The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Sea!

The sea – it doesn’t get more epic than that broiling mass of liquid, eh? If you ever want to see how puny and insignificant humans and our idiotic, relentless bickering really are, then take a look at the ocean as its rolls away into the distance, impassive in its restless and more or less unchanged over hundreds of millions of years.

Marine biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964) liked the idea, too, and the Sea Around Us (1951) remains one of the most popular books written about the natural world. It’s essentially about the science and poetry of the ocean, but it’s also a prescient work as it examines environmental issues such as pollution and mass extinction of marine animals. These are now nearing emergency status, so it’s timely in taking a look at this excellent book and its impact on science, literature, and the people around us.

The Sea Around Us

Translated into over 28 languages, the Sea Around Us may now have been dwarfed somewhat by new scientific advances and books which detail these 50+ years after Carson’s book was launched, but what shines through is her passion for the subject. Her prose, too, is brilliant and really drags you into her story or rolling oceans, crashing waves, and sharks with super nippy gnashers!

In this respect it’s as fresh in 2018 as it was back in the ’50s but, as mentioned, there have been significant advances since what Carson detailed. Technological changes have allowed humans to visit seabeds at disturbing depths below us – we’ve even located landmark locations such as the Titanic vessel, which had been lost for some 70 years before our clever human brains found the doomed ship.

That’s irrelevant, though, as the book acts as a time capsule of human understanding decades ago in a post-WWII environment. And, whilst things have moved on a great deal, there’s still a staggering amount of mystery involving the oceans – humans really are out of place bobbing about on it, but exploring its depths and analysing its weird and wonderful creatures provides a remarkable look at life on this thing called Earth. Well worth a read, then, if you like a bit of wonder in your life.

The Sea Films Around Us

Whilst reading about the ocean is grand, seeing it in action is the real deal. Whilst folks such as myself hardly ever visit the seaside (hey, it’s not really ever-present in Manchester), there are shows such as Blue Planet (2001) to turn to. Blue Planet II also arrived in 2017 and is an epic look into what’s changed a generation on from the first series’ run on the BBC.

This time around, a large amount of focus is placed on the increasing disaster zone humans are turning the sea into. Sir David Attenborough, now 91, has been spending a large proportion of his elder-statesman years educating the public about doing something to help the situation, but the solution is in the hands of the world’s business moguls and politicians. Can documentaries from the BBC, or on Netflix, bring about change?

A Plastic Ocean (2017) arrived on streaming behemoth Netflix last year and it makes for alarming viewing, but the problem with documentaries such as this, whilst raising mass awareness, is they all seem to end on the same enforced, chirpy note. After all the misery and tales of future woe, it’s as if the need to end with Blue Peter optimism overrides all else and in comes the upbeat music.

It’s an almost impossible dilemma, with millions of people relying on the sea for livelihoods, big businesses carting tonnes of products across the world on a daily basis, and fishing nets tearing all manner of animals out of their habitat in the blink of an eye. To save the oceans, simply put, it’ll take a massive concerted international effort and, unfortunately, it means some people will just have to go without being rich and, even worse, everyone will have to bloody well agree on something!

Anyway, A Plastic Ocean should be enough to make you turn to recycling pretty quickly, whilst other documentaries, such as the excellent Blackfish and Oscar-winning The Cove, have helped push the environmental cause in a better direction, yet the ocean still remains in a perilous state. Which is, simply put, a pretty big bummer for future generations and this gorgeous planet we here live on.

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