk – sometimes for hours – on ecology, politics, or virtually anything. Often it wasn’t until much later that we recognised the value of these conversations.

Summertime at Cape Rodney - Okakari Point Marine Reserve. Photo: Danica Stent.

Summer at Cape Rodney – Okakari Point Marine Reserve

Bill was born in 1937 in Leicester, England, and completed his PhD at Queen Mary College, University of London. In 1964 he emigrated to New Zealand. That same year, he was appointed the first Director of the University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory. Bill led the development of legislation (the Marine Reserves Act 1971) that enabled marine reserves to be established. He also helped drive the establishment of New Zealand’s first marine reserve at Leigh in 1975. Today, New Zealand has 44 marine reserves. The majority, if not all, have been guided in some way by Bill’s experience and expertise.

bill-ballantine-scooterBill will be remembered fondly by a large number of DOC staff involved in marine protected area establishment, management and research. Bill was always kind and unhesitating in spending time with anyone interested in marine biology or conservation, whether out on the rocky shore, or over a glass of red wine or whiskey late into the evening.

Bill received a vast range of honours and awards over the years for his work on marine conservation issues. These include being made a Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to marine biology and conservation in 1994, receiving the Goldman Environmental Prize for work on marine conservation in 1996, and being made a Companion of the Queen’s Service Order for public services in 2006.

Bill gave lectures and ran workshops all over the world, which largely focused on the need for ‘no-take’ marine protected areas for protection of marine biodiversity. The three key reasons for marine reserves he proposed in a lecture at the ‘Environment 77’ conference (Christchurch February 1977) are still relevant today:

“Large remote ‘national park’ marine reserves are needed immediately, simply to preserve some marine areas which are both grand and natural… other reserves will be needed to protect some natural examples of each major habitat and some special features… still further reserves are needed with recreation as the prime concern”.

Bill remained engaged in marine conservation issues well into retirement. During his last weeks, he attended the event announcing the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary (which he was particularly chuffed about), and also met with a technical group supporting Sea Change (the Hauraki Gulf Marine Spatial Planning process).

Bill at the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary announcement in October.

Bill at the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary announcement in October

Bill passed away aged 78 at Leigh, where he had lived much of his life. He will be greatly missed by all those whose lives he touched.

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    […] Read the Department of Conservation’s obituary for Bill Ballantine here. […]