Nobody needs to convince you that the ocean is vast.

But relevant?

Readers who share Trethewey’s belief that “the ocean’s story is also our own” will be more likely to pick up this volume.

Many of us understand her launching spot:

“The watery surface is a place of transit and trade; the sea floor a place of connection, finance, communication, and untold riches. All these unfathomable connections lead to a greater story of change just beyond the horizon.”

And we might think that we know all we need to know about the ocean.

Trethewey, too, was drilled as a student, on the names of the seven oceans.

Which raises an excellent point: there is actually only one ocean and how differently might we think of the world today, if only we had been taught, as younger people, a perspective of interconnection.

What I really enjoy about Trethewey’s work is how she spools outward, from the story of one or two individuals into matters of global importance.

But, as with Ian Urbina’s The Outlaw Ocean, I loved discovering the topics that the author explores, simply by turning the page. So I don’t want to spoil that sense of “discovery” for other readers.

Instead, here are some random facts gleaned from The Imperilled Ocean, that intrigued me:

  • The first (blurry) underwater photograph was snapped by Louis Boutan in 1893. But even for shows like BBC’s Blue Planet, many filmmakers rely on shooting in tanks rather than open water (more predictable, no unintended appearances by excessive algae, no discarded plastics).
  • A quarter of the fish analyzed in California’s and Indonesia’s fish markets contained man-made debris.
  • In the presence of a violent storm, it’s safer to be on the open water than to be within sight of the coast. (In hindsight, this is sensible, but I just never thought about it: there’s less opportunity to run aground of something and wreck.)
  • There are twenty distinct nations that share the Mediterranean Sea’s coastline. Over 15,000 known deaths have occurred since 2013, in attempts to cross that body of water to a place of (relative) safety. Experts suggest there are 2 additional deaths for every recorded death, for each body found and tabulated.
  • Charlotte Bront fainted at her first brush with the ocean. (Trethewey seems to be a reader; she also quotes Anne Dillard, Homer, E.P. Thompson and David Foster Wallace and refers to Penelope Fitzgerald’s Booker-Prize winning novel, Offshore.)
  • The average person consumes a credit-card-sized amount of plastic each week, largely through their drinking water. (Edit: each week, not each day)
Photo by Jason Zeis on Unsplash

Yes, this is the kind of book that will make you want to turn to the person nearest to you and say “Did you know…”.

But it’s also the kind of book that makes you want to tell that person entire stories, to share entire experiences.

Even though I’m actively seeking diverse topics for my #ReadtheChange posts this year, and I began the year with Ian Urbina’s The Outlaw Ocean (2019), Laura Trethewey’s The Imperilled Ocean is an excellent companion.

This is not a topic that I’d’ve identified as one I’d like to read about for a few hundred pages, but now that I have, Urbina and Tretheway have only made me want to read more on the topic, rather than move on.

Actually, the other books I’ve read with this project in mind have had a similar effect: Samar Yazbek’s A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution (Trans. Max Weiss, 2012) and Deni Béchard’s Empty Hands, Open Arms: The Race to Save Bonobos in the Congo and Make Conservation Go Viral (2013).

Surely I am not alone in this, in having avoided particular topics (because they seemed too overwhelming, too science-y, too removed-from-my-experience, too HARD)?

What book(s) have you bought, because you wanted to know more or felt that you should understand, a topic that seems both timely and challenging?

What topic are you avoiding? And why?