Subtitled 'The Hidden Ecological Crisis of the Global Ocean' this book by science journalist Alanna Mitchell tours the oceans of the world, investigating their ecological health with a particular focus on corals.
I'm a few years late to reading this (it was published in 2008), and the chapter on Australia's Great Barrier Reef, though sobering in itself, was difficult in its overall hopefulness in light of the awful devastation that the reef has been experiencing recently. (This obituary of the reef is overly alarmist, but as this article argues, things are still pretty serious and certainly worse than when Mitchell wrote this book).
Mitchell writes with clarity and passion about the oceans, showing how much more there is to them than we often think. She scuba dives and takes a ride in a submersible to the bottom of the ocean floor to explore different ocean ecologies. She visits scientists across the world to find out more about ocean acidity and plankton (the tiny creatures that are the basis of the oceanic food chains). She outlines the prehistory of the oceans and moving into historic times looks at how the depletion of oceanic fish populations started back in the Middle Ages, after freshwater fish such as sturgeon started to decline in number due to their popularity on the dinner table. She also looks at how scientists are exploring the sea floor for new species that could be useful in medicine. She writes about how communities of sea creatures are being devastated by overfishing and climate change across the world, leaving some areas of the ocean functionally dead. She catalogues the extreme peril facing coral reefs across the world as the climate changes and the oceans become warmer and more acidic.
The book is not only very readable, it's very nicely organised. Each chapter feels like it could be an episode in a TV series (in fact the book has been turned into a play!).
This is a sobering book, one that should be read by anyone who cares about the fate of the oceans, for after all, as Mitchell says, the fate of the whole earth will be determined by the oceans.
Seasick by Alanna Mitchell published by One World Publications.