In this book, Callum Roberts sets out to argue the case that man is damaging the oceans of the world in ways that may be irreversible if not addressed quickly and determinedly.
Roberts starts with a history of the oceans since the planet was formed, showing how previous episodes of warming, changes in acidity levels etc. have had huge effects on the animals that live there. He then gives a very detailed account, (perhaps a little over-detailed in parts) of the history of man's interaction with the sea, through fishing, shipping and pollution amongst other things. As he piles detail on detail, his argument that we are causing major and probably irreversible damage is completely convincing and thoroughly depressing. Some of the images he provides, of mass piles of discarded plastic gathering in the ocean gyres, of dead zones caused by chemical pollution, of coral reefs bleaching and dying, of life at the bottom of the seas being destroyed by trawling, are stark and horrifying. Of course we knew all this, but Roberts pulls it all together for us and shows us the consequences, so that no-one reading this book could be left feeling that this is a problem that can continue to be ignored.
It is only in the last couple of chapters that Roberts offers solutions and not unsurprisingly these are fairly straightforward - to set up protection zones, to reduce the flow of chemicals and rubbish into the seas, to combat global warming. Straightforward but not easy, though Roberts also gives examples of some major advances that have been made over the last decade or so. (Who would have expected George Dubya to come out of a book like this as one of the heroes? Apparently he set up huge protected zones before he left office.) Roberts finishes the book by listing some of the many organisations working towards marine preservation and giving an idea of the approach each organisation is taking.
I did not find this an easy or enjoyable read. It was hard work in places as Roberts piled on more and more evidence to back his arguments, sometimes with greater detail than I felt necessary. However, the message of the book is a vitally important one and Roberts has succeeded in getting that message across. I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in environmental matters - and that should really be everyone, shouldn't it?
on February 13, 2013
This was a very well written but sobering read about the current state of our oceans. So many problems; pollution, over-fishing, bad fishing practices (such as long lines and dredging), climate change, nitrogen laden "dead zones" in the oceans and bays, destruction of salt marsh and wetland habitats, soil erosion, dams, all these topics are covered in great detail and in a very interesting and enlightening way. Despite all the negatives and the fact that our oceans and waters are very much in real trouble, the author does offer solutions in the second half of the book and surprisingly is able to keep a reasonably optimistic tone. There are ways to maintain sustainable fisheries, provide energy in a way that will not contribute to our already too warm world, protect and restore marine habitats (such as coral reefs), prevent and clear our ocean's dead zones, and restore some of the diversity and abundance we so desperately need in this and really any ecosystem. There are two appendices included which offer ways to eat seafood in a manner that will protect our oceans from further damage and also a great list of conservation organizations working to protect and restore oceans and waterways. Overall this was a fascinating read and while sobering it did offer me some optimism that it is not too late to do something. We just need to start acting on an individual level because a lot of little squeaks together can make a big noise.
on January 26, 2016
An exhaustive look at the pressures that human civilization are placing on the oceans. An important read. Covers many different topics.
With that said, I found the tone of the writing to be quite apocalyptic (one could debate whether that is appropriate or not based on the circumstances) and the author seems to reject most proposed solutions without really putting too much forward as alternatives. As such, I found the book a little difficult to get through, and a bit depressing (again, that presentation may be justified given the circumstances).
If you are looking for a lighter read on the same subject with proposed solutions, take a look at Sylvia Earle's "The World Is Blue." Although I'd recommend reading both books in tandem.
on March 29, 2016
It is one of the scariest books I've ever read and one of the saddest. But his descriptions of the problems facing the ocean conform to what I've read in other sources and to things I've seen for myself, so I think it's probably not exaggerated. It's also contains some grains of optimism, in that he describes some reasonable courses that people can take to reduce human impact on the oceans and restore sea life. Whether we will be able to get our acts together to at least partially restore sea life and save some of the world's coral reefs is another matter. If Dr. Roberts is right that's still at least a possibility.
on July 4, 2012
Seeing that oceans cover about two-thirds of the globe, and the sea is an important source of world protein, and is a relatively unknown area for most people, it would be wise if all read this book. It appears to be set up as an introductory text. I read the text as a retired agronomist with a primary interest of increasing my knowledge of the oceans as a source of food for the world. It added much to my growing knowledge while confirming the serious question as to whether the oceans will be able to continue being a major supplier of protein. Roberts appears to be more optimistic than Carl Safina, another writer of the oceans, and I.
The fisherman of the world have scrapped the bottoms for almost all that is edible. The mud stirred up by the trawlers can be seen from space discoloring the ocean for days. The bycatch often exceeds the sea food sought. Most all the bycatch dies and is tossed back into the sea. As the population of the world increases the catch from the sea decreases, especially on a per person basis. The fishermen and their families will starve to death if they stop fishing but in many places they are starving slowly by fishing. Most importantly they are interupting the cycle of life. The politicians of the world listen to the fisherman not the scientist. The politicians are very, very reluctant to stop all fishing in 30% of the oceans so that they may recover and assist in the recovery of those portions of the ocean still being fished. The author is not the only scientist to point out the need for this drastic step.
on September 17, 2012
I teach a class on ecology, half of which is about marine ecology and the impact that humans have on the ecosystems that they depend on. I will be using this book as part of my class this year. I think it gives a really good overview of the biggest issues threatening the ocean today. As others have said, it is not a quick and easy read, but it is a good balance between the scientist who wants to put in every detail and citation and the writer who wants to make it accessible to people who are not experts. It is full of good and important information and I hope it will be widely read.
on August 18, 2014
The book is excellent. I checked out the book from our public library and found "The Ocean of Life" was such a good resource that I ordered a reference copy for myself from Amazon. Callum has another book titled: "The Unnatural History of the Sea" which describes the changes witnessed in the ocean over time and our 'Shifting Baselines' which we rate the ocean environment by what we see today. Unfortunately we underestimate the wealth of species and abundance due to our present viewpoint. When we can see what the ocean HAD to offer in the past and realize the extent of what we have lost, we can attempt to bring back some of the conditions and wealth of organisms seen in the past. We have been grossly underestimating and over exploiting the resources within our ocean environments for hundreds of years. It is imperative that we create replenishment zones in our world's oceans for the health of our planet and a resource for our use. The goal would be somewhere between 30-40 percent of our oceans closed to fishing and the allowance of the rebuilding of these environments from the bottom up.
Trawl fishing should not be allowed in all environments due to the destruction of the bottom crusts that other animals and plants depend on. The great quantities of waste in the form of discarded dead by-catch needs to be greatly reduced. The ocean has been viewed as too large to be harmed, but we are finding this to be incorrect. We continue to over fish and degrade the ocean environment because it has been done this way in the past. We have the opportunity to allow recovery if areas are protected .
on April 1, 2016
A must read! Vividly-told litany of the ways humans are destroying the oceans, and how this is directly impacting us. It's a high-level summary with a ton of fascinating detail. It never got boring. I learned something important in every chapter. I've been reading about the need to conserve our oceans for about ten years, and this book still called my attention to several important topics I hadn't given enough consideration, particularly how widespread is trawling and dredging. And just how noxious fish farming is. Other books give each topic more attention, but The Ocean of Life is an addictive read for an overview, told by an authority.