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"The habitat of every creature in our
countryside is also our habitat, and to make it less inhabitable for
other creatures makes it less inhabitable as well for us.”
The Global Ocean in Crisis
by Alanna Mitchell
McClelland & Stewart, 2010
Reporting from nine different oceanic locations around the globe,
environmental reporter Alanna Mitchell investigates the rapidly
declining health of the most important biome on Earth, the Ocean.
"The issue is that all over the world, ocean scientists, in groups of
specialists who rarely put their information together, are finding that
global climate change and other human actions are beginning to have a
measurable effect on the ocean. The vital signs of this critical medium
of life are showing clear signs of distress," she explains.
Mitchell makes personal visits to some of the most ailing seas and
shorelines on the globe, witnesses wide-ranging effects of human
avarice and irresponsibility, and talks to dozens of concerned
scientists about their diagnoses and possible remedies.
She visited the Gulf of Mexico before the BP oil
spill, where there were already enormous "dead zones" where nothing
lives because of toxic chemical pollution.
In Nova Scotia she finds that industrial fishing has wiped out 90
percent of the predatory fishes - cod, tuna, swordfish, sharks - and is
fast depleting the last 10 percent.
She visits a marine laboratory in Plymouth, England where scientists
are studying a precipitous decline in plankton in the world's
oceans, which she describes as "maybe the most important question human
beings will ever grapple with." Plankton forms the bottom layer of the
entire oceanic food pyramid on which humans humans are very much
On the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, Mitchell reports that the
corals that made the reef are dying: "The worldwide decay of coral
reefs - caused by the pollution from land, too much fishing, nasty
practices to capture wild fish for the aquarium trade and waters that
are too hot because of global climate change - has already started to
take its toll."
The last research expedition of the book is in the Florida Keys, where
the author is taken to the bottom of the ocean in the submersible
Johnson Sea Link. Burdened with the accumulated weight of all the dire
evidence of an ecosystem in rapid decline, like a patient on life
support, she wonders whether any further study will make a difference.
More tests on a dying patient? Why? And then, unexpectedly, she finds
herself flooded with hopefulness.
"Shivering in my undersea womb, peering at these wondrous, ancient life
forms, it occurs to me that we are in an era that holds out the
potential of magnificent regeneration. We could, if we wanted to, form
a new relationship with our planet. We could become the gentle
symbionts we were meant to be instead of the planetary parasites we
have unwittingly become."
Smoothly written and annotated, this book is a call to arms on the
order of Rachel Carson's Silent
The final chapter, in which the oceans become lifeless bodies of
over-heated and chemically altered liquids, has yet to be written.
There is still time to save the patient, or at least forestall its
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