In Memory of GGGI Co-Founder Joanna Toole

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We were absolutely heartbroken and at a loss for words by the tragic passing of Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) co-founder and ocean champion Joanna (Jo) Toole on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 that crashed on its way from Addis Ababa to Nairobi on March 10th, 2019. Jo was en route to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-4) where she was scheduled to speak on a panel co-chaired by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and GGGI to further engage the international community to address ghost gear and its environmental impacts. We were deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible tragedy.

We lost a colleague, a dear friend and the world has lost one of its great ocean and animal welfare champions.

Missed by Many

There was so much that was special and unique about Joanna – her warmth, her light-hearted spirit, her candid sense for humour, her love for celebrations and fun, her great sense of style, her professionalism and diplomacy, her careful use of words, the way she made everyone feel welcome, included and important, her work ethic, and so much more.

In the weeks since her passing, we have been trying to find more and better words to describe how her spirit touched so many of us and how deep the pain of her loss is felt in within each of us and within the international community. As with many things, actions often speak louder than words, and all the tributes, fundraisers in her name, awards attributed to her, events and initiatives set up by those close to her or inspired by all the stories they heard about her, speak volumes of her professional legacy and the desire of everyone to do more and better every day in her name. We all carry a piece of Joanna inside of us that will serve as our true north when carrying out work to protect our oceans and the life within them.

A Lasting Legacy

Over the last six years, Joanna was instrumental in driving international action to overcome ghost gear, known officially as abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG). Joanna was the co-founder of the GGGI and she was very passionate about putting ghost gear on the global agenda as one of the most harmful forms of marine debris. She worked tirelessly with other stakeholders and sectors to build consensus, raise awareness and formulate effective solutions. More recently she worked at FAO to see the adoption of the gear marking guidelines and led on kick-starting a dedicated umbrella programme to address ALDFG in a holistic way – starting with 4 regional workshops led jointly by FAO and GGGI this year. As her father Adrian Toole mentioned, for Joanna, her work was not a job, it was a vocation, and her work ethic, diplomacy, professionalism and expertise were an inspiration for many, including us at the GGGI.

Those of us that had the privilege of knowing Jo, knew her not only as extraordinarily devoted to her work, but also as a supremely warm and wonderful human being. Her dedication to her work was overshadowed only by her love for her friends, family and colleagues.

Her heart, passion, kindness and dedication to the well-being of life on this planet will be long-remembered by all who had the pleasure of knowing Joanna. She passed away much too soon, but in acknowledging that tragedy, let us remember the words of Special Envoy to the Ocean, Ambassador Peter Thomson: “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.”

Joel Baziuk