President John F. Kennedy, in a speech made at an event for the 1962 America's Cup race crews, said, "I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. [...] We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came."
I have a deep connection to the sea. In 30 years of diving reefs all over the world, from the Caribbean to the Tyrrhenian Seas, from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans, I have seen unimaginable beauty: astonishing abundance, a profusion of colour, and an array of biodiversity that seems only to be possible in the depths of one's imagination. And yet, it was all true. Fishes, flora, and marine mammals were all connected in a world of irrepressible activity and mystifying tranquility.
Upon becoming a father, one of my greatest joys has been to share this wonder with my children. To my delight, they have taken to the water both naturally and joyfully. But to my deepest regret, I know that they will never see the abundance that I have seen, nor will they swim in waters as pristine as those that I have enjoyed. Apart from this being a tragic impoverishment of experience for them, it also represents a prospective global economic catastrophe.
How did we get here? As quoted by Elizabeth Kolbert in a piece in The New Yorker, the English biologist Thomas Huxley, in a speech delivered at the opening of the London International Fisheries Exhibition in 1883, posed the question: "Are fisheries exhaustible? That is to say, can all the fish which naturally inhabit a given area be extirpated by the agency of man?" In an answer that would be imponderable today, he maintained, "Probably all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say that nothing we do seriously affects the number of the fish" in the sea. (1)
Sadly, over the next hundred years, we have learned that nothing could have been further from the truth. Decades of industrial fishing, with subsidized fleets using sea trawling nets (and their attendant by-catch), has decimated the world's fish stock. Marine ecosystems have been destroyed by an onslaught of land-based pollution, overfishing (including dynamite fishing), alien invasives, sea level rise, acidification, and finally, the increasingly severe and more frequent coral...