Sea Sick Reveals The Terminal Status Of The Oceans

In case you haven't heard, the oceans are dying. The coral, the fish, the plankton, the whole bloody system is going topsy-turvy. In her new book Sea Sick, Canadian Journalist Alanna Mitchell travels from the shore line to the depths cataloging the woes of the big blue as she goes. Increased acidity, dead zones, species loss, temperature increases, we've reported on it all before. Mitchell synthesizes all these divergent ideas and spits out an engaging overview on the state of our oceans.

Once or twice while reading this book I had to put it down, take a breathe and let the panic subside. There are so many things changing in the ocean that it's impossible to think that humans will escape unscathed from the damage we've helped inflict. Taking off from Jeremy Jackson's quote that we're laying the groundwork for a "mass extinction in the oceans with unknown ecological and evolutionary consequences", Mitchell gives some perspective.

This doesn't mean that life will stop. It means that life as we know it will stop unless we can return the planet to health. But if we cannot, the components that provide the possibility for life in the future will still be here, sleeping and poised to spring back once a new system conducive to life emerges.

We humans are generally concerned with the parts of the world that we live in on a day to day basis. Namely, the planetary surface. The big thing about the ocean is that it's, well, so big.

Life runs in all directions and down to the bottom. The dimensions move and connect on a scale that land dwellers can barely fathom. In fact, when you add up the earth's biosphere, or the part of it that is available for living creatures, the land portion comes out o just 1 percent of that total volume.

A middle chapter of Sea Sick looks at how humans have been harvesting the creatures of the sea to the point of extinction for centuries. A perfect example of shifting baselines, a lack of perspective on what the oceans used to look like leads us to stop short of making the effective change that will reverse the damage. We just keep on fishing until the end.

As fishing becomes more difficult, other studies show that fishermen began spending both more time and more money to catch fewer fish, using sophisticated, expensive sonar and satellite equipment to target their catch. As well, they began to go yet deeper into the ocean and lower on the food chain. It's a recipe for trying to catch the very last fish.

Looking forward, Mitchell wonders if we will make change before it is too late. She is another voice in a long list of scientists, journalists and concerned citizens suggesting that if alter our behaviour quickly and profoundly we can save ourselves.

The story we tell matters because it alone determines the actions we take or fail to take. In other words, the final vital sign of the global ocean is how the agent of destruction - us - will react. Will we turn the destruction off? Will we nudge towards our own self-destruction so that the earth can survive? Will we continue to attack the organism of the earth, pushing it into a new system that will be unlikely to harbour us?
The problem of the atmosphere and the ocean is a problem of human behaviour.

Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis
More on The State of the Ocean
Southern Ocean Could Hit Ocean Acidification Tipping Point 30 Years Early
Crop Biodiversity A Cure for Ocean Dead Zones?
Ocean "Dead Zones" Increasing: 400 Oxygen-Deprived Areas Now Exist
Corals Engage in Fisticuffs with Global Warming
Ocean Acidification Conference: Acidity Up 30% Since Industrial Revolution - Producing Toxic Assets For The World
Ocean Iron Fertilization Test in South Atlantic Given Go Ahead
A Novel Strategy to Counter Ocean Acidification

Tags: Book Reviews | Coral Reefs | Fish | Fishing | Global Warming Causes | Global Warming Effects | Oceans | Pollution

Best of TreeHugger