Science Book a Day Interviews Callum Roberts

callum-robertsSpecial thanks to Callum Roberts for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – Ocean of Life: How our Seas are Changing 

Professor Callum Roberts is a marine conservation biologist in the Environment Department at the University of York in England. He is a prolific author and researcher and has advised U.S., British, and Caribbean governments on the creation of marine reserves. – From Callum’s Profile

Callum’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/Prof_CallumYork

#1 – What was the impetus for this book?

My first book, The Unnatural History of the Sea (Island Press), was about the effects of 1000 years of hunting and fishing on ocean life. Naturally this begs the question, what about all of the other ways we affect the sea, what is their role in the changes underway around us today? Ocean of Life is a search for the answers.

#2 – Your book is replete with data from research. How did you go about researching for this book?

Twenty-five years ago, it would have taken endless hours in libraries to hunt down the information underlying each chapter. Today, it is available at your fingertips, with carefully chosen search terms taking you to exactly what you need. You still have to read through piles of papers that never seem to get any smaller though. A big challenge for me was to master fields outside my own. The first chapter, a history of the oceans from the beginning of the Earth to the beginning of our species, took five months of reading before I felt ready to start writing.

#3 – What is the take-home message you would like to leave readers with from this book?

The oceans around us are changing faster and in more ways than at any time in human history. Those changes are having effects that compromise the things the ocean does for us (such as providing food, healthy, clean water, breakdown of our wastes, climate regulation and so on). Unless we get to grips with greenhouse gas emissions, those changes will accelerate and deepen, and their adverse effects will last for millennia. In the short-term, we have to radically change management of the sea to rebuild life and give it the resilience it needs to see through the tough times ahead. Put simply, that means fish less, using less destructive methods, waste less, pollute less and protect more.

#4 – How have people reacted to the book? The public? Colleagues? Politicians?

The reaction has been very positive. What I wanted to achieve was a book that wouldn’t dumb down ocean science, that would be accessible to a wide audience, and that would interest experts too. It is not easy to get that balance right. I had some great role models to help including Ed Wilson, Stuart Pimm, Jared Diamond and Tim Flannery. Their books show it can be done and set the bar high.

#5 – Do you have any future projects/books you can tell us about?

We can see the world changing around us incredibly fast, and those changes are taking us into uncertain and perhaps dangerous times ahead. We know what we need to do to avert the more catastrophic of possible futures, but we have made little progress to date. My next big project is to write a book that tries to answer the question: can we save ourselves?

[Image Credit: http://www.york.ac.uk/res/unnatural-history-of-the-sea/author/ ]

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