Book Review: “Ocean of Life” by Callum Roberts

“Ocean of Life – How our seas are changing” by Callum Roberts was shortlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. In an insightful prologue, Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, outlines his motivations for writing this book and how from his own personal experience, he has seen the seas changing in the past 30 years. Motivated by challenging problems and realising the need for a more multidisciplinary dialogue to take place between scientists, this book aims to take the reader through both the problems and the solutions to the changing seas of the 21st century. The book begins with a history of life on Earth and how through out geological time, the conditions necessary for life evolved. Throughout the first chapter we begin to realise the transient nature of life on Earth with respect to geological processes and time.

Discussing human origins and man’s relationship with the sea; for food and how fishing methods have evolved over time through to the present day.  A shocking but revealing study (Thurstan et. al. 2010) of the landings from bottom trawlers explains the steep decline in fish stocks especially of the larger fish. Then changes due to greenhouse gas emissions on the thermohaline circulation and the consequences of low oxygen zones on the life of the sea are discussed; climate change is already underway. The impacts of sea level rise; the human cost of climate change; ocean acidification to rivers of the world. Oil spills and the threat of pollution; PCBs to plastic pollution to underwater noise, “Mare Incognitum” or “unknown seas” of the future are inevitable, especially with exploitation. This book is a comprehensive and thought provoking summary of the current state of the oceans and in some ways serves to be a much needed warning for the future. But hope is not lost; the following part of the book deals with solutions for the great clean-up. A new deal for the ocean is proposed, solutions are possible for the next hundred years if we make the steer right now. It is also a book which drives one to change. For the ocean activist there are the appendices with a collection of conservation charities to protect the oceans. A persuasive read!

Further Links

Thurstan, R.H., Brockington, S. and Roberts, C.M (2010). The effects of 118 years of industrial fishing on UK bottom trawl fisheries. Nature Communications 1 (15): 1-6.

Lecture by Callum Roberts in English with German

Review by the Guardian

 

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