It was with great sadness that we learned yesterday of the death of Bill Ballantine.
Bill is world famous for his astonishing efforts for marine conservation. His life was dedicated to the conservation and preservation of the marine environment and he was instrumental in establishing the world’s first no-take marine reserve off Goat Island near Auckland.
The New Zealand Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said this:
Bill was the father of marine conservation in New Zealand. Our 1971 Marine Reserves Act – an international first – was his brainchild, as was our first no-take reserve at Leigh. He remained a forceful advocate for the protection of our marine environment and leaves behind a proud legacy. The first step that Bill persuaded us to take as a country 40 years ago has to be acknowledged as the seed for New Zealand’s strong reputation today as a world leader in the responsible use and management of our ocean environment.
He was awarded an MBE for services to marine conservation in 1999.
Bill also had a long and happy association with Dale Fort Field Centre which he described as his second home.
In the mid 1950s as a sixth former he worked in his summer holidays at Dale Fort. He helped in the kitchens, he helped in the grounds, he helped maintain buildings, he was knocked out half-way up a cliff by a rock dislodged by the over-enthusiastic boot of the then warden John Barrett.
He is first mentioned by name in by John Barrett’s annual report for 1957 – 58:
Mr W J Ballantine, now of Queen Mary College continued work on gastropods, particularly in relation to exposure
This was a reference to Bill’s work on limpets which ultimately led to his PhD (The population dynamics of Patella vulgata and other limpets, 1961)
Read it here
Almost as a bi-product, his studies led to possibly the most famous paper in the whole of marine ecology:
A Biologically Defined Exposure Scale for the Comparative Description of Rocky Shores
It had been long established that exposure to wave action was a vital factor in determining the patterns of organisms that are so characteristic of rocky shores. Attempts to measure wave action in physical terms were (and still are) fraught with technical difficulties. How then could different shores be compared with regard to this important physical factor? Bill noticed that the shores around Dale were inhabited by different communities depending on how much wave action they received. He determined to visit every shore he could get to on the Dale Peninsula and survey the species there.
He then devised a scale which used the assemblage of organisms on a shore as indicators of the degree of wave action (exposure) that the shore endured. The shore is then allocated a number to indicate its position on the scale. Ballantine’s Scale runs from 1 (= extremely exposed) to 8 (= extremely sheltered).
The scale has had its critics but has still proved extremely useful over the half-century of its existence. It has fulfilled its original aim to provide a means for ecologists to describe easily different rocky shores to one another. It probably appears in more reference lists than any similar paper.
Read it here
After completing his PhD he took a post in 1964 as the inaugural Head of The Leigh Marine laboratory of The University of Auckland in New Zealand.
He returned to Dale Fort every few years to keep an eye on our limpet populations.
In 1968, David Emerson became the second Warden of Dale Fort.
One of David’s first acts was to strike a blow for practical conservation by demolishing the rubbish chute down which all waste had been thrown into the sea. This was a substantial structure made of old railway lines and timber and required serious effort to remove. The job was done with explosives by the army as part of the Military Aid to the Civil Community Scheme. Bill was on one of his periodic visits and helping out when he got clouted on the head by a lump of concrete. He recalled staggering semi-conscious from the top of the cliff through the kitchen door, covered in blood and being told by an irate cook to stop bleeding all over the bloody floor.
I first met Bill in 1986 when I was a new marine ecology tutor and he was on a year’s sabbatical based at Dale Fort and spent largely touring around Britain and Europe campaigning strenuously for marine conservation. I completed my PhD that year and he generously offered to read it and give me some pointers before the viva. He kept it for a couple of weeks and returned it to me with a thick sheaf of clinically precise notes in which picked various aspects apart and (more importantly for me at the time) he talked me through it all and advised me how to defend various points. I shall always be grateful for his kindness and I still have his hand-written notes.
Towards the end of that year Bill probably saved Dale Fort. We were pioneering a Christmas field course, which featured massive log fires (there was no central heating then). One of my jobs was to keep the fires roaring, pretty much day and night. I wandered into the library early one morning to find it full of smoke. Some unknown person had overloaded the grate and a burning log had rolled off and set alight the wooden fender around the fireplace. Before I could react, Bill sprinted in through the smoke bearing a jug of water, he emptied it over the fender and disappeared in a cloud of steam as the flames were doused. Later that morning the course members went for a walk with David. Bill and I took a break to sit in front of the (back under control) library fire for half an hour to howl with laughter at a old Goon Show on Radio 4.
At that time my intent was to leave Dale Fort after 2 years and get a “proper job”. Bill gave me a long talk about the differences between a job’s seeming status and its importance. It took him a while but eventually even I realised what he was talking about. How could anyone who purported to care about ecology, science and marine conservation, turn their back on the opportunity I had been given? It worked, because half lifetime later, I’m still here, still learning and I’m still trying my best to promulgate Environmental Understanding for All, what’s more I’m still enjoying it. So thank you Bill.
I last saw him in 2007 on what was to become his final visit to Dale Fort. By this time even he had acknowledged that he was not as agile as he used to be. He asked if I would help him down onto Dale Point to collect his limpet samples. Needless to say he didn’t really need my help at all but it was a privilege to be there. I was also privileged to hear a great truth dispensed in the most amusing way I can imagine. “Is that OK Bill?” I asked (having collected a sample for him). “Let me check Steve” he said “because after all, limpets are my f*****g business”.
He will be much missed.