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Future Sea How to Rescue and Protect the World’s Oceans

By: Deborah Rowan Wright(Author)
192 pages
Sure to raise eyebrows, Future Sea is a galvanizing book that makes a convincing case to protect all of the oceans.
Future Sea
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  • Future Sea ISBN: 9780226824086 Paperback Oct 2022 In stock
  • Future Sea ISBN: 9780226542676 Hardback Nov 2020 In stock
Selected version: £11.99
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

The world's oceans face multiple threats: the effects of climate change, pollution, overfishing, plastic waste, and more. Confronted with the immensity of these challenges and of the oceans themselves, we might wonder what more can be done to stop their decline and better protect the sea and marine life. Such widespread environmental threats call for a simple but significant shift in reasoning to bring about long-overdue, elemental change in the way we use ocean resources. In Future Sea, ocean advocate and marine-policy researcher Deborah Rowan Wright provides the tools for that shift. Questioning the underlying philosophy of established ocean conservation approaches, Rowan Wright lays out a radical alternative: a bold and far-reaching strategy of 100 percent ocean protection that would put an end to destructive industrial activities, better safeguard marine biodiversity, and enable ocean wildlife to return and thrive along coasts and in seas around the globe.

Future Sea is essentially concerned with the solutions and not the problems. Rowan Wright shines a light on existing international laws intended to keep marine environments safe that could underpin this new strategy. She gathers inspiring stories of communities and countries using ocean resources wisely, as well as of successful conservation projects, to build up a cautiously optimistic picture of the future for our oceans – counteracting all too prevalent reports of doom and gloom. A passionate, sweeping, and personal account, Future Sea not only argues for systemic change in how we manage what we do in the sea, but also describes steps that anyone, from children to political leaders (or indeed, any reader of the book), can take toward safeguarding the oceans and their extraordinary wildlife.



1. Back-to-Front World
2. The Laws of Life
3. Teeming Seas
4. The Free Sea
5. Theory to Reality
6. Counteroffensive
7. Worrying about the Wrong Stuff
8. The Silver Bullet?
9. The Power of Many Small Changes
10. Finding Like Minds


Customer Reviews (1)

  • Sure to raise eyebrows, but galvanising
    By Leon (NHBS Catalogue Editor) 20 Jan 2021 Written for Hardback

    In his book Half-Earth, the famous biologist E.O. Wilson proposed setting aside half of the planet's surface for conservation purposes. Deborah Rowan Wright will do you one better; given how important they are for life on the planet, how about we completely protect the oceans. What, all of it? Yes, not half, all of it. We need a gestalt shift, from "default profit and exploitation to default care and respect" (p. 11). Such a bold proposal is likely to elicit disbelief and cynicism – "Impossible!" – and Wright has experienced plenty of that. But hear her out, for sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Future Sea is a surprisingly grounded, balanced, and knowledgeable argument that swayed me because, guess what, the oceans are already protected.

    This was the book's most surprising revelation, at least for me. Legally speaking, the oceans are already under full protection. Having worked on topics such as ocean governance reform and public-trust law, Wright is perfectly positioned to dig into law statutes and serve up the relevant sections to prove her point. Between the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea, the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity, and a raft of other global codes and treaties, 96.5% of the Earth's oceans are already legally protected from exploitation, pollution, and other miscreants. This is where Wright starts asking the first of a series of very simple, seemingly naïve questions, a strategy she repeats throughout the book. The laws are there, why are they not working?

    Unfortunately, like so many other international laws, they are paper tigers that are not really enforced. We have no planetary government, if you will, that has the power to hold individual countries to account. And although countries can exert pressure on one another via high-level organisations such as the United Nations: "when it comes to the sea the weight of the upright majority isn't available to force compliance because much of the upright majority is itself breaking the laws that protect it." (p. 22).

    Of all the perils facing our oceans that Wright mentions – plastic pollution, deep-sea mining, marine aquaculture, climate change, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, ghost fishing – she focuses on overfishing. She explains that vital concept of shifting baseline syndrome: the creeping form of collective amnesia that makes each generation accept a progressively more degraded environment as the new normal. How industrial-scale overfishing came about, and how government subsidies are now keeping it afloat. And how many regulatory bodies such as Regional Fisheries Management Organizations seem set up to fail by focusing on profit rather than protection.

    However, as she clarifies early on, "Protection doesn't necessarily mean you can't use something. It can also mean using something well." (p. 12-13). She is balanced enough in her argumentation to highlight that properly managed large-scale fisheries do not necessarily deplete fish populations. Furthermore, the benefits of Marine Protected Areas and marine reserves have been well documented. Fish and other species can recover so quickly that even sceptical fishermen frequently become their staunchest defenders when their livelihoods improve again. Next to these top-down approaches, she discusses successful examples of community-based marine conservation, such as small-scale fisheries in Fiji and Palau.

    Another important concept to understand is how the sea is divvied up. Every coastal country has an Exclusive Economic Zone that extends for two hundred miles seawards where they have exclusive jurisdiction. Everything outside of that (64% of ocean surface, 95% of ocean volume) is the high seas. A global commons that, on paper, should be a jointly owned resource set aside for public use. In reality, it is a lawless wild west where some of the most depraved excesses of human cruelty play out. Yet, where overfishing is concerned, it need not be so. Ecosystem-based management, which considers whole ecosystems with all their interdependencies, is all the rage nowadays. We already have an example of this strategy working on the high seas: the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which was initially negotiated to protect Antarctic krill.

    So, how can Wright's bold plan of protecting the oceans become reality, she asks? In short by modernizing, implementing, and enforcing the law. As she shows here, all three steps are already underway or can be achieved. Political inertia is great, however, and time is running out. So, how do you get governments to act now? As Adam Ansel once wrote in Playboy, horrified: "[...] we have to fight our own government to save our environment" (p. 79). Recent years have seen unprecedented legal cases where citizens have taken governments to court for neglecting environmental laws. And won. We, the people, have to hold them accountable, for they do not have to live with the repercussions of their poor decisions. Wright pointedly observes of politicians and business leaders that: "They're mostly wealthy men in their fifties, sixties, and seventies and will be dead before very long" (p. 84).

    At this point in the book I started shifting in my chair uneasily. As I have written elsewhere, I am frustrated with the environmental movement's narrative that casts politics and business as evil overlords. These discussions are hollow, hypocritical even, if they do not also consider the question of self-limitation: what is each of us willing to forego and give up for a better world?

    I was very pleased, therefore, that Wright fully acknowledges and embraces this ethos. Best of all, she discusses more than just token efforts such as "shop responsibly" and "avoid single-use plastics", tackling the big topics such as dropping meat and dairy from your diet and, significantly, having fewer children (I am so pleased to see this becoming part of the mainstream conversation around environmental issues). On that note, one last noteworthy thing is how Wright takes a leaf from Eileen Crist's Abundant Earth when it comes to pointing out the power of language in shaping our perception. Take that loaded term "ocean management". Given that oceans have existed for billions of years before we appeared (and did just fine, thank you very much) "we should be managing ourselves [...] "Ocean management" then becomes "people management"" (p. 97)

    I admit that Wright's initial brief raised my eyebrows. However, her even-handed treatment of the subject and her insights into environmental law quickly tempered my scepticism. The way forward proposed here will not be easy, and she never pretends it will be, but the urgency with which she makes her case is utterly convincing. Future Sea is a galvanising book.
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Deborah Rowan Wright is an independent researcher who writes about marine conservation. She has worked with the UK NGOs Whale & Dolphin Conservation, Friends of the Earth, and Marinet. Her work on marine renewable energy, ocean governance reform, and public-trust law has been published by the International Whaling Commission and the Ecologist, among others. In 2010, her policy document The Ocean Planet formed an integral part of Marinet’s Common Fisheries Policy reform campaign, and it won her Friends of the Earth’s Communication of the Year Award.

By: Deborah Rowan Wright(Author)
192 pages
Sure to raise eyebrows, Future Sea is a galvanizing book that makes a convincing case to protect all of the oceans.
Media reviews

"In Future Sea, Rowan Wright makes a convincing call to optimism. From 'Inky the octopus' to the Law of the Sea convention she provides a cogent, easy-to-read argument for protecting the whole of our blue marble planet. A fast read on a deep subject, this thoughtful book will leave you feeling empowered to take the plunge, understanding that in saving the natural abundance and diversity of our seas we're really saving ourselves."
– David Helvarg, author of Saved by the Sea and The Golden Shore

"Rowan Wright's book is a clear call to action to modernize the Law of the Sea so that it can deal with the changes in society, in the sea, on land, and in the atmosphere that have arisen since it came into force in 1994. This is the freshest, most sensible, and most optimistic perspective I have seen in a long time. I enjoy very much the positive, can-do approach. Very motivating."
– Drew Harvell, Cornell University, author of A Sea of Glass and Ocean Outbreak

"Future Sea delivers not only the promised 'how' but also the reasons why we should safeguard the ocean from human activities. Advocate and researcher Rowan Wright outlines the critical link between the ocean's health and our ability to mitigate global warming, the tremendous potential of marine renewable energy, and the ocean's timeless role as a resource to communities around the world. More profoundly, she argues for its intrinsic value, outside of a human context, noting the vastness and richness of coastal and underwater ecosystems, home to millions of species that are yet unclassified, yet unknown [...] The times when Rowan Wright draws on her own experiences with ocean life and researching her subjects are when the language is liveliest. Her arguments are most convincing when her own voice is clearest – when the frustration, passion, and will for change of an individual emanate in a kind of slow-burning glow of articulate British restraint. The voice of a single rational, concerned woman make the bolder claims and proposals all the more stealthily convincing [...] It is her sensitivity to both the complex emotional response to environmental destruction and the profound connections human beings have to the natural world that make the book an effective advocacy tool. I certainly didn't feel emotionally prepared to take in more environmental 'bad news, ' but found myself changed after reading the book, feeling that understanding, bearing witness, is also part of making a change. The trick is to move past the paralysis. Rowan Wright pinpoints what is perhaps the greatest challenge, our current global leadership vacuum, describing her dream of 'leaders with compassion and integrity.' The implicit message is that for good leadership, too, we all bear some responsibility."
– Megin Jimenez, Chicago Review of Books

"Future Sea sets out marine policy researcher Rowan Wright's ideas about how to end destructive industrial activities at sea and enable ocean wildlife to return and thrive. Luckily, she includes steps that anyone, from children to political leaders, can take."
New Scientist

"A profound plan to save the seas [...] Our ocean life-support system continues to buckle under human pressures. We have been approaching marine conservation backward, Rowan Wright argues at the outset of her new book, Future Sea. Instead of regulating individual fisheries or putting boundaries around select areas of the ocean, we need to protect the whole thing."
– Mary Ellen Hannibal, Science

"A solutions-oriented read about the dire state of our oceans and how we can better protect them [...] Books about climate change are often rife with doomy predictions, but Future Sea brims with hopeful stories of communities around the world that are working to protect and conserve our oceans. Our seas face many threats, including climate change, pollution, and overfishing, but this book is solutions-oriented. A marine-policy researcher, Rowan Wright puts forth a sweeping – if somewhat radical – plan that offers total protection of all oceans on Earth and all of their living inhabitants. The book also includes actions individuals can take right now to be better stewards of the seas."
– Amy Brady, LitHub

"A very stimulating and rewarding read."
– Mark Avery

"An ambitious and useful handbook [...] It is an eye-opening book that will fill your soul with the right amount of optimism and call for action. It will tell you in an easy-to-read, step-by-step outline of how to save the planet's seas."
a la luz

"Combines a legal scholar's understanding of arcane theories and doctrines [...] with a modern conservation practitioner's knowledge of the many threats to ocean populations and ecosystems [...] Timely and provocative [...] Rowan Wright provides us optimists with a roadmap to substantially restore the health of ocean ecosystems. It's been a few weeks since I finished reading Future Sea and I'm still thinking about it: thinking about how to convince NGOs and governments to start making some big changes. But one of my favorite chapters ('The Power of Many Small Changes') lays out a convincing and detailed case that we can all do a lot to reduce our impacts on ocean wildlife: things like reducing our carbon footprint, eating less beef, eating only sustainably harvested seafood, and participating in beach cleanups."
Current Biology

"If you want to get into understanding ocean management – this is the book for you! If you want to know what your government can be doing to help the ocean – this is the book for you! If you just love the ocean, you guessed it – this is the book for you! To all my nature lovers, ocean swimmers, and people who want to see the world not go up in flames."
Teenage Reads

"Independent researcher and ocean advocate Rowan Wright offers an information-packed and carefully crafted review of challenges to the life and health of oceans [...] Her passionate engagement and work with environmental NGOs, including Friends of the Earth and Marinet (a fish conservation network), have gained her familiarity with relevant international law – the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, UN Fish Stocks Agreement, and the Convention on Biological Diversity – mandating comprehensive stewardship of the oceans. Rowan Wright's unsentimental analysis shows that well-intentioned conventions can suffer from three failings: weak governance, flimsy monitoring, and minimal compliance [...] Highly recommended."

"Rowan Wright combines insightful conversations with brilliant minds in marine science with vivid storytelling and detailed analysis to renew readers' sense of hope that it is not too late to save our seas [...] All at once eye-opening, thought-provoking, rage-inducing, and empowering, Future Sea is an excellent read for ocean lovers."
– Rishad Maynard, Marine Biologist

"Rowan Wright makes a strong case for how choices – big and small, collective and individual – can change the world."
Publishers Weekly

"Rowan Wright's book emits passion and fire coupled with a growing urgency to 'put things right' – to make good our failings to protect the life of seas and oceans. Wright highlights good practice and encourages its dissemination and adaptation where possible, whilst castigating politicians for ignoring the science and aligning themselves with those who would exploit our seas to the point at which they become lifeless [...] This book is simply too important not to be read by the general public, marine scientists, ecological/environmental conservationists, representatives of marine-based industries and especially politicians; and since most of it is jargon-free there really is no excuse."
– Stephen R. Hoskins CBiol FRSB FLS, The Biologist

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