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In Review

50 Ways to Save the Ocean

David Helvarg, Inner Ocean Press, 2006, $12.95 (paper)

book cover photo: harbor seal underwater, with cartoon characters drawn nearby

These days, a lot of people understand that pouring used motor oil or other chemicals into a storm drain has a direct and deleterious effect on the oceans. Oh, there are still a few people who don't realize that most storm drains empty into local creeks and ponds and from there, eventually into the ocean, and a few more who do realize that but don't think their own dumping makes much of an impact. (They're wrong: Just one quart of used motor oil can contaminate hundreds of thousands of gallons of seawater.)

Still, after a decade of public awareness campaigns, storm-drain stenciling programs, and general education, awareness of the fact that dumping chemicals into storm drains hurts the ocean is at an all-time high.

But how many people make connections between other things they do every day and the health of our beleaguered marine environments?

Do you think about the ocean when you flick a switch to turn on a light? (Most electricity in the US is generated in coal-powered plants, which release mercury into the atmosphere, which eventually reaches the ocean and works its way through the food web.)

How about when you buy that new flushable kitty litter? (Toxoplasmosis, a disease common in cats, has been implicated in die-offs of sea otters along the California coast, and flushing of cat waste is thought to be a main reason.)

Even something as seemingly non-marine as taking a road trip to Nebraska affects our oceans: climate change due to greenhouse gases is causing coral reef bleaching, and other tailpipe emissions cause acidification of runoff, altering ocean chemistry.

Almost everything we do, in other words, ends up in the ocean. For those of us who want to cause less damage to our common blue heritage as we live our lives, the sheer scope of the problems can be daunting.

Fortunately, David Helvarg's book 50 Ways to Save the Ocean offers some commonsense solutions.

Helvarg, best known for his ground-breaking investigative journalism work, is a life-long ocean enthusiast and founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign. In 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, he offers constructive ways in which the reader can make her life less destructive, help educate others, and enjoy what the oceans have to offer  all without a shred of purism or condescension, written in an accessible style.

The advice Helvarg offers is wide-ranging, from "eat organic and vegetarian food" and "use less plastic"  feedlots and chemical fertilizers help create a New-Jersey-sized "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico each year, and plastic is a major source of marine litter, which kills seabirds and other wildlife, including sea turtles  to "get married on a wild beach," so that you're more likely to have an emotional attachment to the place, thus more interest in protecting it. Each tip is written in an engaging and accessible style, with a description of the specific issue and how our actions affect it, a range of steps the reader can take from the easy to the more committed, and ways for more information. Illustrations by cartoonist Jim Toomey, author of the syndicated comic strip "Sherman's Lagoon," enliven each chapter. Though patriotic New Jersey residents may take umbrage at the occasional mildly unflattering reference to the Garden State, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean deserves a spot on the bookshelves of anyone who cherishes the wilderness offshore  or in the holiday gift pile for your favorite budding marine biologist.

   

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