Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pg. 99: "The Unnatural History of the Sea"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Callum Roberts's The Unnatural History of the Sea.

About the book, from the publisher:

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 11th 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 15th 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.

Among the praise for Callum Roberts and his book:
"As Callum Roberts writes in this measured but passionate and immensely important book -- a persuasive synopsis of existing scholarship augmented by the author's own research -- is that the resources of the sea are as limited as those of land and air, and that our penchant for exploiting them to the point of extinction is appalling. "
--Washington Post

"Thank you, Callum Roberts, for your riveting, eloquent, compelling and urgently important saga of what may be the greatest environmental tragedy of our time..."
--Sylvia Earle

"His impressive book... is a vivid reminder of what we've lost and a plea to save what is left and help the sea recover some of its earlier bounty."
--Publishers Weekly

"...well-documented and objective study of the history of fishing and overfishing since the 11th century..."
--Library Journal

"This eloquent and inspiring book not only reveals the true extent of this loss but also tells of the oceans' amazing powers of regeneration... Professor Roberts makes the case crystal clear as to why politicians and society as a whole must act now if we are to save our oceans and the beauty and the bounty they contain."
--Richard Page, Greenpeace
Visit the book's official website.

The Page 99 Test: The Unnatural History of the Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue