Hubert Neufeld / Unsplash
Hubert Neufeld / Unsplash

Introducing the new PAME Chair: “I want people to feel included”

Dr. Jessica Nilsson is the new Chair of the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group (PAME) and she assumes her role with a strong vision: to foster collaboration and to make maximum use of the “army of knowledge” – as she calls it – within the Arctic Council. Learn more about the Swedish marine biologist with a business degree, whose way has led her to the Arctic via the tropics and Antarctica.

When Jessica Nilsson attended her first PAME meeting as Swedish Head of Delegation in 2015, she was blown away. “The level of knowledge in one room, all these brilliant, talented and passionate people! They really wanted to do well, find solutions and a way forward,” she recalls. It is easy to see that she had found her tribe – after some brave career decisions.

Jessica Nilsson has a master’s degree in international business and experience from working in the cooperate world. “But I soon realized that this was not for me. I had taken the safe path. So, when I worked with biologists and oceanographers from around the world for a project, I decided that I had to follow my dreams and become a marine biologist,” Jessica Nilsson tells.

"When I worked with biologists and oceanographers from around the world for a project, I decided that I had to follow my dreams and become a marine biologist."

And so, she literally packed her bags and enrolled for a marine biology program – in Australia. “I went to James Cook University, which is right by the Great Barrier Reef. I love diving, snorkeling, just being in the water, and I knew that this university would give me access to parts of the reef that are only accessible to researchers,” she says.

From the South Pole to the North Pole

Jessica Nilsson studied sharks, whales, corals, fish and crabs in the tropical waters on Australia’s East coast and in Vanuatu. Yet, when the time came to do her PhD on ecosystem-based management, she moved to Hobart, Tasmania – the continent’s Southern-most tip, Australia’s gateway to Antarctica and home to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

“I got a job at the CCAMLR Secretariat as communications manager, and I worked very closely with researchers and representatives of the commission’s 25 member states. It was a very dynamic environment with strong collaboration and negotiations,” Jessica Nilsson tells. But it wasn’t a permanent job and eventually a friend recommended her a position as Senior Science Advisor at the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management in Gothenburg.

“I moved from the South Pole to the North Pole."

“I moved from the South Pole to the North Pole,” she says and laughs. While many things distinguish the Antarctic from the Arctic – from people living in the Arctic, to international versus mainly national waters, and shipping and oil and gas extraction in the North – her CCAMLR experience has been useful for her work in the Arctic. Especially, the complex interplay between science and policy is something she has been able to learn during her years in Australia and which will benefit her further in her new role.

Cooperation, communication and climate

One of her main ambitions as PAME Chair is to foster collaboration and to ensure – in maritime terms – that everybody is on board. “I want people to feel included in PAME, I want that they can feel that they can engage with us. The door is wide open to policy makers, scientists and knowledge holders from all Arctic States, the Indigenous Permanent Participants and the Council’s Observers,” Jessica Nilsson emphasizes.

“Collectively, we have an army of knowledge, but our resources are limited, so we have to be clever and do the best we can with what we have.”

While she has been engaged in PAME’s work for the past six years, she is now looking forward to having more time to collaborate with the diverse network of experts. This also includes a close collaboration with the other Working Groups: “Collectively, we have an army of knowledge, but our resources are limited, so we have to be clever and do the best we can with what we have.”

Jessica Nilsson also emphasizes the importance of spreading the word of PAME’s and the Council’s work – after all, she brings in her experience from working in science communication. “PAME has published two excellent information briefs at the Ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, one on marine protected areas in a changing Arctic and one on Indigenous food security in the Arctic. And, I think we need to do more of these. We need to share our knowledge with both policy makers and the public.”

But the underlying driver in all her ambitions is: “Climate, climate, climate. We need to find clever solutions so we can maintain a sustainable Arctic and we need to work hard to continue having an Arctic with sustainable ecosystem where people can live and thrive in,” she says.

Mapping the unknown

While all PAME’s work in one way or another deals with climate aspects, Jessica Nilsson likes to emphasize one important new initiative the Working Group is engaged in. “PAME is working on three scientific projects; one is part of the International Agreement to Prevent Unregulated Fishing in the High Seas of the Central Arctic Ocean, one is a synthesis report on the Central Arctic Ocean using the ecosystem approach, and the third project is modelling biological connectivity of the Central Arctic Ocean. These are huge projects and they create important links between this international process of the Central Arctic Ocean and the Arctic Council.”

“Up until a few years ago, this area was frozen all year around. But as it is opening up during the summer months, we need to understand which species live and feed there in order to inform policy makers of opportunities and challenges in this area.”

The agreement entered into force very recently, on 25 June 2021, and as the name implies, it will prevent commercial fishing by the ten signatory states in the high seas of the Arctic Ocean for the next 16 years (learn more). The science project can be described as a mapping exercise, which will chart the future of the area. “Up until a few years ago, this area was frozen all year around. But as it is opening up during the summer months, we need to understand which species live and feed there in order to inform policy makers of opportunities and challenges in this area”, Jessica Nilsson explains.

Enhancing our knowledge of the Central Arctic Ocean are three of 38 projects that PAME experts are currently working on. “This is a steep increase of projects. In 2015, PAME presented eight reports to the Ministers, this year it was 20. This shows that the interest in and importance of our work is increasing,” she says. Utilizing synergies and fostering collaboration will therefore be one key responsibility for her term as PAME Chair – and one more reason to welcome new experts who are interested in contributing.

Cover photo: Photo by Hubert Neufeld on Unsplash

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