AWI and the entire conservation community were heartbroken to learn of the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Joanna Toole, a victim of the Ethiopian Airlines flight that crashed on departure from Addis Ababa in March. Jo was traveling to the United Nations Environment Assembly to speak on a panel co-chaired by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI).
Abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear is a treacherous threat in our oceans; ropes and nets that don’t degrade can drift unseen, sometimes for years, continuing to catch everything in their path, including whales, turtles, sharks, and seabirds. Jo worked tirelessly to drive international action to prevent these losses, eventually co-founding the GGGI and most recently working at the FAO to pursue the adoption of marking guidelines for fishing gear so it can be traced to its owners.
We first met Jo at the International Whaling Commission meetings, at which she represented World Animal Protection and, more recently, OceanCare. We immediately knew she was special—not just utterly dedicated to animal welfare and marine conservation, but bright, warm, fun, and generous. Jo was a joy to work with on a number of joint campaigns and we will cherish memories of strategizing, collaborating, and celebrating with her.
Losing Jo is a harsh blow to her loved ones, including her father, two sisters, and partner, Paul, as well as her wide circle of friends. Animal protection work can take a heavy emotional toll and we form bonds with colleagues that comfort and sustain us. We take care of each other because we understand the investment that each of us has made in this work and know the painful disappointment we feel when our efforts don’t go the way we hoped, or when the news is relentlessly bad. Jo was at the center of a family of advocates—government officials as well as NGOs—who care about each other as well as the animals we strive to protect.
Jo’s death is also a blow to critically important animal welfare and conservation efforts. Her dedication to solving the problem of ghost gear and other bycatch threats, however, lives on in colleagues committed to ensuring that her legacy continues. Tragically, we will never know what other causes Jo would champion and use her considerable passion and skill to advance had she not died far too soon.
UN Special Envoy to the Ocean, Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji, may have best captured Jo’s spirit and dedication to improving the welfare of animals and protecting the planet in his inspiring tribute. “From out of the unbearable sorrow, may you draw strength from Joanna’s legacy of profound concern for the welfare of others, for overcoming the many troubles facing life in the Ocean, and thereby ultimately our own. Life is indeed short, so let us be fortified by Joanna’s enduring example of doing what’s right by our fellow creatures while we still have time on this wondrous planet. The fight goes on, with Joanna forever serving as our inspiration.” We concur and as we continue our fight for wildlife and conservation, Jo’s legacy will fuel our efforts.