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Q&A: Callum Roberts

Callum Roberts is a professor of marine conservation at the University of York in England and author of the 2007 book “The Unnatural History of the Sea.” His second book, “The Ocean of Life”, was published this spring. Oceana asked Roberts about the new book and why we need a “New Deal” for the oceans. This Q&A is from the new issue of Oceana magazine.


How does the Ocean of Life differ from your first book, "The Unnatural History of the Sea"?

“The Unnatural History of the Sea” is about how 1,000 years of hunting and fishing have changed the oceans. It is a voyage through time and around the world in which I let eye witnesses tell their stories of discovery, plunder, glory and heartbreak, and in doing so let us see the oceans in a new light, as if for the first time. “The Ocean of Life” is painted on a bigger canvas. In it I go back to the very beginning in an effort to answer questions like, where did the oceans come from, what were they like before the Cambrian explosion of larger life, who were the first seafood lovers and where did they live? Although I cover the long history of fishing, it is by way of prelude to an exploration of the many other ways in which we are changing the oceans. Almost without noticing it and within my lifetime, humanity has gained dominion over the sea.

What's the most surprising thing you learned about the oceans while researching and writing "The Ocean of Life"?

Probably the most startling and troubling thing I learned, when I drew together the many intertwining strands of our influence, is that the oceans are changing faster today and in more ways than in all of human history. In fact, we may have to go all the way back to the planetary cataclysm that ended the reign of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago to find a more rapid transformation of the sea.


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