State of the ocean

Most of us don't know much about the oceans that cover 71 percent of Earth, this planet we're temporarily calling home. To alleviate my own ignorance, which is as vast as an ocean, I'm boning up on the subject this winter.


Several books about oceans have been published in recent years, a sign that all is not well in that watery realm. In September I read "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do To Save Them," by Ted Danson and Michael D'Orso. Until this book, I'd known Danson only as Sam Malone, a bartender in the television series "Cheers," and as John Becker, a misanthropic doctor in "Becker." I didn't know he'd been active in ocean conservation issues for more than 25 years. He helped found Oceana, the largest organization in the world focussing only on ocean conservation.

In the book "Oceana," you learn what's happened to our oceans over the past 50 years, everything from overfishing and habitat destruction to ocean acidification and fish farms. It's alarming stuff. You can't help but wonder if anything can be done about it, but Danson doesn't leave you wondering. When "Oceana" hit the stands in 2011, he said: "Our oceans face a difficult future, but the book is not all doom and gloom. I'm an optimist, and as we discuss in the final chapter, we have the power to change things."

I'm now reading "Four Fish: the Future of the Last Wild Food." Author and lifelong fisherman Paul Greenberg explains what's happening in the world of salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. Greenberg on Alaska's salmon: "At their root the wild strains of salmon in Alaska have a very narrow threshold for exploitation, and their move from niche item to world commodity could lead to a classic fisheries collapse. If we are going to continue to eat wild salmon, we must eat them sparingly as the rarest of delicacies and their price should reflect their rarity in the world."

Greenberg's take on wild fish in general: "Wild fish did not come into the world just to be our food. They came into the world to pursue their own individual destinies. If we hunt them and eat them, we must hunt them with care and eat them with the fullness of our appreciation. We must come to understand that eating the last wild food is, above all, a privilege."

My next book will be oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle's "The World is Blue: How Our Fate and the Ocean's Are one," published in 2009. Earle, if you hadn't heard, was Time magazine's first "Hero for the Planet." One sentence that caught my eye while flipping through her book: "For a community or country or civilization to endure, it helps to begin with a robust environment, but what matters most is the approach to living--most significantly, to sustaining the natural systems that underpin all life."

Earle's observation about diversity and commonality: "It turns out that no creature, no tree, no branch of any tree, and certainly no whale is exactly like any other. The capacity for such staggering diversity seems to me to be one of the two great miracles of life. The other is the common water-based chemistry that unites us all."

Also on my reading list is "The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and most original town," by Mark Kurlansky, 2009. Kurlansky wrote "Cod," one of my favorite books about fish and fishing.

Besides the books about the ocean I've found, you'll find others out there. Read them, and discover what's happening in this vitally important part of our world.

Les Palmer can be reached at


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