Shifting Environmental Baselines

From the Preface: "In my work as a scientist, I find that few people really appreciate how far the oceans have been altered from their pre-exploitation state, even among professionals like fishery biologists or conservationists. A collective amnesia surrounds changes that happened more than a few decades ago, as hardly anyone reads old books or reports. People also place most trust in what they have seen for themselves, which often leads them to dismiss as far-fetched tales of giant fish or seas bursting with life from the distant, or even the recent past. The worst part of these 'shifting environmental baselines' is that we come to accept the degraded condition of the sea as normal. Those charged with looking after the oceans set themselves unambitious management targets that simply attempt to arrest declines, rather than rebuild to the richer and more productive states that existed in the past. If we are to break out of this spiral of diminishing returns and diminished expectations of the sea, then it is vital that we gain a clearer picture of how things have changed and what has been lost."

From Chapter 18: "The idea of shifting baselines is familiar to us all and does not just relate to the natural environment. It helps explain why people tolerate the slow crawl of urban sprawl and loss of green space, why they fail to notice increasing noise pollution, and why they put up with longer and longer commutes to work. Changes creep up on us, unnoticed by younger generations who have never known anything different. The young write off old people who rue the losses they have witnessed as either backward or dewy-eyed romantics. But what about the losses that none alive today have seen? In most parts of the world, human impacts on the sea extend back for hundreds of years, sometimes more than a thousand. Nobody alive today has seen the heyday of cod or herring. None has watched sporting groups of sperm whales five hundred strong, or seen alewife run so thick up rivers there seemed more fish than water. The greater part of the decline of many exploited populations happened before anybody alive today was born."

The Unnatural History of the Sea reconstructs marine ecosystems that have been lost over the centuries to fishing, hunting, pollution and habitat degradation. Descriptions in the book bring alive past oceans as our predecessors saw them.

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Shifting Baselines, a Partnership Between Hollywood and Ocean Conservation

Image of Wick Harbour 1875 Image of Wick Harbour 1895 Image of Wick Harbour 1907 Image of Wick Harbour 1920s Image of Wick Harbour 1970s
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