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The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea

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A Silent Spring for oceans, written by "the Rachel Carson of the fish world" (The New York Times)

Who can forget the sense of wonder with which they discovered the creatures of the deep? In this vibrant hymn to the sea, Callum Roberts—one of the world’s foremost conservation biologists—leads readers on a fascinating tour of mankind’s relationship to the sea, from the earliest traces of water on earth to the oceans as we know them today. In the process, Roberts looks at how the ...

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The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea

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Overview

A Silent Spring for oceans, written by "the Rachel Carson of the fish world" (The New York Times)

Who can forget the sense of wonder with which they discovered the creatures of the deep? In this vibrant hymn to the sea, Callum Roberts—one of the world’s foremost conservation biologists—leads readers on a fascinating tour of mankind’s relationship to the sea, from the earliest traces of water on earth to the oceans as we know them today. In the process, Roberts looks at how the taming of the oceans has shaped human civilization and affected marine life.

We have always been fish eaters, from the dawn of civilization, but in the last twenty years we have transformed the oceans beyond recognition. Putting our exploitation of the seas into historical context, Roberts offers a devastating account of the impact of modern fishing techniques, pollution, and climate change, and reveals what it would take to steer the right course while there is still time. Like Four Fish and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, The Ocean of Life takes a long view to tell a story in which each one of us has a role to play.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
University of York marine conservationist Roberts (The Unnatural History of the Sea) offers an engrossing survey of the relationship between man and the sea for readers living through the greatest environmental changes in 65 million years. From the genesis of life four billion years ago to the increasingly empty dead zones of our planet’s waters, Roberts details the interaction between the ocean and human evolution, food supply, cities, art, science, policy, business, and waste. He skillfully intersperses jaw-dropping anecdotes (one two-pint bottle of ocean water contains four billion unique viruses, albatross feed their chicks an average of 70 pieces of plastic per meal) with the concrete effects of man’s influence on the ocean’s acid levels, species diversity, noise, and food chain. Later prescriptions on how to interact ethically with an ocean at risk walk the fine line between individual accountability and informed policy creation. Roberts’s meditation will have readers gasping aloud with wonder, even as the sobering truth of humans’ profound interdependence with the sea provokes concern. Agent: Patrick Walsh, Conville & Walsh. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
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.
The Washington Post
No account of the cataclysm is more engaging than Roberts's The Ocean of Life. Although it contains very little that is new…the book is powerful in its completeness…I love talking to scientists—they're among the world's most interesting people—but often I'm not certain what language they're speaking. The rare treasure is the scientist who can bring clarity and wit to the debates. Roberts is such a scientist, and The Ocean of Life is immensely entertaining, although it chronicles a tragedy.
—Mark Kurlansky
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670023547
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/24/2012
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Callum Roberts is the author of The Unnatural History of the Sea, a Washington Post Book of the Year and winner of the Rachel Carson Environment Book Award. Professor of marine conservation at the University of York. He has appeared in several documentaries, including "America Before Columbus" and "The End of the Line," and is a board member of Seaweb, a U.S.-based environmental group. He lives in England.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Part 1 Changing Seas

1 Four and a Half Billion Years 11

2 Food from the Sea 27

3 Fewer Fish in the Sea 42

4 Winds and Currents 58

5 Life on the Move 80

6 Rising Tides 90

7 Corrosive Seas 105

8 Dead Zones and the World's Great Rivers 119

9 Unwholesome Waters 132

10 The Age of Plastic 149

11 The Not So Silent World 165

12 Aliens, Invaders, and the Homogenization of Life 181

13 Pestilence and Plague 198

14 Mare Incognitum 213

15 Ecosystems at Your Service 229

Part 2 Changing Course

16 Farming the Sea 243

17 The Great Cleanup 263

18 Can We Cool Our Warming World? 273

19 A New Deal for the Oceans 287

20 Life Renewed 307

21 Saving the Giants of the Sea 319

22 Preparing for the Worst 334

Epilogue: The Sea Ahead 347

Appendix 1 Seafood with a Clear Conscience 351

Appendix 2 Conservation Charities Working to Protect Ocean Life 355

Notes 361

Acknowledgments 393

Index 395

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 7, 2012

    An extremely important book

    Callum Roberts presents a frightening picture of how human activity threatens the oceans and our very survival. As so often happens, short-term thinking threatens long-term survival. Whether we have reached the tipping point or not concerns Roberts as he tells the oceans' stories from the Hadean eon through today. While he holds hope for change and redemption of the seas of life, he paints a bleak picture of our mismanagement of the seas and the planet. We are not only destroying the nursery of life for creatures that inhabit the oceans, we are destroying our own nursery, our beginning. I can only hope that others choose to read what he and other leading scientists have to say and put it upon their governments and institutions to save what gave us life and will keep us alive.

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  • Posted July 5, 2012

    Excellent description of serious problems

    This is a really good summary of what has been happening out of sight to most of us regarding our oceans. Problems caused by overfishing, accidental bycatch, agricultural runoff, acidification and more are well described in understandable terms. Though outweighed by the bad news, there is some good news, too. The increasing use of protecting large marine reserves offers some hope for many beleaguered species. I learned a lot from this book and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

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  • Posted June 14, 2012

    As a concerned person about the state of our environment, I try

    As a concerned person about the state of our environment, I try to learn about the problems and what we can do to solve them. If 'Plastic Ocean' by Charles Moore focused on the destruction caused by the everyday plastic we throw away, 'The Ocean of Life' takes a more comprehensive view to the problems that are rapidly killing the oceanic ecosystem, from overfishing to plastics to pollution (e.g. oil spill). In a scientific and balanced tone, Professor Roberts does not demonize one or the other but reminds us that we are all culpable through our daily, careless actions that have damaging consequences on the marine life. Our insatiable appetite for fish that is depleting the marine stock; the noises from boats and submarines that are damaging to whales and dolphins; the plastics that flow into the oceans and killing birds, fish, and mammals alike; the Chinese appetite for shark fin soup that is rapidly killing sharks in a most agonizing manner; and, of course, the diseases that are rapidly killing the coral reefs and casting a dark shadow over the marine ecosystem. If things seem bleak, it's because they are unless we drastically change our ways and make some sacrifices. I recommend the book for anyone interested in learning more about the environmental issues pertaining to the oceans.

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