Revisiting Jackson et al. 2001

In a paper published in Science in 2001, Jeremy Jackson, Michael Kirby, Wolfgang Berger, Karen Bjorndal, Louis Botsford, Bruce Bourque, Roger Bradbury, Richard Cooke, Jon Erlandson, James Estes, Terence Hughes, Susan Kidwell, Carina Lange, Hunter Lenihan, John Pandolfi, Charles Peterson, Robert Steneck, Mia Tegner and Robert Warner showed, using paleoecological, archeological and historical data, that it takes decades or even centuries for the effects of overfishing to be felt by ecological communities. Twenty-four years after the paper was published, I spoke to Jeremy Jackson about the making of this study and paper, its impact on the field, and what we have learnt since about the effects of overfishing on marine and coastal ecosystems.

Citation: Jackson, Jeremy BC, Michael X. Kirby, Wolfgang H. Berger, Karen A. Bjorndal, Louis W. Botsford, Bruce J. Bourque, Roger H. Bradbury et al. 2001. Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems. Science 293, 629-637.

Date of interview: 15th November 2017 (via Skype)

Hari Sridhar: I want to start by asking you a little bit about the motivation for the work presented in this paper. By looking at your publication record, I came to know that from the late sixties you’ve been working on marine ecology, but most of your work to this point was largely fundamental ecology, apart from some work related oil spills and the effects of a hurricane. What was your motivation to do this work on how overfishing affects marine ecosystems?

Jeremy Jackson: Well really, it was the growing realization that everything I’d studied in my career was either gone or disappearing, which is a depressing statement of course.  I did an entirely forgettable master’s thesis in the Chesapeake Bay. I was trying to figure out whether I wanted to be a palaeontologist or ecologist, and I suppose I decided I wanted to be both from that master’s thesis.It was a study of the molluscs that live in sea grass communities in the Chesapeake Bay and the motivation very poorly defined at the time. I was trying to get a feeling for the extent to which what went on in a modern living ecosystem could actually be understood from the fossil record. And so I did a survey of molluscan assemblages in the Chesapeake Bay, in sea grass beds, and learned as much as I could about the autecology of these things. And in a bizarre way, I actually got a couple of papers out of it later on, but I was growing up as a scientist when I did that. But later on I realized that I certainly couldn’t have done that study again because the sea grasses had basically died out in the bay. And then I did a PhD that was a little bit more sophisticated on the ecology of molluscs in tropical sea grass beds in the Caribbean. The sea grass there, the shallow grass there, locally it’s referred to as turtle grass, and I realized halfway through the thesis that I hadn’t seen a single turtle in the turtle grass. There used to be tens of millions of green turtles and they weren’t there. I think in my entire PhD period of about 4 or 5 years of field work, sort of before during and after, I maybe saw four sharks.So I had a growing understanding that things were not well. And then that hurricane happened. I was one of the early ecologists at a place called the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory in Jamaica, and we were sort of the best and the brightest in coral reef ecology down there. There was another lab in the Virgin Islands. Australians were only getting started, I mean now the Australians are without question the global leader in coral reef science, but back then they were actually coming and visiting us at this tiny little laboratory in Jamaica to see what we were doing. So we were having a lot of influence.  The hurricane happened and I and a couple of other people had grants and got permission to just sort of reallocate a lot of our money to bring people to study the after effects of the hurricane. We published that in Science. The first author, a man named Jeremy Woodley, was the director of the laboratory and so we figured that was a good way to avoid competition among everybody else! So we did that and it was a really good paper. I mean it was the first ever really detailed assessment of the effects of such a storm on really well-studied coral reefs before the event.And towards the end of the paper we predicted how the reefs would recover based on our deep understanding of geology and ecology and what have you, and we got it completely wrong! And it became obvious that the reason we got it wrong was because people had changed the rules of how coral reefs had recovered from severe storms in the past. And you can even see the record of how reefs recovered from severe storms, in the fossil record –  sort of complete devastation then early successional species  – rather like what we see in a forest after it’s been clear cut or something. We got it completely wrong and we came to realize that the reason we got it wrong was because there had not been any fish on the reefs in Jamaica.They were severely over fished. It’s a hard life in Jamaica and most of the fish they eat are really tiny. It’s so bad actually that most of us believe that fish don’t live to reproduce in Jamaica, and the reason they were all tiny fish is because they recruit from elsewhere.

So that discovery really began to trouble me about, really, what I think is a very basic question in ecology, which is how vulnerable are the rules of the way ecosystems work. How vulnerable are they to major changes in the environment, which in the past of course would have been geological and climatic changes. But people were clearly having impacts comparable to the impact that major changes in natural processes had had in the geological past. So, although I continued to do my basic work in palaeontology- my work on the effects of the Isthmus of Panama on the evolution of the Caribbean sea and the ecosystems of the Caribbean – and still did a lot of basic marine ecology, I became more and more interested in the nature of human impacts.

A really formative event for me was that I went to a meeting organized by a geologist named Bob Ginsburg, a very famous coral reef geologist, carbonate geologist, sedimentologist; a very big deal. And he organized a meeting called “Coral reefs: health, hazards and history”. It was stimulated by the growing awareness of coral reef scientists about the dangers of global warming and acidification for the future of coral reefs. This meeting with in 1993, I believe. So I went to this meeting.And it’s relevant that my PhD was actually in geology, although all my jobs… well in my very first job I was the professor of ecology in the department of earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University. It was sort of a strange thing but the biology department was totally molecular but they thought it was really cool that the geology group hired an ecologist and a lot of their students would get my classes.So when I went to this meeting I went there with the understanding of basic geochemistry and earth system science, which most biologists didn’t have. And so I immediately understood the seriousness of acidification for coral calcification and warming. We were all just figuring out why coral bleaching happened, trying to understand how hot temperatures broke down the symbiosis between the dinoflagellates that live in coral and the corals themselves. So it was a time of great learning but – there was no question in my mind that this temperature change and everything was really important -I got increasingly frustrated during this three day meeting at the fact that people thought that coral reefs were still pristine. And so global change was this new horrible threat to reefs which were otherwise you know in perfectly normal condition, and I knew -from the hurricane in Jamaica and the effects on, not only coral reefs but associated environments like those sea grasses that didn’t have any sharks left and no big fish left- I knew that the ecosystems were far from pristine and I just couldn’t believe it that all these people had their head in the sand so much; they just didn’t get it. So at the end of the meeting, in frustration, I stood up and I said: you know you guys, I totally believe and understand that that global warming and acidification represent a major threat to coral reefs and they will be really bad, if there are any coral reefs left by the time they kick in because of all this other stuff. I got booed and hissed, you know, and had virtual rotten tomatoes thrown at me because people said: Oh well may be the Caribbean is in trouble but here in Australia, you know those of us work in Australia where it’s all just fantastic, and Jackson you’re an idiot. And I got really mad.

We were about to host in 1996 something called the International Coral Reef Symposium. It’s a very big meeting and it happens every four years and it’s, I guess you could say, it’s the most important event in coral reef science. Although, it’s a rather strange meeting, and we were going to host it in Panama. So I was the co-organizer, with a Panamanian colleague and my wife – who is a very famous biologist by the way, Nancy Knowlton, she’s in the National Academy and all that stuff and she’d be a fun person for you to interview -Nancy was in charge of the science program. I came back from this meeting in Miami and I was so mad I said:Nancy I want to give a plenary talk and her response was to roll her eyes and say if you’re stupid enough to want to give a talk at a meeting you are organizingbe my guest! So I gave a talk and I called it “Reefs since Columbus”. And that really was the transformative talk and paper in my career. I was well prepared for this because actually my father with a maritime historian and had researched in the Caribbean during the critical time of colonialism and then the American Revolution. I had grown up hearing all these stories about the history of the Caribbean. So I spent a year off and on and I had a research assistant, a very sophisticated Panamanian woman, who helped me a lot, we put it all together and I gave this talk,which was basically a description of what the coral reef ecosystems of the Caribbean had been like when Columbus discovered America and in the early years after that. It’s a big talk, you know, 40 minutes, and after I finished there was utter silence.You could hear a pin drop in the room.Because I had just laid bare, I think, very effectively, that all this nonsense of pristine was utterly naive. Certainly ,no historian would have said that the Caribbean or the Mediterranean was the same as it was, you know, 500 years before. I mean, that would be like saying that the Indian coastline in 1990 was pristine, and that thousands of years of civilization in India somehow had had no effect. Certainly, no terrestrial ecologist would be that stupid right? We would talk about the loss of forests and the impacts of agriculture and hunting out of top predators like thetigers and what have you. But coral reef biologists and really marine scientists in general were looking at the ocean through rose-colored glasses.They just didn’t get it. And so the reaction after the silence was incredibly positive.It was really funny you know.This was 1996, these were the days before PowerPoint when you had to have photographic slides for your talks. And people told me – of course I didn’t have time to go any other talks; I was running my meeting – but people would tell me: Jeremy, people are taking little India ink pens and crossing out the word “pristine” on their slides!, which is really funny when you think about it. You know now you can get away with it; you just go into PowerPoint and change your slide. I then published the paper, in a sort of crappy venue, the journal Coral Reefs, because we had to do that for our meeting. But it sort of slowly caught on and became a kind of a cult paper. That convinced me that I was on to something really important.

Ecologists were just really naive about the extent to which humanity had changed the rules about the way ecosystems work.You know a guy named Peter Kareiva? I can’t remember if you’ve interviewed Peter, but he had written this scale paper, which he published in Ecology I think, about how the average study plot area of an ecologist was a square meter or less. So, you know, we were digging, we were looking with a kind of ecological microscope, and we weren’t doing a lot of big broad-scale ecology. There were exceptions, Robert Paine in his landscape ecology work with Simon Levin. But Simon sort of dragged Bob Paine out of the miniscule to the landscape scale, but most people weren’t doing that. So it was highly questionable whether or not a lot of the work we’ve been doing in the oceans over the last 30 years bore any resemblance to the reality of the way the oceans had been before people screwed them up.And so that became the motivation for the overfishing paper.When I did it, I was still very actively involved in my paleontological and geological research.  I thought of it as, you know, I’m gonna do this paper and I’ll get back to my work. But I never got back to it really. I mean I do it on the side, I get a paper here or there. I had a great post-doc a guy named Aaron O’Dea; we published a whole lot of really fun stuff together, but I more or less gave him the lead on what I had been doing because I became convinced that the human impact work was so important. And you know someone I saw you’d interviewed Shahid Naeem. I interact with Shahid quite a bit over email because we’re both the editors of Science Advances. If you think back to Shahid’s career and the work in the Ecotron and all this stuff about diversity-stability productivity, all that began very academically, or David Tilman‘s career, which was 100 percent academic.But then you know, how long can you do this stuff and ignore the fact that humanity is utterly destroying its ability to survive? That really is what happened.

I was on the board of this thing called the National Center for Ecological Analysis and synthesis- NCEAS. After I rotated off the board, I thought: well, these proposals are really easy to write and I really believe in the way they’re doing science. So I wrote a proposal for, I think a couple of hundred thousand dollars. I don’t think we even spent all the money, I can’t remember but it was basically to bring a lot of people together, have a post-doc to be a more reliable convener than I would be etc. It was absolutely fantastic. I think we were aware how important what we were doing was and it was incredibly exciting.


HS: That’s a really fascinating story and I’m glad you went into it in so much detail.A couple of things I wanted to say. One is about the journal Coral Reefs, which you said is a somewhat obscure journal. I interviewed Stephen Hubbell, and he told the story about his paper in Coral Reefs. How important that has turned out to be!

JJ: Well you know it’s sort of funny. I mean, I’m a great fan of Steve Hubbell, and I think that the most important thing that Steve Hubbell was to convince Robin Foster to start the 50-hectare  plot on Barro Colorado island. I think the neutral theory is an interesting null hypothesis, but it just doesn’t work. We’ve come to realize that both in the forest on Barro Colorado island, where we now understand the extraordinary role of pathogens and mutualisms in forest ecology and all the rest of it. And the same is true on coral reefs.Steve was certainly very stimulating at that meeting, but John Pandolfi and I really trounced him. We showed that there was extraordinary predictability in association and that it was not random.We had the advantage of geological time. Pandolfi wrote a brilliant paper about the Huan peninsula in New Guinea, a place where the land is going up at a pretty constant rate; every time there is an earth quake the shore line goes up a few meters,so that area is sort of  like an old-fashioned chart recorder. Sea level is going up and down and the reefs that form are like the ink in the pen of the chart recorder and they record what things were like overtime. So the oldest reefs were at the top not the bottom, and Pandolfi went to a place on the shore -he had three locations – and he looked at them over a period of a little over a hundred thousand years. John showed that every time the reefs reformed they were vastly more similar to the past reef than you would expect by chance. John came to work with me in Panama and we extended his work, and looked at reef assemblages at Curaçao, well across the Caribbean in space and through time, in Barbados, which is very similar to the Huan peninsula and we showed again, very powerfully, that coral reef composition in space and time was much more predictable than you would expect from chance occurrences of species and blah blah blah. So all that was going on and,actually while I did this “Reefs since Columbus”and whatever, I’d like to think I stayed involved big time in basic ecology. It’s just that morally I felt compelled to work on this other stuff.


HS: I’d like to ask you a little more about this working group at the NCEAS. Could you tell me this group was put together and how it actually worked towards this paper?

JJ: Absolutely. First of all I put it together. I had the advantage of having been on the board and going to NCEAS, I think we had meetings two times a year. It was really fun.What we did was, on the spot, we reviewed these short proposals, and we were looking for risk, we wanted risky proposals we wanted things that were,to use the over-used phrase,“outside the box”,that weren’t typical kinds of proposals one would write to the National Science Foundation, where, for the last 30 years, if you don’t know the answer in advance they are never going to fund you. It’s really sort of boring. After publishing a palaeontology paper showing that that understanding of past diversity in the fossil record was based on inadequate information, I went to Harvard and had a great conversation with Andrew Knoll, who is one of the greatest living palaeontologists. We were talking about how one would pursue this and I said: well, maybe NSF. And Andy, and he really is probably the greatest living palaeontologist, he said: Oh my god no! He said it’s much too interesting for NSF to ever fund it. So there was this feeling that that was why NCEAS was created, to take risks and to be interesting. Fascinatingly enough,it was a program director of NSF, who was sick and tired of just predictable stuff and very conservative review of proposals wanted to jazz things up, and that’s how NCEAS was created! So, after three years on the board, I had a really good feeling that the most successful working groups – because that’s what I convened, what they called a working group – the most successful groups were the ones that really took risks and tried to push understanding beyond the usual conventional way. So knowing that, I just tried to think of what would be the most terrific group of people, I mean just the smartest neatest people I could think of, I could bring together, who had open enough minds, that they would think that this is a really exciting and worthwhile thing to do. And if you look at the list of people I got, it’s a pretty amazing list of people. And the only person I couldn’t get was Paul Dayton, who I really wanted.But I got Mia Tegner, who was really Paul’s protégé instead, who turned out to be fabulous. So I just invited these people. Some of them were coral reef scientists who had been at that talk I gave in Panama, some of them were my former students. Terry Hughes, who’s probably the leading coral reef ecologist in the world these days was my PhD student. Bob Steneck was my PhD student. John Pandolfi was my post-doc. My gosh, I’m trying to think whether it was even more inbred than that . I am going to look at the paper while we’re talking. So, you know, these were people I really knew. These were people who I had confidence in as being people who would really accept the challenge. That was the really important thing, that people would be willing to stick their necks out a little bit, you know, and it turned out to be really good.So let’s see:Kirby was a post-doc, Wolfgang Berger was my colleague at Scripps -he’s still alive, he was my null hypothesis person, and more or less invented the science of palaeo-oceanography. I knew I could count on Wolf to say: how do you know these changes aren’t just natural – so he really was a great contributor. Karen Bjorndal had written a paper about turtles, Lou Botsford is a theoretical ecologist, Bruce Borque is an archaeologist -we knew we needed archaeologists -Roger Bradbury is sort of the bad boy of coral reef science and a spook; he’s been a spy his entire life. He goes to places like the CIA to talk about environmental change. Really smart. Richard Cook – archaeologist at the Smithsonian in Panama, Jon Erlandson  – a brilliant archaeologist,  Jim Estes – a long time ecology colleague, Terry Hughes – my student,  Susan Kidwell is the wife of the palaeontologist David Jablonsky and really good at understanding how things are preserved, Carina Lange – ecologist, Hunter Lenihan -an ecologist, Pandolfi – one of my post-doc peers, Peterson –  a student of Joe Connell, one of the great marine ecologists at the time, Bob Steneck  – my student, Tegner – I already told you and Bob Warner  – maybe the greatest coral reef fish behaviourist ecologist, a real experimentalist, and I knew he would be really sceptical of anything done historically, so I really wanted him in the group. And so we all got together,and it was really fun.

In fact, you know, I have the paper in front of me, and I’m looking at Figure1. Figure 1 is a cartoon, it’s a simplified coastal food web showing the way things were before versus after. I should say that, originally, the meeting was not going to be just about fishing; it was going to be about all the ways we changed marine ecosystems. And then, it just became apparent, at the very first meeting, that it was going to be a huge job even to just look at the impact of fishing. So we narrowed it down. But on the very first day, you can imagine I’m pretty nervous, I’ve got these 18 or whatever number of people, all of whom are feisty independent scientists, and I’ve got to somehow move them in a creative and useful direction. After, you know, the so-called 5-minute introductions, which took all morning and were fascinating and sort of got us bonded, I said: well, you know, it will be really interesting to just imagine with no books, no references, just based on what you know, how do you think food webs have changed. And that started this great conversation.We had these big huge pieces of paper you can write on with the magic marker, a flip chart which you can turn over, and blackboards -NCEAS was great, it had black boards, the old fashioned boards you could write on. I said: so, let’s just try to do this. And it was absolutely fascinating. People would describe, for example, what they thought a kelp forest food web was like before people. That would be the thing on the left and then I would say: okay, so what’s gone?And they just started talking about what was gone or diminished and we crossed them out on the paper and I can tell you that by the time that first day was over, we had Figure 1 of that paper, within 95 percent! It was really fascinating.So, for example, for estuaries, Charles (“Pete”) Peterson, who is probably, well maybe not anymore, but certainly back when we were doing that, was still  the greatest American estuarine ecologist – and I had so much fun with this – he forgot to put in turtles. Have you looked at the cover photograph? Oh, you’ve got to look at that. The cover photograph of that issue is a 17th century painting of a North Carolina marine community and it’s got all these wonderful large animals in it. And you know Pete, who is at University of North Carolina, and knows Pamlico Sound better than any living person, and he forgot about sea turtles. This is the whole shifting baseline syndrome, which is like a whole other story, about how I, sort of working with Daniel Pauly, took his idea and popularized it. Because really what Jackson et al. 2001 is about is the shifting baseline syndrome.


HS: I’m looking at the journal cover right now; it’s beautiful.

JJ: It’s really beautiful and had huge impact and Science jumped at using that photo on the cover. Anyway from then on we split into groups. The first meeting, we all met in Santa Barbara. Then we had a series of smaller meetings, each of which was a sub-group of people who wanted to talk about kelp forests or coral reef growth or an estuaries group. I was really busy because I went to all of them. And the post-doc Michael Kirby went to all of them. We were the glue. And then we had two more meetings where everybody met together, including one after the paper came out which people just couldn’t believe. It was instant success. Instant impact. I worked with the people at Seaweb to do the outreach and we did a really good press release and everything. I have a book which is about five centimetres thick,which is nothing but the interviews and stuff that were done in the first three months. I would say in some ways the greatest impact of the paper is not in the scientific literature. It’s in law review articles and congressional hearings and stuff like that. It was very quickly picked up in the political world, in the legal world.


HS: I want to ask you a little more about the meetings itself. Did all these meetings happen at NCEAS in Santa Barbaraor were they at different places?

JJ: Almost all were at NCEAS, I think the kelp group might have met somewhere else once. But the way NCEAS works is that they give you the money to come there to have your meeting,and frankly it really works.They had a bunch of little tiny hotels they put us up in and they were all very close walking distance to the meetings, they had great internet facilities, they could archive data. They really were a full service organization, just right for facilitating the meetings. We would have been crazy not to take advantage of it.


HS: Over what period did these meetings happen, i.e. which years?

JJ: Well the first meeting was sort of late 99, yeah late 99. The reason I remember that is because I almost died. I had really serious cancer that was diagnosed in the early fall of 2001. No it was diagnosed in 2000, so the first meeting was either early 2000 or late 1999. And actually when I wrote the paper I was going through radiation and all the rest of it. We had had our organizational meeting, it must have begun in 1999, because we had had two meetings with the whole group and we had one or two meetings of the sub groups. And then I found out I had cancer, after I had written the first draft. I remember sending it out to everybody and saying I’m gonna be having radiation and all that horrible stuff and I want you guys to make all the revisions you wanted etc. etc. so that when I stop doing that I can work on it again.And oh my god, when I was writing it I was so weak from the radiation. I could work like an hour a day and then two hours a day, but it was very tough. I like to think that knowing how important that paper was gave me the energy to deal with the horror of it all. I was given a year to live in 2000. So it was a little bizarre for me. And I was lucky. I took all sorts of risks and treatment and I was really lucky because here I am. But you know you can’t write a good paper by committee. I’d ask the expert to write a paragraph and they’d send me five pages! But actually that turned out to be great because I had vastly more information than I could use, but then I as the dictator could write the paper. And then I’d send it back and ask did I misrepresent anything you said? How do you feel about this rather than the other? And so on. We spent over a year writing it. It really worked but it would have been difficult if we hadn’t had all the face-to-face meetings, if we didn’t already know each other and really respect each other. The sociology of something like that is critical.


HS: Could we go over the list of people you acknowledge to find out more about who these people were and how they helped?

JJ: Yeah let me look at it. Okay, at the very end. I can’t even remember Bolten. Well some of these people are people I didn’t know. But the people who I knew who really helped were: Nancy Knowlton, my wife,who is my greatest critic,and a brilliant scientist. You know she’s in the National Academy; I am not; Enric Sala,who I actually hired in Scripps. Enric is now a National Geographic explorer. He was not part of the original group but was very much part of stuff we did later. This was a very productive group because it produced four Science papers. It produced the paper you’re asking me about. But then it produced Pandolfi et al. 2003, the coral reef analysis. It produced Lotze et al 2005 or whatever it is, the estuarine and coastal seas analysis. And it produced Pandolfi et al. ‘Are US coral reefs on the slippery slope to slime?’ All of those papers came out of this group. And they told me that this one is still one of the most cited papers ever produced by an NCEAS group. I think what’s really interesting also about the paper is it’s one of three very famous papers about overfishing. There’s Daniel Pauly, really the magnum opus of them, and then Ron Myers and Worm the Nature paper  – 90% of all the big fish are gone. And there’s been huge pushback. There are a lot of evil people in fisheries science who are on the take and say everything is wonderful. I don’t want to mention names ,but there are people who are demonstrably dishonest about how fisheries are wonderful and everything. And so there was a huge attack on all our papers. The National Academy of Sciences had a National Research Council working group analysis. It was really funny, the NRC committee report is fascinating because basically they say: well, it might not have been 90% of all the big fish that are gone it might be more like 70,  but basically they’re right. This stuff really figured very largely in the national debate about fisheries policy, not just in the United States but globally, which is you know frankly what I wanted to achieve. You get to a point where you don’t really give a damn about writing more papers. It has to be something that’s really exciting, to motivate me and this certainly was that. I forget, I wanted to say something else about that.The other thing I wanted to say was that ever since that meeting, I got to participate in – you’ve interviewed John Terborgh right – yeah, well I was privileged to be part of that wonderful White Oak meeting about that trophic cascades Science paper and the book. That meeting was really fun. I was housed in a house at this meeting venue with Bob Paine, Tony Sinclair of Serengeti, and a young scientist named Brashares at Berkeley, who is fantastic. And,oh my god, what’s his name, the founder of the Society for Conservation Biology? That was really fun.You can imagine just sitting around and drinking and talking and whatever. Bob Paine was a person I had a prickly relationship with, a good but prickly relationship with, and Bob said one of the most interesting things about that paper. He said: you know Jeremy, the reason your paper is the most important of all of them is because there’s no modelling. It’s just before and after, so nobody can disagree with it. You know that gigantic table in the paper- this is the way it was before, this is the way it is now? People attacked Ron Myers about the assumptions of his models but it’s sort of hard to argue with, you know: this is this species, this is the place,and these are the sources. Or this is the time line, this is the way it was then, this is the way it is now and how much has it changed. You can’t make that go away. I think it’s a really interesting commentary. It’s like the whole climate change debate, and this moron, who’s this dangerous fascist, who has been elected president the United States, and, you know, they say: oh, it’s just a model. The climate debate in the United States will move from the national with all of these deniers to the more local where people are suffering and get it, and that’s where the action will be, on the basis of things actually demonstrated, because the general public just does not understand risks in the scientific sense of the word. The people of Bangladesh, I’d dare say, don’t really understand the existential risk of the delta, but they sure as hell understand the aftermath of the last typhoon. So it’s a great lesson. I always took that as the greatest compliment Bob Paine ever gave me. He thought that that was really important, that it had the rigor of an experiment even though it was not an experiment.


HS: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the approach. It must have been really novel at that time, using information from these different disciplines – archaeology, historical records etc.Was that a big challenge, because this is not something that ecologists are very familiar with,to put together information and make sense of it and find the right narrative?

JJ: Yes it was. We spent a lot of the first meeting talking about proxies and circumstantial versus quantitative evidence. For example, I have a paper on which the first author was my PhD student Lauren McClenachan. We revisited the sea turtle stuff that’s in “Reefs since Columbus” and she spent six months in the archives of the Indies in Sevilla in Spain, going through old government records and reading the pirate literature. Things like: Pirate X went to Island Y and killed 30 green turtles for food and collected 10000 eggs. That’s data right, but it is not the kind of data scientists normally use. Lauren produced a map of all the places where there were turtle nesting beaches based on that research. And so it becomes indubitable right? I mean it is clear these people did those things in that time but it’s not the sort of thing that scientists could use. And marine ecologists were like, you know, we know there were a lot of buffalo, but since nobody did a survey of the abundance of Americans bison on the north American plains, we have to ignore the fact that the plains were, as far as the eye could see, black with bison. And does it really matter whether there were 25 million of them or 10 million of them? There were a lot of bison, and they totally controlled the ecology of the American prairie. And you know groupers were the most common fish on menus in Florida until the 1930s but now they are on the endangered species list. Etc etc etc. That’s this whole shifting baseline stuff. Actually, Roger Bradbury was incredibly important – I’m glad you asked this question – because Roger took the lead in developing the argument to back up the kinds of data we used in the paper. That’s why you see him as a co-author not only in the original paper but also the reef one and, I believe, on the ‘Slippery slope to find’ paper, because Roger was really good at that. If you look at the timelines in the Pandolfi 2003 reef paper or the estuaries and coastal seas paper you see we generated time lines based on those kinds of data. For me, it wasn’t really a big challenge because my father was a historian. I have fiddled around in different kinds of science. I did cell biology for awhile – you know you can’t do this in a lot of university systems  – but I bounced around,  I went from cell biology to archaeology for a year. Then I finally settled down in biology. I would say that my strength is that I’m really good at making connections between different fields, so I was pretty adapted to write a paper like that.The challenge was to bring the rest of the people along. The ecological archaeologists have been worrying about this issue for a long time. Jon Erlandson is a great leader in ecological archaeology. Susan Kidwell is a palaeontologist who has been thinking for 35 years about how you can infer real ecological process from the fossil record. And then Wolfgang Berger, the palaeooceanographer, was just invaluable, not only as a sceptic, but also for educating all those ecologists about the rigor of historical records. It’s not hocus pocus – its real science.


HS: After this paper do you think that the people have started doing more of this kind of work what one might call historical ecology?

JJ: I won a big prize awhile back, quite awhile back. And a big part of that was, I guess, in recognition that I was the founder of what could be called marine historical ecology, as opposed to the discipline in history of environmental history. Environmental historians are interested in historical understanding of process and what people thought at the time and all the rest of it,whereas historical ecology is the attempt to use unconventional data to understand ecological process in the past as well as in the present.


HS: What was the name of this prize?

JJ: Oh, it was the BBVA international prize in ecology. It’s the most prestigious prize in Spain. It’s a ton of money.  Banco Bilbao Viscaya Asturius. BBVA. But you know, essentially what I’d like to think is that for a long time there’s been terrestrial historical ecology, palaentology and stuff like that. Plus the fact that because people live on the land and not under water that there’s a vast historical literature, which is useful for rigorous ecological reconstruction – understanding how vegetation communities have changed etc. I wrote a paper, very strange paper,for a book, called “When ecological pyramids were upside down”. It starts off with describing how we used to go to France for 17 years, to the same place in the middle of France, to this wonderful cave called Pech Merle, with all the cave paintings. I’ve been there like 15 times and I’ve had a sort of a historical collectors curve, in that each time I have returned I saw more and more drawings and species. There is a very visual factual record of the animals that used to exist 15000 years ago in Europe. So we had this great wealth of information that goes from cave paintings to palaeontology to isotopes to blah blah blah. And marine palaeontologists were doing that ,palaeo-oceanographers were doing it, but that in between time, the time of human impact, nobody was doing it really. I’d like to think that the real scientific legacy of that paper and the papers that followed it are the people who were involved. Like Heike Lotze, who I would say is one of the half dozen greatest marine historical ecologists. My student Loren McClenachan is another one. I have another student named Katie Cramer. These are people filling that gap in time between what a quaternary or Holocene palaeontologist would study and an ecologist would study.And I think my paper, that 2001 paper, sort of put it out there that this is a legitimate scientific discipline and that we can gain enormous understanding from doing that kind of work.


HH: I want to ask you a little bit about the journey of this paper through peer review and publication. Would you say that this paper had a relatively easy journey through peer-review?Was Science the first place you submitted this to?

JJ: Oh yeah absolutely. Actually one of the senior editors at Science is somebody named Andrew Sugden. He was the founding editor of the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution. And he would have stayed with that forever but when Elsevier moved their office from Cambridge to London, he said I’m not going to live in London, so he went to work for Science – and continued to live in Cambridge – and became the overseas editor for Science in England. I knew Andrew from before, so I wrote him an email and said I’m doing this paper and it’s pretty unconventional and it’s got to be long and are you interested. He wrote back about a week later saying: funny you should write because I was thinking about contacting you about a special issue of Science we’re going to do on historical perspectives in ecology! So if you actually download that whole issue you’ll see that my paper is one of four papers that were grouped together as a special feature. That sort of smoothed the way, but Andrew loved the paper.Now they knew they were dealing with fire, so I think we had something like eight reviews. But, I don’t know, he must have picked his reviewers really well because all we had to do was dot a few ‘i’s and cross a few ‘t’s, but that was it. I mean they sent it back to me with a lot of editorial changes, but I didn’t have to change anything in the actual science of it all.


HS:At the time it was published could you tell us a little bit about the kind of attention it attracted? Was it considered controversial?

JJ: Except by those fisheries scientist, I would say the response was like: oh my god, why didn’t I think of that! I think maybe “Reefs since Columbus” had paved the way and I had published another paper that ironically came out the same year in PNAS called “What was natural in coasts and oceans?” That paper took a long time to come out but it was basically the talk I gave for a National Academy meeting that was based on the proposal for the NCEAS study. That paper was basically what I already knew and the Science paper was everything that emerged from the working group. But you know it was a new kind of reaction because not only did it get picked up very quickly in scientific citations and get talked about a lot in the scientific community but it got enormous press attention.  I must have done 20 high profile interviews for radio and major newspapers- New York times,Guardian, LeMonde. BBC National Public radio, Australian Broadcasting Company; Terry Hughes did a lot of stuff in Australia. I mean it just got huge attention. Discover magazine, which you know is a popular science magazine,has a very wide circulation in the United States, showed it as the discovery of the year for  2001. So it was huge attraction. And it changed my life. I mean after that I was getting invitations to give public lectures, within a period of…let’s see.. until I retired from Scripps in 2011, I must have given 150 talks about that paper. One at UNESCO headquarters, at a meeting of the French government, was simultaneously translated into eight languages for an audience of thousands of people. I gave probably 20 lectures that had audiences of more than 1000 people, you know big university-wide lectures and other public lectures. You can look some of them up if you go to YouTube (e.g.). When I started out my talks were really primitive with overhead projectors and everything, and then I sort of quickly came to realize that you can’t give a talk to 2000 people with an overhead projector. So I learned fast how to effectively give a very different kind of talk and to do it mostly from images.Really for a public lecture it’s not detailed data that is important, it’s conveying the basic reality of what it’s about in ways that the educated general public can understand. In the beginning there was a lot of push back: Oh,you’re exaggerating this or the other. But I would say after about 5-7 years we begin to realize – me, Ron Myers, who tragically died, and Pauly –  we began to realize that we were winning. That people were moving from denial or nasty aggressive pushback to sort of acceptance and thinking about what we should do about it. My own talks also evolved, and I eventually ended up doing what I’d hoped to do in my working group, which was to expand the talk from just talking about fishing to talk about pollution and climate change and sort of the panoply of impacts. I had a paper in PNAS called “Brave new ocean” which is sort of based on the same approach as the 2001 paper, but which encompasses what we know about the impact of ocean warming and acidification and eutrophication – all those other things. And I think we won. Whether or not people do anything about it is another story, and of course there are pockets of denial and all the rest, but I would say that the few of us who had been really deeply involved in this sort of thing, and that would include Terborgh and Jim Estes from their tropic cascades work.. You know it’s really interesting, I was involved in a film being made about all that,and what I find really, I don’t know – depressing is too strong a word –  frustrating, is that all these brilliant scientists like Terborgh and Estes, have so much trouble crawling out of there scientist skins. They don’t excite people when they talk about this stuff. I don’t know, I mean,  I’m told I’m a very good speaker. I’m in a lot of movie, you know, I’m in this recent depressing Leonardo di Caprio movie. I tried to get him to be more upbeat and to say: yes, there are all these bad things but look at all the successes where we’ve actually made a difference. That really is my great challenge now:how to move from getting people to recognize the severity of all these problem, to talk about solutions.


HS: I haven’t heard you speak but from your writing I can see what a good communicator you are.The first few lines of this paper are so beautifully written

JJ: Thank you.You can see many of talks online now. Believe it or not, I have given to talk to the United States Naval War College to 700 – 800 admirals, captain and officers,who go there to get master’s degrees in things like global terrorism. They are a fabulous audience because they’re entirely data driven. They are realists. On the United States Naval War College website there are two of my talks. What I was going to say before is that, really, this business of focusing on success instead of endless problems is something that for which my wife has been more of a driving force. During the earth day weekend, she is organising a summit in Washington.  It’ll be a huge thing with about 1500 people and Nancy is calling that meeting is a Global Earth Optimism Summit.

My feeling is, I could go back to studying how the formation of the Isthmus of Panama and how that changed the oceanography of the Caribbean and caused a mass extinction and influenced the evolution of modern communities.I love that stuff you know; I love the basic science, And I still try to do it, although I’m 74 and now I mostly like to go kayaking and travel you know. But I guess ethically I’ve felt that – let me let me put it crudely – the people of the United States funded my research for 35 years,and I feel a basic responsibility to my fellow citizens to use what I’ve learned scientifically ,and present it in a way that they can understand so they can decide what they want to do. I’ve been accused of being an advocate where I think I’m just a communicator. I’m an advocate as well, but as a scientist I feel an obligation to communicate what I’ve learned, and to highlight what I believe are the implications. Then, it’s up to society to decide what they want to do about it.Most scientists say that scientists shouldn’t do advocacy, and I say that’s crap.You are not a citizen if you don’t do it, but you’re also not a scientist if you don’t follow through with your ethical responsibility to talk about what you’ve discovered and what it might mean to other people.When the paper came out, a lot of my colleagues at Scripps were very uncomfortable with all the attention it got. The director wasn’t; the director loved it. The University of California San Diego gave me the big president’s award, which of course is nothing but a blah blah blah, but they highlighted it because they were very proud of it. But the individual scientists, many of them, were uncomfortable with the kind of very public event that transpired.


HS: You’ve spoken a little bit about how it influenced your career- about all the talks you gave. I wanted to also ask you about how it influenced the future course of your research itself. You said that that you made a move at this point from doing fundamentally ecology to doing more work related to this topic. Can you say a little more about that?

JJ: Yeah well you know, all of my previous scientific research on coral reef ecology, the geology of the Isthmus, the biological consequences etc, were always very heavily empirically based. I’m a field scientist. I’ve probably dived 3000 times. God only knows how many thousands of miles I’ve walked in Panama, Costa Rica,Nicaragua, Trinidad, Venezuela, doing geology. That’s my trademark of my research.But I’ve also always been a person who was willing to follow up the implications. So, for example, my most cited paper, other than all these more recent things, is a paper on solitary and colonial animals and what the different morphologies mean ecologically. I think that paper has been cited like 700 times or something which is a hell of a lot for a basic scientific paper on such an obscure topic.But I was very much a synthesis person. It wasn’t just: I did a study, here is the result. It was: there are all these things we know, and therefore, isn’t it interesting that we can interpret these fundamental differences in morphology as having been driven by these kinds of ecological and evolutionary forces. My career is full of a lot of those kinds of more synthetic papers, which, I think, was something that also pre-adapted me to be able to write something like “Reefs since Columbus” or “historical overfishing”. So it was just a natural thing to do these papers that a sceptic would almost call over reaching, you know, to really push on the implications.Those aren’t papers you do by going out and doing more field work; they’re more library-based syntheses and essays I would say, although, there are inklings of that in my previous research, like that solitary colonial paper, or a biogeography paper I wrote that was also in the American Naturalist in 1974. But, you know, there was a certain sense of loss there. I’m still involved in that kind of work, but it’s more vicarious than it used to be because of my conflicting time constraints. We just had a terrific paper, which Aaron’s the first author on and I am the last author in, that sort of ceremonial position, which is about the timing of the formation and closure of the Isthmus and the final closure at the connection between the Pacific and the Caribbean. I have another paper coming out in the American Naturalist with a post-doc of mine, on the evolution of polymorphism in colonial organisms and what we think are the selective forces for that. So I still do basic ecology and evolution, but I do a lot less of it,partly also because I’m retired and there are more things to life at the age of 74 than just writing papers and doing science. I’m finishing up right now, a paper for Science Advances, which is based on a report I did for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, on the status and trends of Caribbean coral reefs over the last 50 years.It was a several 100,000 dollars study. I had a few people working full time with me on it to get quantitative data from more than 35000 surveys in the Caribbean,at many different locations, from 1970 to the present. We publish a 304 page IUCN report called ‘Status and trends of Caribbean coral reefs 1970-2012’ and I’m writing this paper based on it with 80 authors. And I do a lot of stuff, like being here in Hong Kong now…I talk to students and they’re doing a lot of applied work here in Hong Kong on the… believe it or not,  the waters of Hong Kong are hell of a lot better than any mainland Chinese waters and they care about it.So I help graduate students and post-docs here and you know I do that at Scripps still and what have you, but it’s sort of you know fading years kind of science, although I don’t think I’m brain dead yet.

HS: It’s now 15 years since the paper was published. If you go back to it and look at the main conclusions from the paper would you say they still hold true,more-or-less,or has your thinking on them changed in any way?

JJ: Only to say that there we were more right! Do you know the expression “to pull one’s punches”? You don’t say what you really know. My feeling was that if I said what I really thought people would think I was a lunatic. When I started to get the criticism, the real push back, I went to Palmyra atoll which is this dot in the Pacific about 1000 miles south of Hawaii, Honolulu. I went there are to see whether Scripps wanted to be involved in this new station.The man who founded Intel, Gordon Moore, bought the island for $15 million and gave it to the Nature Conservancy to do research. We wanted to know whether we wanted to be involved in that, and actually this was only a year after I’d had my terrible cancer, I was recovering still,and was afraid to go, but my wife and that guy Enric Sala tricked me into going saying: Oh it will be good for you. They tricked me into going so I went. By this point you know…this was I think 2003, late 2003 what I would call evil fisheries scientists were really starting to attack me. I gave a talk in Canada in Dalhousie where the cod collapsed and a bunch of fisheries scientists stomped out of my talk, stomping as loud as they could. So I had this stuff going on and I was fighting for what I felt I knew was true and everything. I got to Palmyra and made my first dive, and I immediately saw two gigantic humphead parrot fish 1.5 metres long, and then there were these huge humphead wrasses;we would get these gigantic fishes everywhere. And I sort of screamed with delight under water because realized that I was more right than I had realized.

The most interesting paper figure in the paper is Figure 3. We were at the last meeting and we’re trying to figure out how to sum it up, and that guy Bob Warner – the one I said is an experimentalist who had been sort of sceptical to begin with – he invented that figure.So in the group we used to call it ‘Warnergram’ or ‘Warnergraph’. But you know it’s profound that figure ,because it is sort of the sequence of the way people have screwed up the oceans. It is the figure which is most commonly reproduced because it really captures the gestalt of the whole thing. And my ‘Brave New Ocean’, which I never should have titled that because nobody reads anymore so in today’s generation nobody would know the novel‘Brave New World’ was and how it affected the world and everything, but that paper is basically the follow up to Figure 3 in this paper. I believe it more strongly than ever. In public lectures I like to – this is a good way to finish this up  – I would introduce the idea of shifting baseline and I would say: you know everybody thinks natural is the way the world was when they were young adults and unnatural is all the bad stuff that happened ever since, which is why old people are more depressing than young people. But children never listen to their parents. So they make the same mistake. They think natural is the way it is when they’re 18 or 25. And unnatural is all the stuff that happened afterwards. So generation by generation we lose all perspective and understanding of the way the natural world was. And that, you know shifting baselines, that was Daniel Pauly’s paper –  the shifting baseline syndrome – is one of the most important environmental papers ever written, maybe the most important, along with you know ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. This paper – the 2001 paper -and everything I’ve done ever since in terms of the environmental stuff is about shifting baselines. And it’s what people have the most trouble understanding. It’s why we use 1980 as a baseline for our fisheries, which is moronic. I like to tease Daniel, we are very good friends, and I like to tease him saying: Daniel, it was your idea, but if it weren’t for me nobody would pay any attention to it.There’s a lot of truth to that. You know I even had a web thing I did with a guy in Hollywood named Randy Olson, a website that we called ‘Shifting Baselines’. We did Hollywood events and movies and public service announcements to try to get this idea across and it’s made me schizophrenic –  the original scientist Jeremy Jackson, the ecologist and palaeontologist is still there, but there’s sort of this other side of Jeremy, which is all this public stuff. I love it, I really enjoy it and it’s really important and it’s actually really fun and it’s intellectually really challenging and, you know, I think that’s why I became a scientist in the first place. It’s just a different way of being a scientist. It’s being a public scientist.


HS: Since you are talking about these figures, I want to ask you, if you were to redraw Figure 1 and Figure 3 today would you change anything about them or would they be more or less the same?

JJ: I think they’d be more-or-less the same .I think we could fill in a little bit of detail in Figure 1. But I would keep it as a cartoon. If you get too bogged down in detail it sort of loses its value. The other way to do it would be the Terborgh-Estes way – really focusing on the cascades phenomenon. Actually it’s really interesting. It was very hard to give a talk at that trophic cascades meeting, because what we discovered when I worked on it with my colleague Stewart Sandon, who was a young assistant professor at Scripps and a former PhD student, what we came to realize was that it was very hard to demonstrate a trophic cascade because it was all over. You know, the whales were gone, the sharks were gone, and so in our chapter for that book and the example in the paper, it’s these weird little invertebrate things,because the time had passed to be even able to observe it. No I don’t think I’ll change it.


HS: That’s true for Figure 3 as well?

JJ: Absolutely, because, after all, Figure 3 is nothing but a metaphor, about a way of thinking. It’s a very good example given the fact that it’s the most impactful figure in the paper it’s a really good example of how less can be more.


HS: And you know, hypothetically, if you were to redo this paper today would you change anything about it?

JJ: Oh,I’m sure I would. We know so much more. The big table would have to be five pages long! I mean without question.We also have a deeper understanding.For example,when there are extreme heating events and massive coral bleaching in places that are overfished the corals are much more likely to get sick from various kinds of diseases and die whereas they’re much more likely to recover in places that are less fished.But that’s not universal.The extreme bleaching event in north-western Australia this year, those are some of the closest to pristine coral reefs in the world,and they had 80-90 percent mortality.So protection from over fishing is not a guaranteed protection against climate change, but its demonstrably important in most situations.So there are all sorts of deep understanding now about how fishing interacts with warming interacts with water pollution to affect the survival of corals. But I’m not sure all that detail would have really worked in a paper like this. I guess you could say it would be inappropriate to write a paper like this now. It would be a very different paper, it would be a review of how overfishing through time has changed. And it wouldn’t be published in Science, it would be published in some sort of marine ecology or fisheries journal because the basic point would have been: been there, done that.


HS: In these 15 years, have you ever read the paper again?

JJ: I thought I would read it before this interview, but I was so busy with something else, mostly with our daughter visiting, that I never got around to it. I used to re-read it or skim through it before public lectures. So in those 10 years afterwards, of giving lots and lots of public lectures, I would go over it. And I certainly re-read it when I was writing the “Brave new ocean” paper because I didn’t want to repeat things I’d said before. When you get to be my age, I have to tell you, things start to blur, and sometimes people ask me what I think about a paper I’d forgotten I wrote and I say: oh yeah, I remember that paper! I mean, I wrote my first scientific paper in Science by the way in 1968. So it’s been a long time. And god, what am I coming up on, if I publish a paper in 2018 it will be fifty years! Oh I must do that, I must publish a paper in Science in 2018 [laughs] before I just roll over and it’s the end of it. I don’t know how you feel, I saw you before on the Skype call, and you are young, I don’t know how you feel about all these things. To me, I would have never become a scientist if I didn’t think it was fun. And you know it was an idyllic period back then. I never had a post-doc; I just went straight from my PhD to a job. The world is too full of scientists these days. And especially in the United States, it’s not like India where you have your elite institutions and that’s pretty much it. In the United States we’ve got our great universities, which are as great as any place, but we also have a lot of second-rate universities producing a lot of people who aren’t really that good. Do you know that the average scientific paper is statistically never cited?Isn’t that awful?. We are drowning in papers. I forget what it was – between 1980 and 1990 there were more scientific papers than had ever been published in all the years before. There is thisinsane explosion, and you have to wonder whether or not it isn’t some sort of ‘tower of Babel’. Because if people write the paper and nobody ever cites it – it’s sort of like: if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it did it really fall? I don’t say this to be like this hot-shot old scientist being nasty and venomous in my old age or something. I’m saying it because I think it’s a tragedy, And this is something that is going to obviously have to change. I mean it’s still possible to have a great scientific career, to be a professor at a great university. And I’ve had some students recently achieve that success, but I’ve also seen some of the very best ones go on into very different kind of careers. One of my PhD students at Scripps, a palaeontologist, is now a very high-level epidemiologist for the Environmental Protection Agency. He was always good at math and statistics and so he’s doing all this work on environmental issues. Another become a science writer and is very successful at it. I mean, you’re doing this blog which I think is really interesting. And another one of my very best students, Loren McClenachan, is teaching at a small – they don’t exist anywhere else – what we call a liberal arts colleges in the United States, you know, very small places with 800 to a few thousand students which only have undergraduates and are all about teaching and really bright people are attracted to work in those places and do their research in the summer because they really like teaching and stuff like that. And yet we continue to proliferate scientific journals. I continue to be invited to contribute papers to journals that have existed for three months.Why would I do that?  And your generation, you face a kind of professional crisis and a huge opportunity,a huge opportunity to do really cool and creative things but it is brought down by morass of stuff done without a purpose. I was at a meeting yesterday about restoring bio diversity in eco-catastrophe places like Hong Kong and Singapore. And there are all these people, you know, thinking about how we can put tiles on the wall that will increase habitat complexity and increase biodiversity. It’s a very worthwhile thing to do, and there were a couple of talks by people who really get the big picture, and understand what can be done and what the limits are. But then there were half a dozen talksby people who were perfectly happy to take money from the government of Singapore to basically greenwash the eco-catastrophe of Singapore. Should we make our little bumps on the tiles circles or rectangles, should they have hooks and how deep should the trenches be. And then they’ll publish those papers somewhere and they’ll be read by three people, if at all. Why are we doing that? Sorry I’m going off-track.


HS: This is probably a difficult question to answer given the number of papers you have published, but do you count this as one of your favourites?

JJ: Oh yeah, sure I do. You know if it creeps up on Google scholar by 1000 citations I get a certain satisfaction out of that. I think in the global scheme of things, it is the most important paper I’veever published. There are other papers that I’m really proud of but they are to a much smaller audience.That solitary colonial paper created a whole field of science, and my little paper with Leo Buss in PNAS about allelopathy and spatial competition, and saying that competitive networks were important in nature, and it wasn’t all A beats B beats C beats D, but D might even beat A, and that there’s enormous richness and complexity in coral reefs and forests because of that. That work was really important and influential. There are other papers too that I’m proud of, but the sheer scale of this thing clearly surpasses anything else.


HS: Do you have a sense of what it mostly get cited for?

JJ: Oh my god, everything. I mean it’s just all over the place.The, sort of, traditional scientific citation – somebody working in a similar area – gets probably about half the citations. At the opposite extreme, there are citations in economic journals and political science journals. It has had a big influence in those areas and, as I mentioned, law review articles. In the American system, law review articles are often the first step toward something being brought before the Supreme Court or for the development of legislation. There’s a subset of papers that are the ‘Jeremy Jackson is a raving idiot, all global fisheries are perfectly healthy’ papers. And then there are the more general papers about the anthropocene, in which this is cited as one of the half dozen favourite papers to cite about humanity’s impact on the planet.


HS: This is my last question. To a student who is about to read this paper today, what would you say? What should he or she take away from this paper written 15 years ago? Would you add any caveats to this today?

JJ:  I would say that it is probably still the definitive paper, or one of very few definitive papers, to convey the depths or the extent of the anthropocene impact on the ocean. And it doesn’t matter that it’s 15 years old; if anything, it’s just gotten worse. And if you combine it with the “Brave new ocean” paper.. I mean here off the coast of China, China is literally sea walling its entire coast. It’s just insane. Singapore is a cement block. And look at all the crises you are facing in India. Do you have the kind of air pollution that they have been having in Delhi?


HS: Not so bad.

JJ: I was in India in 19.. when was that… Nancy and I went in 1980. We travelled all over the south, we took country buses from Madras to Kerala. We went to Periyar elephant park. Yeah we had a wonderful trip, the bird watching was extraordinary, and then we went to Aurangabad where Nancy had a meeting and I flew home. I can’t imagine India today. I’m sure the environmental pressures are that much greater. You guys have passed one billion people haven’t you? How should we think about the future? I really don’t know.. China’s amazing. One gets the feeling that.. I mean I don’t know if it’s possible for India to catch up with what China has achieved. Of course they had that draconian one child policy. Whatever you think of that ethically, it worked. But they’re a monster trying to rein in themselves.There’s a smog alert system in Beijing right now. I mean these are the challenges your generation faces,sort of Picking up the pieces and Donald Trump isn’t helping. It’s embarrassing;worse than that. I think this paper stands as a marker. It’s a glimpse into the past and a look into the future.


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