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Richard Ellis’ Words to Think On

January 19, 2011

I’ve been reading Richard Ellis’ excellent book, The Empty Ocean.  Ellis is a prolific author and nature artist.  I’ve read his Tuna: Love, Death, and Mercury and I’m at letter P in his Encyclopedia of the Sea.

I’m almost always in awe of his ability to spin so much information into a single, interesting book (or encyclopedia for that matter!).  But I don’t always get taken away by Ellis’ prose.  So I was a little surprised in reading this book.  Here’s an illuminating bit from page 25, something worth pondering:

“We all know that most of the Earth is covered with water, but typically we see only the top of it.  Beneath its shimmering surface there is a world of life, more intricately woven than that of any rain forest.  The occupants range in size from the great whales, the largest animals to ever live on the planet, to microscopic dinoflaggellates and submicroscopic viruses.  Humans have taken advantage of the ocean’s bounty for virtually all of recorded history, probably starting when a prehistoric beachcomber found a dead fish washed ashore, still relatively fresh.

From that innocuous beginning or something akin to it, humans became whalers, sealers, aquaculturalists, netters, trollers, purse seiners, long-liners, bottom trawlers, rod-and-reelers, dynamiters, poisoners, and myriad others dedicated to removing living things from the ocean.  Sometimes the animals were killed for oil, sometimes for baln, and sometimes for their fur coats, but for the most part they were used for food, and this semed more than enough justification for the continuing slaughter of the ocean’s wildlife.  People had to eat, didn’t they?  Besids, the ocean was so big and so deep and so filled with edible items that there seemed  no end to its productivity.

If one population of whales (or seals, or fishes, or sharks) was depleted, the fishers simply moved to another area and attacked another population, or changed the object of the fishery.  A number of fish species, previously regarded as so plentiful as to be unaffected by human enterprise, have instead shown themselves to be vulnerable to fishing to such a degree that they are now considered endangered.  The idea that Mother Ocean would continue to provide for her dependents forever has shown itself to be another gross midjudgment on the part of those dependents.”

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