Roberts (Marine Conservation/Univ. of York; The Unnatural History of the Sea, 2009) warns that “the oceans have changed more in [the] last thirty years than in all of human history before.”
In this follow-up to his award-winning account of man's 1,000-year exploitation of maritime resources, the author not only documents the loss of large sea animals, such as whales, sharks and turtles, the destruction of coral reefs and the broader ocean environment, but he anticipates further devastation from the onset of deep-sea mining in the near future. While environmentalists are keenly aware of the danger man poses to animal species, Roberts suggests that the oceans have always played a significant role in human survival. He writes that the view of our ancestors as a “plucky species” of big-game hunters has a “certain mythological ring to it.” However, our early survival may have depended mainly on water creatures for sustenance: “Could our shift to bipedalism have been an aquatic adaptation developed by wading to gather shellfish?” While the author notes that the 1880s shift to steam power and then later to diesel “heralded the beginning of the modern era in commercial fishing,” these were still just improvements on more traditional fishing methods. Not so the introduction of echo sounders and other electronic devices augmented by computers and satellites, which now allow fishermen to detect the presence of fish with an extremely high degree of precision. Roberts maintains his optimism while looking at the problems that have been compounded by global warming, pollution, the destruction of marshlands, etc., and he notes that remedial action is still possible. It is not too late, he writes, for “strategies that rebuild nature's vitality and fecundity”—e.g., protecting one-third of the ocean from direct exploitation and restricting fishing of tuna, salmon and cod.
A timely wake-up call.