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Sea Sick

"The habitat of every creature in our home countryside is also our habitat, and to make it less inhabitable for other creatures makes it less inhabitable as well for us.”

Wendell Berry, foreword
Sea Sick
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 dependent
.

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 Spring. 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 demise.


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