His mother told him he would be ‘better off with gills than lungs’ because he spent so much time out on the water – swimming, fishing, and exploring the coasts with his friends and family.
From the coasts of Texas and Alaska to the South Pacific Islands, ‘Bubba’s’ love for the wide, deep blue is inspiring.
His family, from his father, grandfather and well before that have a long standing connection to the coastal environment including a brief history in commercial fishing in the warm Texas waters of the United States.
So it was practically written in the stars, that Alfred Cook, or Bubba as we fondly call him, would one day be an ocean expert.
His area of expertise is fisheries management and aquaculture production.
“During and shortly after high school I worked on fishing boats and even a large pleasure yacht but always knew I wanted to do more” said, Bubba.
When he turned 18, he joined the U.S. Navy’s Naval Nuclear Power Programme where he was trained to operate nuclear reactors on U.S. warships. Aftertwo years of training, he joined the USS California (CGN-36), the last of the nuclear powered surface warships known as “cruisers”, where his job entailed operating and maintaining all the electrical equipment associated with the ship’s nuclear reactors.
Just being at sea wasn’t enough though, and a commitment to protect the ocean he had grown to love beckoned.
So he returned to college and acquired a Bachelor of Science degree in fisheries and aquaculture. Although he had a keen interest and aptitude in science, over time his fascination and interest in ocean policy and law grew.
Therefore, he enrolled in Lewis and Clark Law School, a highly respected law school for environmental and natural resource law in the U.S., where he received a Juris Doctorate in Environmental Law.
He worked for a while in environment law for the non-profit law firm Trustees of Alaska before taking a position with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service, the U.S. government agency charged with conserving and managing fisheries in the U.S. While with NOAA, Bubba was responsible for managing and regulating fisheries such as the North Pacific halibut and king crab fisheries. During that time, he also worked very closely with the indigenous Alaskans to protect the rights of the Alaskan natives to access and control their resources.
Through this experience, he discovered the oceans he loved dearly were changing, but in most cases not for the better.
“There was a decline of fisheries in different places and oceans were changing which made me want to try and fix things and that’s what brought me to the conservation community,” he said.
He decided he wanted to work with communities to reverse the trend of dying oceans.
Bubba soon joined WWF in Alaska as a Senior Fisheries Programme Officer for eco-region based conservation in both Russia and Alaska. However, after several years of working on large conservation projects in that region, he wanted to get back to ground-level conservation work. The South Pacific was always a dream destination and he and his wife, Michelle, applied to join the U.S. Peace Corps with the South Pacific as their first choice for assignment.
In 2010, the U.S. Peace Corps decided to assign Bubba and Michelle to Fiji where they would serve as Peace Corp volunteers. Bubba was assigned to the Peace Corps’ Integrated Environmental Resource Management (IERM) Programme.
Over two years Bubba lived and worked closely with the people of Wailevu Village in the Cakaudrove province, helping establish marine tabu(protected) areas to help replenish the village’s iqoliqoli(traditional fishing ground) with rich biodiversity. Among other community development projects, he also assisted the villagers in constructing a tree nursery designed to grow high value yasi (sandalwood) trees as an income generating project.
Living in Wailevu Village, learning the lifestyle, customs, and the challenges the people faced, Bubba came to respect their close kinship with nature, resourcefulness, and resilience. As a result, the South Pacific became home.
These days, he continues advocating for the ocean environment and works tirelessly to keep the source of livelihoods for millions of Pacific islanders alive.
Bubba was hired in April 2012 as WWF’s Western Central Pacific Tuna Programme Officer based in the South Pacific Programme Office in Suva. His special focus is the sustainable management of tuna throughout the region, including the lucrative skipjack, albacore, Yellowfin, Bigeye, and Bluefin tuna stocks. The core of Bubba’s work with WWF involves advocating for and promoting sustainable management of the tuna fisheries and requires close engagement with the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and its subsidiary bodies: the Northern Committee; Technical and Compliance Committee; and Scientific Committee. The position also requires close contact and coordination with the fisheries ministries of several South Pacific countries like Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, and Tokelau.
“Tuna fisheries are worth 4-5 billion dollars and represent one of the primary sources of income to the Pacific region. Furthermore, tuna is an incredibly important protein source for many developing countries, making it critical for us to advocate improving and sustainably managing tuna fisheries in the region,” he said.
”We must take action soon to protect tuna stocks and the livelihoods that depend on them. As it is, Bigeye tuna are already a serious concern and Yellowfin are on an equally bad trajectory.” he added.
Forever hopeful about the future of our oceans and the resources they provide, Bubba continues to work with communities and the fishing industry throughout the South Pacific to find sustainable solutions for the management of the incredibly important fishery resources in the region.
Written by Zehra Zawawi while working as an international volunteer at WWF South Pacific Programme Office