Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trashing Our Own Backyard ; We're Still Oceans Away from Understanding the Sea's Vulnerabilities

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Trashing Our Own Backyard ; We're Still Oceans Away from Understanding the Sea's Vulnerabilities

Article excerpt

Since ancient times, people have thought of the oceans as being too vast and powerful for us to possibly damage. The oceans, so much larger than we are, could take care of themselves.

Over the past two decades, a series of ecological disasters has proved that assumption wrong. Sewage and fertilizer runoff have rendered the Black Sea hospitable only to algae slicks and jellyfish. Coral reefs are dying all over the world from pollution and overheated seawater. The Grand Banks, one of the greatest fisheries the world has known, has been closed for lack of fish.

Now that the scale of the human enterprise is large enough to disrupt entire marine ecosystems, we need to start understanding how the oceans work. We know surprisingly little about marine systems, and we need to do our homework if we are to avert the destruction of one of our planet's greatest resources.

Drawing on the latest scientific research in marine ecology, biology, and geology, physical and chemical oceanography, Deborah Cramer has produced an exhaustive description of the inner workings of the Atlantic Ocean. From the violent geological forces that created the Atlantic to the breeding habits of sea turtles, "Great Waters" is a digest of recent scientific inquiry into ocean systems.

Cramer's tour reveals how human activities have left almost no aspect of the Atlantic untouched. Whales die from eating herring whose bodies are laced with PCBs and other toxins. The tiny marine algae at the bottom of the food chain respond poorly to increased ultraviolet radiation from the ozone hole.

The earth may plunge into an ice age if the greenhouse effect melts polar ice caps, slowing the great oceanic currents that act as the planet's radiator.

But this is a book that would have benefited from an attentive editor. Cramer's prose often reads like bad poetry, unrelenting in its effort to force symbolic poignancy from each and every fact and observation. …

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