Carl Safina
Song for the Blue Ocean: Encounters Along the World's Coasts and Beneath the Seas

And once you're gone, you can never come back
When you're out of the blue and into the black. -- Neil Young
Song for the Blue Ocean is an articulate masterpiece which promises to be considered a classic as time passes. It starts off good and just keeps getting better. Safina takes us on a tour of many parts of the world. The content is as much a travelogue as it is a plea for big-picture thinking and conservation. The main areas the reader has the pleasure of exploring include the coastline in the northeastern portion of the United States, the westcoast (mostly Oregon and California), Japan, Palau, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

reef and fish picture Along the way, Safina speaks with numerous people affected in some way by the fishing (and related) industry. The views and opinions range widely and are mostly affected by the biases caused by that person's immediate financial situation and how it relates to the fish. Most of the people seem to claim that there isn't a 'real' problem. But then they turn around and blame someone else (long-liners, recreationalists, netters, foreigners, governments, loggers, etc.) for the obvious decrease in a certain species' abundance. Safina loves to point out the irony/hypocrisy of various situations and in the things people say. This, and many other factors, contribute to the book's readability and continual interest.

Even readers who aren't extremely pro-conservation will find much of the material to hold their fascination. The prose is generally quite lively, and just when an area of the world seems to have been sufficiently covered, the reader is swept away to discover a totally new area. Some of the anecdotal stories, in and of themselves, would make a great novel.

bluefin tuna Song for the Blue Ocean is not without its minor flaws. Additional substantiation, via footnotes or some other similar means, behind many of the facts and statistics quoted would add credibility to Safina's case. The pages seem to cry out for pictures of the exotic creatures discussed. A nice, 50+ page color insert would have added an incredible amount of value to this already wonderful package. The human population problem is not cited frequently enough. Many of the 'symptoms' are described as 'problems' when the core problem of human overpopulation is the main force causing the symptoms. Finally, Safina falls into a contradiction trap of his own. This seems to happen frequently with those of a more liberal political persuasion. Government, regulation, and anti-capitalism are called for in one sentence and the vices of the above are bemoaned in the next. Certainly there is no easy, quick-fix solution to the above paradox but Safina's ultimate conclusions are that

"the key to survival [of species, environments, etc.] is enlightened local control of natural resource use" p. 424
and that it was ultimately the taxpayer funded government subsidies that have killed off the great salmon runs. (page 234)

Safina has some excellent insights into the human condition. One is the human problem of only really looking hard at today and tomorrow without a lot of planning for the distant future or learning as much as we should from the past.

"It is hard to accept that the wild animals you depend on are dwindling, and harder still to accept it if your activities might have contributed to the problem. [The human capacity for denial] is human nature." p. 46
Conservation is sometimes thought of as humans vs. other species. If it is bad for other species it must be good for humans and vice versa--or so the false notion goes. On page 425, among many other places, Safina emphasizes the opposite. Humans--the ones currently living and making a living off the natural resources--are first and foremost adversely affected by anti-environmentalism (and not just 'future generations' as is commonly believed).

Contrary to the opinion of from Gloucester, Mass in his amazon feedback, the National Academy of Sciences did not "agree with the industry that the bluefin tuna recovery has proceeded beyond NMFS belief". What the report actually says is that the

assessments of abundance of eastern and western Atlantic bluefin tuna do not provide the most defensible interpretations of available scientific data... there is no evidence that abundance of western Atlantic bluefin tuna has changed significantly... (emphasis added)
You can expect Song for the Blue Ocean to be frequently depressing, but hope is not all lost. In the end, Safina offers several pragmatic and practical examples of how people and processes can change for the better. Mother Nature just needs a little time and resources to start with in order to weave her magic. The key for us humans is to leave enough resources for recovery to be not just possible, but very probable.

I highly recommend this book. In fact, I can't recommend it highly enough. You will find yourself wanting to share it with friends and family.

Science, like love, can be blind, inspired, glorious, or brutal. The piercing ability to perceive order within apparent chaos is, to me, the great, elegant power of science. Not to impose order, but to perceive it. To begin in confusion and by endeavor to gain a sense of how the world works. To turn the seamless picture into a jigsaw puzzle, and by seeing and understanding how each pixel fits, to stand back again and gain a much deeper appreciation of the magnificent beauty of the unified whole. -- p. 361
From the publisher:
Not since Rachel Carson's pioneering bestsellers, The Sea Around Us and The Edge of the Sea--published almost a half century ago--has a writer and scientist revealed the condition of today's oceans with such knowledgeable passion.

To understand the connections between the sea and our own survival, Carl Safina, a world-respected scientist and fisherman, probes for truth in this world tour of the oceans and their peoples. Part odyssey, part pilgrimage, this epic personal narrative follows the author's exploration of coasts, islands, reefs, and the sea's abyssal depths. Carl Safina takes readers on a global journey of discovery of the world's changing seas, deftly weaving adventure, political analysis, science and insight into the human condition.

We accompany people whose lives and occupations in and by the oceans unfold in a drama of clashing personal histories and daily struggles for existence. We enter the embattled world of New England fishermen on the trail of overfished giant tuna--pound for pound the most valuable animal on the planet; visit Philippine Islamic separatists who desperately seek to protect their coral reefs; bear witness to the Northwestern salmon rivers and estuaries degraded by deforestation; observe the fragile, once-pristine South Pacific reefs whose fishes and invertebrates are the prey of rapacious market hunters.

We learn of greed and excess relationships little different from nineteenth century plunder that destroyed the buffalo and the passenger pigeon. As with the moon's effect on tides, Safina demonstrates that today's unregulated global economy exerts a tremendous pull on the world's oceans. But we also read dramatic and hopeful stories of the sea's revival and replenishment. In the end, we find reason for hopefulness in unlikely places--a dangerous heavily armed fishing village on a remote island near the Indonesian border and in the Atlantic where the striped bass have undergone an astounding revival.

Dr. Carl Safina has been close to the sea all his life, as a fisherman, a seabird scientist, and a voice for restoration of abundance and vitality in the oceans. He has served on the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the Smithsonian Institution's Ocean Planet advisory board, and the World Conservation Union's Shark Specialist Group. In 1990 he founded the Living Oceans Program at the National Audubon Society, where he serves as the program's director. Dr. Safina is an adjunct professor at Yale University and is a recipient of the Pew Charitable Trust's Scholar's Award in Conservation and the Environment.