Book-of-the-Month: Ocean Country

Book review contribution by COA volunteer Kathleen Weathers

“We are all connected, and all have a social responsibility to not only educate ourselves, but to act.”

Kathy Weathers

Liz Cunningham’s part environmental exposé, adventure story, and memoir reads like a great letter to a friend. Carl Safina, noted conservationist and author, wrote the introduction. The book’s subtitle, “One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in her Quest to Save the Seas,” is the nutshell summary of in-depth explorations into ocean health. Cunningham illustrates five areas around the world that share the same problems and solutions, transcending national borders, hence Cunningham’s word choice of “country” in the title. She takes the reader on a journey from the Islands of Turks and Caicos, the California coast and the Coral Triangle, which include thousands of Pacific islands stretching from Indonesia to East Timor. The expedition continues on to the Mediterranean and the Silver Bank, known for its breeding ground of humpback whales, just north of the Dominican Republic.

Three simple questions guide Cunningham’s interactions with fishermen, policy-makers, conservationists, sea nomads, scientists, and yes, Parisian chefs:

  1. Why is the ocean so important?
  2. How can we live without leaving a trail of destruction behind us?
  3. Given our interconnected destiny with other creatures, how do our lives need to change?

You’ll learn how Coral Triangle fishermen were supported in changing their harvesting practices from using dynamite (with obvious catastrophic long-term consequences) to sustainable methods, by gaining appreciation of an ecosystem, and creating a forum where all members agree to abide by the “new” approach. This new approach often resembles traditional methods that have been once abandoned. Cunningham’s interview with one of the forum members makes all the difference in how we learn about the process of change. We hear directly from active fishermen faced with problems that threaten their livelihoods and food sources, problems with which our own Ocean State fisherman can identify.

We read other stories of turtle poachers becoming eco-tourism guides, and the creation of SeaWeb Seafood Summit, the world’s premier conference on seafood sustainability (Seafood Summit June ’19 in Bangkok). We learn fascinating facts about how Manta rays have the largest brain-to-body ratio of any fish, how the size of the Tokyo fish market is equal to 43 football fields, and how 2.6 billion people depend on fish not just as a protein source, but as their sole (pun intended) food.

Cunningham’s consistent discovery and message throughout the book is that every human being has a role to play. We are all connected, and all have a social responsibility to not only educate ourselves, but to act. Volunteering with Clean Ocean Access (COA) is a great way for citizens of the Ocean State to become one with our “ocean country” and to be part of the global effort.

Get Involved with COA

Ocean Country is a highly recommended read if you: breathe, eat, enjoy water in its various forms; if you are concerned about the degradation of our environment and need shoring up (pun intended), or if you are new to the issues. Bring your curiosity about world cultures and read how seemingly big systemic issues enmeshed in economies can be tackled by small connective actions. Check out the “Resources” section at the back of the book. Cunningham gives a shout out to volunteering “for an organization you feel passionate about.” Chances are if you are reading this, you are connected to COA in a meaningful way. Think about who else might benefit from this connection and bring them aboard.

For more information on ocean science issues and topics discussed in the book visit:

Liz Cunningham’s Website

College of the Atlantic

SeaWeb – A project of The Ocean Foundation