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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Book Review: Seaweed Chronicles

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I usually put book reviews on my other blog but in this case I think there is enough coherence with the ostensible reason for this blog to put it here.

I was offered the book to read – more than once – by email. What surprised me when I got the advanced reading copy to see on its back cover that I could have got it from NetGalley. As it was I was happy enough to curl up in a chair and spend a few hours with the hard copy. Unusually for me, I had a pen in my hand, as there were no page numbers shown in the table of contents, so I was writing them in as I read. I also found myself marking up the pages – in ink! – which is something I would never do with a book whether I had borrowed or bought it. One reason for that is that my copy also has no index, which makes going back to find stuff really time consuming. For instance, I was pretty sure she must have considered sea level rise, but it is going to take a while to thumb through to find the references.

While the author is based in Maine her coverage does range widely and one of the early chapters deals with the interrelationship of bull kelp, otters and orcas in the Pacific Northwest which I found fascinating. If a book doesn’t get your attention in the first chapter or two, you are unlikely to finish it. This one won me over early and kept me reading.

There is also quite a bit about Acadain Seaplants Limited of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia “the biggest seaweed harvesting, processing and research company in the world”. Naturally this company gets quite a lot of coverage not least because of its expansion into the waters off New England. It is quite often referred to as a Canadian company, and not just because of the alliteration. The book is very much about the people “who work and live at the shore”. Most of these communities started as fishers and whalers, and as those resources became exhausted worked their way down the food chain and the seaweed – being algae – is pretty much as low as you can get.

“As seaweed harvests take the place of lost fisheries in many areas of the world, they present some of the same issues we have here [Maine]: the growing desire of coastal people to take good care of what’s left, a need for more education and study, and an acknowledgement that the oceans in our lives are in trouble.”

This theme recurs throughout the book.

“the more we perfect our capacity to harvest wild nature, the closer we come to destroying what we seek.”

There is a great deal about the tragedies of the commons – and the framework of rules and sanctions for breaking those rules – that are essential to ensuring the commons continue.

“… our environmental history includes species that are gone forever: the passenger pigeons…,the Labrador duck, the sea mink, the great auk …the schools of cod once stretched from bays outward fifteen miles or more…they seemed limitless.”

And we are now looking at the extirpation of the resident orcas in the Salish Sea and the woodland caribou both victims of the indecent haste to get as much of the tar sands exploited while the subsidies last (they aren’t worth much without). And as long as we go on electing politicians like 45 and Ford – or Trudeau and Notley come to that – we look like “succeeding”.

I greatly enjoyed reading this book and felt I learned a lot: after all as is common to those educated in Britain in the 1950s and 60s we had to make a choice between arts and science in school. Ever since I have been conscious of the need to make up for my scientific ignorance – and how difficult that is when so many people resort to “Well, I’d explain it but you haven’t got the math.” This book is not like that. What did surprise me is how much of it is actually familiar. Yes, I know we need seaweed. I have learned how to read nutritional labels and I did know that there is a lot more than just sushi wrappers. I also realise that we need to come up with much better frameworks of regulation not just of the shoreline people but of the big corporations which seem to continue to escape every constraint placed upon them.

What must remain wild for the health of the planet, and what can we take, as we face climate change and diminishing natural resources?


Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge
by Susan Hand Shetterly
Algonquin Books
On sale August 7, 2018
ISBN 978 1 61620 574 4



Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Environment

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