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The Unnatural History of the Sea

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  217 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Humanity can make short work of the oceans’ creatures. In 1741, hungry explorers discovered herds of Steller’s sea cow in the Bering Strait, and in less than thirty years, the amiable beast had been harpooned into extinction. It’s a classic story, but a key fact is often omitted. Bering Island was the last redoubt of a species that had been decimated by hunting and habitat ...more
Paperback, 456 pages
Published January 5th 2009 by Shearwater (first published July 14th 2007)
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I went back and forth on whether or not to give this book five stars. I'll start with the reason I didn't though: it's not particularly well written. Roberts beats the same point to death in chapter after chapter early in the book. That point is that mankind has systematically, all over the world, devastated the oceans and seas to brink of exhaustion. Time after time and in location after location.

This criticism made the book a fairly slow read, in addition to the fact that I felt terrible ever
Tony duncan
Jun 09, 2008 Tony duncan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: every human that can read
Recommended to Tony by: books
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Roberts is the Rachel Carson of the world's ocean wildlife and this book is his Silent Spring. Interestingly, in some cases we don't realize the extent of damage done to the world's dramatically depleted fish stock because of "baseline creep," our inability to remember or believe in stories of teeming ocean fisheries and long lost monster catches. In other cases, the apparent damage is more sudden, as when rapid technological innovations enable huge increases in our capacity to fish wider and mo ...more
Nov 03, 2008 Christine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone who lives on earth
Recommended to Christine by: Society of Environmental Journalists
Roberts looks at original sources for descriptions of what the oceans were really like, what abundance once blessed the earth. He reviews the technology that humans have devised to harvest the bounty of the oceans, and how each innovation has soon reduced formerly plentiful fish and other marine critters.

It's truly shocking to realize how devastating the impact has been, from millions and billions of fish down to countable numbers, and how the remaining sea creatures have adapted to the changed
Alex Tilley
As a scientific account of what has been taken from the world's oceans, and the extent to which technology has obliterated the idea of sustainable fisheries this book is fantastic. I only dock it one star as I felt it lacked fluidity in places, tending towards dry facts at times rather than weaving a story. However, there is so much research and information in this book, that it should be read by anyone vaguely interested in the sea or sustainable use, as it illustrates so clearly that our idea ...more
I think this is a very important book, and a must-read. Unfortunately, it is not well written so I find it difficult to recommend it.

The main point that this book conveys is that the over-exploitation of the seas began much earlier than is believed to be, and that the present baselines for what is considered healthy for oceans and a target for recovery is way too low. Also, these baselines keep shifting, as people rely on their own experience, get used to what they see and dismiss older account
With The Unnatural History of the Sea, Callum Roberts extensively documents the destructiveness and shortsightedness that fishing has generally had on the abundance, distribution, and diversity of marine life in many of the world’s oceans over centuries. The concerned tone is justified by the vast evidence synthesized throughout which provides a picture of how paltry today’s oceanic cornucopia is compared to historical plenty. After all, we’ve been fishing down the food web while shifting our ba ...more
Lynne M Hinkey
This is the most well-written, fast-paced depressing book you'll ever read. Roberts' meticulous and comprehensive research into the history of fishing and its impacts could have ended up a dry tome of doom and gloom, but in Roberts' expert hands, it becomes fascinating (although still depressing.) That Roberts can maintain his positive outlook toward humanity's ability to bring sea life back from the brink shows what a dedicated and determined scientist he is. Most people, knowing what he knows ...more

Since about 1000 AD, Europeans, their descendenants, the descendenants of their colonists, with help of all sorts of other people in last few decades, have been doing some serious fishing in saltwater. In the last 150 years or so that has become serious enough to drastically reduce the abundance of some once common marine species.

A small number of motifs repeat themselves throughout the book. People start out fishing close to home, and as they reduce the fish (or crustacean or bivalve) popula

I have been zealous about my campaign to spread awareness about the emptying seas for many years now, but I didn't realize until I read this book how under-informed I really was on the subject.

Here I thought that commercial fishing was a new phenomenon, and that rapidly declining fish populations started halfway through the 20th century! How wrong I was. Our baselines have been shifting for centuries. Mega-fauna have been systematically stripped from the ocean everywhere humans have encountered
This is a book about how human beings have spent thousands of years depleting life in the sea and learning almost nothing from the negative consequences of overhunting and overfishing. It's one of the most depressing books I've ever read in my life. Almost every chapter introduces some jaunty and essentially harmless sea creature then details the efforts humans have made to wipe it out for fun and profit, a pattern that persists to this day.
Yes, there's also plenty of fun historical fact and de
I began reading this book almost six weeks ago. It's a stunning general history of the destruction of the seas' fisheries over the past thousand years. The same pattern emerges from the beginning: deplete one highly favored fishery and then move on to another, perhaps less favorable, but move on. So, serial exploitation and destruction occurred through the centuries. First, the rich estuaries were wiped out, then the European continental shelf and shallow seas. Then, with the age of exploration, ...more
Feb 13, 2010 Thomas rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the uninformed
This book angered me in at least three ways. First, the tracks are far too long. One wrong click will leave you scrambling to find your place.
Second, the narrator felt the need to distinguish various quotations by reading them in bogus, irritating accents. (At one point, I thought I was attending a party with a piratical theme.) Third, the content left me quivering with rage at the massive depletion of our natural heritage. So much has been lost over the last 1,000 years, and so much of that du
One of the most sobering and enlightening books I've ever read. The impact reading this had on me was comparable to "Collapse," by Jared Diamond.

The first step to solving a problem is identifying it, and Callum Roberts does an amazing job of chronicling both what we had in the oceans, and what we've lost. It was amazing the extent to which the human race is capable of forgetting what it knows and has experienced. Roberts has given us a chance to get it back.

I read this book while on vacation in
A deeply fascinating read! It did take a year to slowly munch through it's giant size, but it was tasty and amazingly packed.

Tons of detail and interesting history about how we have slowly fucked over the sea since year dot. The history of trawling is surprising and really scary. Will we ever learn or listen ever.

The same issues keep cropping up time and time again and its quite astonishing that he managed to write a final optimistic-ish chapter at the end. At this point most people would just q
Good & important stuff, this book didn't add much beyond what I had already gotten out of Roberts' other book, The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea, and I found that one more entertaining to read. This was slow in the middle. Either book makes a strong case for a simple plan: establish a global network of marine reserves, to protect fisheries & fish.
A detailed look at what used to be the bounty of the oceans before humans fished many areas to the verge of extinction. The author is a respected research scientist in Engaland> H espends a third of the book exploring what needs to be done to preserve and increase the remaing areas that still support healthy habitats of marine creatures. This is the second book I've read by the author and both were excellent,well researched and well written books.
Tragic account of natural abundance, human amnesia and greed. I'm reading it for work, developing a small exhibit on sustainable fishing.
‘…each generation comes to view the environment into which it was born as natural, normal… shifting environmental baselines cause collective societal amnesia in which gradual deterioration of the environment and depletion of wildlife pass almost unnoticed…’
Excellent read. Roberts argues that marine life is in peril but savable. Capstone recommendations for fisheries management:
Reduce the amount of fishing,eliminate risky decisions, eliminate catch quotas, require fishers to keept what they catch, use the best availalbe fishing technology to reduce bycatch, ban or restrict the most damaging fishing gear, set up marine reserves.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
very dense, he probably has 100 more pages then needed to make his point, sort of bludgeons you...message: throughout history when people find large stocks of fish, they eventually fish beyond sustainable levels...heavy trawling is much more akin to mining than harvesting fish...
I'm bored; may not finish it. The thesis so far: what you think is a healthy fishery is not. It hasn't been healthy for centuries, since before organized fishing began. You think the ocean/river near you was healthy when you were a kid? You're kidding yourself.
I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is a compelling story of how we have arrived at our current, overfished, state and what we can do to reverse the trend. I liked this book so much I am using it as a centerpiece of a course on historical ecology I designed.
The book is a major review of of the depopulation of the oceans. The scale and intensity of loss is hard to fathom. This book is a must read. I was particularly shocked by the severity of decline of large fish that use coral reef habitat.
This really shaped my understanding of how the sea used to look before we started fishing it to oblivion. A must read if you want to form a view of marine life resources. And great tales of the sea's abundance before we started to wreck it.
They need to make an abridged version of this that is more accessible to the masses. This book is an absolute must read for anyone interested in ocean conservation, marine biology, fishing or fisheries management.
Thorough history of fishing in Europe and America for the past 1000 years. It will probably make you cry, and really care about what type of fish you consume, if you don't already.
This book tells the extremely sad story of world fish stocks so vividly that I could only handle a couple chapters at a time. Very important for anyone who eats seafood to read.
Everyone should read this... utterly depressing, but enlightening. Did you know, for example, that there were petitions AGAINST bottom trawling as far back as the 1300s?
Karen Tannenbaum
Utterly and emotionally heartbreaking, yet, a must-read for those concerned about the oceans. However, there is hope, but conservation must make an emergency effort.
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Recently named in the Times as one of the 100 most influential UK scientists, Prof Callum Roberts is an award-winning expert on Marine Conservation.

His main research interests include documenting the impacts of fishing on marine life, both historic and modern, and exploring the effectiveness of marine protected areas. For the last 10 years he has used his science background to make the case for st
More about Callum Roberts...
The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea Unnatural History of the Sea - Chapter 14 Marine Ecology of the Arabian Region: Patterns and Processes in Extreme Tropical Environments

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“Extinction, the irrevocable loss of a species, causes pain that can never find relief. It is an ache that will pass from generation to generation for the rest of human history.” 2 likes
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