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Remembering Marine Conservation Hero, Bill Ballantine

October 25, 2016

“I have ideas that I would like to see change the world.” 

Here at the Prize, we are committed to honoring unsung heroes and marine biologist Bill Ballantine is no exception. On the anniversary of his passing, we celebrate this pioneer of marine conservation, whose legacy of marine reserves continues to protect much of our vast oceans’ biodiversity.

An Ambitious Scientist and Passionate Advocate

Bill Ballantine pushed for the first no-take marine protected area (or MPA) in New Zealand and the first of its kind in the world, the Goat Island Marine Reserve at Leigh. Despite being the first director of the University of Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory, Bill was no ordinary scientist. Far from spending all his time in the laboratory, he felt most at home exploring the shores of the pristine reserve he staunchly protected against development. He was ambitious in his drive for protecting oceans, but kept an endearing sense of self-deprecation to his scientific approach; “When I start talking about marine reserves, people yawn.”

The New Zealand government certainly took notice. After 12 grueling years of campaigning, Bill and other like-minded advocates were able to establish New Zealand’s first marine reserve. Bill described the bureaucratic process being like a drunk trying to get a key into a lock. “You have to be at the right door, and be holding the right key, but beyond that it’s just persistence.”

A first for New Zealand, a Conservation win Worldwide

He advocated for us all to change our relationship with the ocean, and reminded us that we have a great capacity to damage it, but can use our power to benefit it:

“We treat the ocean as if it were the ribbon around the parcel, but it’s the main thing. Our hemisphere is 90 percent water. To many people, the ocean is out of sight and out of mind. That is slowly changing.”

In fact, the Leigh Marine Reserve now attracts around 350,000 visitors a year. In a nod to Bill’s pioneering achievements, the New Zealand environment minister describes him as “the father of marine conservation in New Zealand.”

Bill also had a strong effect on fellow marine protection advocate, Howard Wood:

“Enough cannot be said about Bill’s inspirational influence on the creation of the Community of Arran Seabed Trust (COAST). It was Bill who showed the world that spatial management and exclusion areas could work environmentally and ultimately economically for coastal communities. Don MacNeish and I would not have co-founded COAST without his encouragement. His advice has been invaluable and I am very proud to be a fellow Goldman Prize winner in the area of marine conservation and restoration.”


Bill Ballantine with Don Macneish at Bill’s home in New Zealand in 2015. (Photo: COAST)

Bill was a distinguished life member of New Zealand conservation NGO Forest & Bird, and regularly applied his extensive experience to their marine education initiatives. You too can support their work and honor Bill’s legacy.