Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review of "Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis" by Alanna Mitchell

By Candace Newman

No matter where you live on this earth, every second breath you take comes from oxygen produced by plankton in the seas. Every third molecule of carbon dioxide you exhale is taken up by the ocean. Your every action or will profoundly affect the ocean - your life support system.

In Alanna Mitchell's new book, Sea Sick, she poignantly describes how human actions are having a measurable effect on the ocean. We are changing ocean salinity, temperature, volume, and function. From the deepest ocean basins to the surface sea currents, human impact is evident.

Mitchell relates her journey across five continents over two and a half years, investigating the state of the oceans, answering questions about what is really happening in the ocean and the outlook for its future. Speaking with internationally renowned scientists in Australia, the United States, Puerto Rico, Plymouth, Panama, Canada, Spain, China, and Tanzania, she describes startling evidence that the ocean is changing in a way and at a speed it never has before.

Mitchell’s journey begins in the Gulf of Mexico with a group of American scientists investigating the 'blob', a thick and dense, constantly moving layer of water that contains almost no oxygen. No oxygen means no fish and massive die-offs of crustaceans. What is startling is that this dead zone is no anomaly; the Gulf of Mexico low-oxygen zone is only one of several around the globe that are expanding and staying in areas for months at a time.

On the second leg of Mitchell’s journey, she explores ocean acidification with scientists in Puerto Rico. The scientists explain that the ocean is becoming increasingly acidic, and that the creatures that live in it are extremely sensitive to pH changes. Mitchell makes this point all too clear: if the pH in our bodies changed as much as it has already in the global ocean, we’d be dead.

Mitchell also travels to Halifax, where she investigates changes in fish populations, to China where marine management is challenged by the nation’s rapidly expanding population, and to Tanzania where ocean health has direct impacts on the nation as a whole.

Despite these vital signs that point to an emerging ocean crisis, Sea Sick concludes with a message of hope. Engulfed in a submersible with 13-cm thick walls, Mitchell descends to the bottom of the Atlantic and witnesses unidentified fish, giant squids, crabs, black lobsters, marine snow, and brightly coloured corals and sponges. Mitchell writes eloquently that there are still brilliant, thriving, and healthy places in the ocean, and that there is still time maintain our life support system. Hope will propel us to action, she writes, and that is exactly what the ocean needs right now.

Note: Candace Newman is the Marine Protected Areas Campaign Manager at the Living Oceans Society

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