Fact Sheet

The Ross Sea Through the Lens of John Weller

Life at the MarginsMeet John Weller

Representatives of two-dozen countries and the John WellerEuropean Union—the member governments of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, or CCAMLR—will meet this month to determine whether some of the waters of the Antarctic, including the Ross Sea, will be protected or left open to industrial fishing.

Below are 10 photos by critically acclaimed photographer and Pew marine fellow John Weller, that might change the way you think of Antarctica. Weller's new book, The Last Ocean, features a stunning collection of photographs of the world's only remaining pristine ocean, the Ross Sea.

Find Out the Story Behind Each Photo

Wall at the end of the world Voices under the ice Hunting in Slow Motion Living in a Sea of Ice
       
'The Colony' 'Opera of Light' 'Watch the Penguins Perform' Remote Fishery
       
  'We All Live on Islands' The Future of the Last Ocean  
       



'Wall at the End of the World'

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"Over the course of the next day, the thin white line grew more distinct, resolving into a wall of ice cliffs, towering 50 meters above the sea and plunging 450 meters below the water, dwarfing the ship as we finally approached. The immensity of that wall of ice is beyond my ability to describe."
 

'Voices Under the Ice'

"We lay down on the surface of the ice, looking up at the sky. The sun warmed our black suits, and we baked, blood flowing back into fingers and toes. Below us, through the ice, we could still hear the chorus, as the seals trilled, chirped, and glugged."

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'Hunting in Slow Motion'

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"As I rose slowly towards the hole, I looked down at the carcass from above. Up close the gore was like something from a bad horror movie, but from a distance it was hard not to appreciate the beauty of a system in which nothing is wasted and life is immediately recycled. Battle tested by cold, dark, ice, and starvation, life on the seafloor still thrived, hunting in slow motion in the icy depths of McMurdo Sound."


'Living in a Sea of Ice'

"To the casual eye, Trematomus bernacchii [emerald rockcod] has a humble appearance. But I knew I was looking at a masterpiece of evolution—one of the few that had braved the long journey south on a slowly freezing continent and emerged from the shadows to meet the challenges of living in a sea of ice."

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'The Colony'

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"Week-old Adélie penguin chicks poked their downy heads out from under their parents' bellies, clumsily trying to readjust their positions. The day was warm and calm, and the baby birds stretched their wings, basking in the sun. But despite the peaceful day and the lazy chicks, there were signs of stress throughout the colony. The colony was in trouble, and the problem was the ice."


'Opera of Light'

"The first night, the air was dead calm. Penguins hunted in undulating waves, like stones skipping across the water, and Weddell seals cruised the edges of the ice. Sky and water changed moods in an opera of light. Their brooding dark-blue and gray baritones quickly gave way to a rousing tenor as the sun slipped out from behind a layer of clouds, painting them a gauzy orange."

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'Watch the Penguins Perform'

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"The path I had used to get out onto the sea ice only four days earlier was now wet. After four warm days, the ice near shore had become waterlogged and slushy. I stepped out a few meters, and the sea ice cracked under the weight. I moved away, and sat down to rest for a moment. But then I felt compelled to stand up and move again by something more innocent: I just wanted another chance to sit on the ice and watch the penguins perform."


Remote Fishery

"The argument for Ross Sea protection goes far beyond the question of whether the toothfish fishery is sustainable. While we squabble over a few thousand tons of fish—1/300th of one percent of the global catch—ocean health continues to decline precipitously. I have to ask myself why we—humanity, that is—would let a compromise be our legacy when it comes to the last remaining intact large marine ecosystem on earth. We need to take a stand. We need to open the door to a new age of enlightenment, a new global ocean culture. I believe the Ross Sea holds the key."

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'We All Live on Islands'

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"By fishing so far from home, we have separated ourselves, at least in the short run, from the devastating effects of our culture of overuse. All we've done is move the problems to someone else's waters. We must understand and appreciate that, in reality, we all live on islands."


The Future of the Last Ocean

"When I tell my grandchildren about the fight to protect the Ross Sea, I want to be able to describe the ensuing worldwide rejection of our culture of overuse, the creation of a worldwide network of marine protected areas, and the slow and steady recovery of the oceans. I want for us all to be able to tell our grandchildren how we took responsibility for our actions, turned the page, and changed the course of history. And despite the desperate state of the oceans, the brilliant, compassionate people I've met along this journey—those who work to protect our natural world—have strengthened my faith that we can."

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A Portrait of John Weller

John Weller is a professional photographer, writer, and filmmaker based in Boulder, CO. Nature photography has been his passion since childhood, and after college, he began pursuing his dream of using a camera to conserve the last wild places.

"Until I read about the Ross Sea, I really didn't know much about our oceans. Now, after nine years of work in the Ross Sea and other marine ecosystems around the world, I understand why conservation is critical. But I didn't really know what I was fighting for until this summer, when I saw a sonogram of baby's heart beating for the first time."

Weller began working on The Last Ocean, a project directed specifically at the Ross Sea, with Antarctic ecologist David Ainley in 2004. His efforts have helped catalyze an international movement to protect this special region in the Southern Ocean.

Weller was awarded a Pew fellowship in marine conservation in 2009. The fellowship has further supported his work to produce a set of short films that introduce critical marine issues to a wide public audience and his book, The Last Ocean.

Media Contact

Rachel Brittin

Officer, Communications

202.540.6312