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 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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About 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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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
May 24, 2012
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Pages
432
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ISBN
9781101583562
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Nature / Ecosystems & Habitats / Oceans & Seas
Science / Earth Sciences / Oceanography
Science / Life Sciences / Marine Biology
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Humanity can make short work of the oceans’ creatures. In 1741, hungry explorers discovered herds of Steller’s sea cow in the Bering Strait, and in less than thirty years, the amiable beast had been harpooned into extinction. It’s a classic story, but a key fact is often omitted. Bering Island was the last redoubt of a species that had been decimated by hunting and habitat loss years before the
explorers set sail.

As Callum M. Roberts reveals in The Unnatural History of the Sea, the oceans’ bounty didn’t disappear overnight. While today’s fishing industry is ruthlessly efficient, intense exploitation began not in the modern era, or even with the dawn of industrialization, but in the eleventh century in medieval Europe. Roberts explores this long and colorful history of commercial fishing, taking readers around the world and through the centuries to witness the transformation of the seas.

Drawing on firsthand accounts of early explorers, pirates, merchants, fishers, and travelers, the book recreates the oceans of the past: waters teeming with whales, sea lions, sea otters, turtles, and giant fish. The abundance of marine life described by fifteenth century seafarers is almost unimaginable today, but Roberts both brings it alive and artfully traces its depletion. Collapsing fisheries, he shows, are simply the latest chapter in a long history of unfettered commercialization of the seas.

The story does not end with an empty ocean. Instead, Roberts describes how we might restore the splendor and prosperity of the seas through smarter management of our resources and some simple restraint. From the coasts of Florida to New Zealand, marine reserves have fostered spectacular recovery of plants and animals to levels not seen in a century. They prove that history need not repeat itself: we can leave the oceans richer than we found them.
Humanity can make short work of the oceans’ creatures. In 1741, hungry explorers discovered herds of Steller’s sea cow in the Bering Strait, and in less than thirty years, the amiable beast had been harpooned into extinction. It’s a classic story, but a key fact is often omitted. Bering Island was the last redoubt of a species that had been decimated by hunting and habitat loss years before the
explorers set sail.

As Callum M. Roberts reveals in The Unnatural History of the Sea, the oceans’ bounty didn’t disappear overnight. While today’s fishing industry is ruthlessly efficient, intense exploitation began not in the modern era, or even with the dawn of industrialization, but in the eleventh century in medieval Europe. Roberts explores this long and colorful history of commercial fishing, taking readers around the world and through the centuries to witness the transformation of the seas.

Drawing on firsthand accounts of early explorers, pirates, merchants, fishers, and travelers, the book recreates the oceans of the past: waters teeming with whales, sea lions, sea otters, turtles, and giant fish. The abundance of marine life described by fifteenth century seafarers is almost unimaginable today, but Roberts both brings it alive and artfully traces its depletion. Collapsing fisheries, he shows, are simply the latest chapter in a long history of unfettered commercialization of the seas.

The story does not end with an empty ocean. Instead, Roberts describes how we might restore the splendor and prosperity of the seas through smarter management of our resources and some simple restraint. From the coasts of Florida to New Zealand, marine reserves have fostered spectacular recovery of plants and animals to levels not seen in a century. They prove that history need not repeat itself: we can leave the oceans richer than we found them.
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