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Remembering our colleague, Joanna Toole

Photo: ©FAO/Napolitano
Joanna Toole on a panel at the FishForum Conference at FAO this past December.
Photo: ©FAO/Benedetti
The UN flag flies at half-mast at FAO Headquarters in Rome on Monday.
Joanna was a dedicated conservationist. Showing her support for sharks at the COP21 in Manila, 23-28 October 2017.
Joanna speaking about the ocean noise issue and urging governments to take action on behalf of Ocean Care and twenty-four other organizations at the UN Ocean Conference in New York, 8 June 2017.

FAO was deeply saddened to learn we lost a dear colleague in the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 near Addis Ababa early Sunday morning. Joanna was travelling to Nairobi to represent the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department at the UN Environment Assembly.

Joanna, a British national, was a tireless advocate for ocean conservation issues, and worked frequently with FAO over the years before joining FAO Fisheries. While working with civil society organizations, she collaborated closely with FAO on many joint efforts addressing issues such as marine debris, plastic pollution, ghost gear, and guidelines for the marking of fishing gear.

Joanna was a determined conservationist, focused on the protection of marine mammals and other wildlife.  In her career she served as the Global Campaign Lead for World Animal Protection’s campaign on marine debris. During this time, she was a co-founder of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative – a cross-sectoral alliance aimed at eliminating lost and discarded fishing gear that is abandoned in the seas. 

This abandoned fishing gear is commonly known as “ghost gear” because it continues to trap marine life in its nets long after having been abandoned or lost. Because the nets are often made of plastic, they add to the plastic pollution in our oceans, and can remain in the oceans for many years. 

Joanna brought the UN and environmental organizations together to establish pilot projects testing fishing gear marking, including one such example in Indonesia where Joanna worked with FAO and colleagues from the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, partnering directly with the Indonesian government and local small-scale coastal fisheries communities to introduce the fish gear marking of their gillnets. Successful pilot activities such as the work carried out in Indonesia help to ensure fishing gear marking can be carried out in these countries, without creating extra burdens to the communities.

“Her ability to bridge from conservation objectives to international policy development was remarkable for someone so young,” according to Manuel Barange, Director of FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division.  “It demonstrates the kind of person she was, personally and professionally.” 

Joanna’s work on these issues continued at FAO. She was instrumental in the work carried out by the technical working group to negotiate the draft Voluntary Guidelines for abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear, which emerged from the Expert Consultations in April 2016, and then the Technical Consultations in February 2018 and received final endorsement by FAO’s Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in July 2018. The published guidelines will be dedicated to Joanna, in memory of all her key support to the process.

Joanna had also recently been named as the technical secretary of the newly-created Working Group on Sea-based sources of marine litter for the Joint Group of Experts of the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP). GESAMP is a group of independent scientific experts that provides advice to the UN system on scientific aspects of marine environmental protection.

To her colleagues, Joanna was a consummate professional, dedicated to her work and passionate about ocean conservation issues. This passion was clearly evident whenever she spoke with the media or at meetings about issues such as ghost gear or plastic pollution in our oceans, and work underway to find concrete solutions to these pressing concerns. She believed strongly in collaborating across agencies, to supporting the livelihoods of fisheries communities around the world, and the power of the individual to help make the world a better place. Her loss was greatly felt in the hallways of FAO, where she made many close friends and had quickly become an integral part of its Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

“She was an invaluable member of my team,” according to Joanna’s supervisor, Matthew Camilleri, Branch Chief of FAO’s Fisheries Operations and Technology Branch. “Joanna was fully immersed in the work of the team, competent and passionate about everything she worked on. She was a lovely person and we will miss her greatly.” 

Vera Agostini, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Policy and Resources Division added, “When I reflect on how much Joanna accomplished in such a short time I am reminded of how far grace, kindness and determination can take us. We owe it to Joanna to own these qualities as we carry our work forward.”

Joanna and fellow FAO Fisheries’ colleague Pingguo He worked very closely on issues related to ghost gear and fishing gear marking. They were scheduled to travel together for an upcoming FAO meeting in Shanghai, China. “Joanna was such a wonderful person and it was so enjoyable to work with her. This tragic loss has left me heartbroken both as a friend and a colleague. She was such a warm, compassionate, and dedicated person who devoted herself to ocean conservation - a clean sea without plastic debris and teeming with wildlife. The ocean is, thus, less clean and the animals in the sea less safe with the sudden departure of Joanna. She will be forever remembered as a great colleague and a wonderful friend.”

Her FAO Fisheries’ colleague and close friend Rumiana Uzunova added, “Joanna was a true friend, and a beautiful one. Her beauty radiated from within, and although we were colleagues, our friendship went well beyond the hallways of FAO. Her sense of humanity, ethical values and great love for the animal kingdom were all traits I admired in her. After every mission, we would meet up, and pore through every snapshot of fish and the fish workers she had met on her journeys. We discussed the often difficult reality people faced in their daily lives in the most remote areas of this world. Although she didn’t eat fish herself, she understood what an important source of nutrition it was for the communities in which she worked, and she supported their efforts. What I will remember most about Joanna is her true devotion to what she loved the most and her hopes for a different, better world.”

On Monday afternoon, FAO staff attended a brief ceremony under the UN flag flown at half-mast. FAO’s Director-General and FAO staff marked one minute of silence for Joanna and all the victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash, including numerous UN staff members, seven of whom were colleagues from FAO’s sister agency in Rome, the UN’s World Food Program.

Speaking in Nairobi at the ‘Sea-based sources of marine litter’ side event Joanna had helped to organize at this week’s UN Environment Assembly, her good friend and former colleague Ingrid Giskes, Chair of the  Global Ghost Gear Initiative Steering Group, opened the session with a minute of silence for Joanna and all 157 victims of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302. Remembering her friend, Ingrid said, “For Joanna, her work was not a job. It was a vocation. Her work ethic, diplomacy and professionalism were an inspiration to many, including me.” Although there was uncertainty about whether or not to hold the event after the tragedy, she went on to explain, “I last spoke to Joanna just as she was boarding her flight, and she told me how excited she was about the panel and the week ahead. We decided the panel should go ahead, and that we would continue to work for real action to address ghost gear, and to keep inspiring each other to do more and better every day, not only for the health of our oceans, but also for Joanna, who dedicated her career and her life to this important work.”

Photo: ©FAO/Benedetti
FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva, IFAD President Gilbert Foussoun Houngbo and WFP Assistant Executive Director Ute Klamert during a ceremony at FAO Headquarters to mourn the UN victims and other victims of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302.
Photo: ©FAO/Benedetti
FAO staff attend a minute of silence ceremony Monday afternoon.
Photo: ©FAO/Benedetti
The UN flag at FAO Headquarters on Monday.
To her colleagues, Joanna was a consummate professional, dedicated to her work and passionate about ocean conservation issues. Her loss is greatly felt throughout the entire ocean community.


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