UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis

Author takes readers on a transformative journey into the deep

By Caley Moore

Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis
By Alanna Mitchell
(McClelland & Stewart) $32.99

Half of our oxygen — “every second breath,” as Alanna Mitchell describes it comes to us courtesy of plankton, the tiny creatures at the bottom of the ocean’s food chain. Our fate hinges on their fate, a dependence few of us land dwellers have fully grasped. While climate change has vaulted to public consciousness, little attention has yet been paid to how the carbon overload will affect the ocean, whose waters form 99 percent of the world’s living space. As Mitchell chronicles in her latest book, Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis, the implications are huge.   

“As goes the ocean, so goes life,” she writes. And by various measurements — oxygen, acidity, fecundity — the ocean is struggling. Travelling from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to a Tanzanian shellfish farm and talking to scientists at the leading edge of marine research, Mitchell reads the ocean’s vital signs. All point to an impending crisis — a threshold beyond which life as we know it ends and a new system takes hold.

That’s the bad news, and it’s staggering. But Sea Sick allows for glimmers of good. One of the book’s most memorable scenes is Mitchell’s eyewitness account of the mysterious breeding habits of the planet’s corals, who release their spawn en masse in an annual free-for-all minutely timed to the rhythms of the moon. Floating in the “electric waters” with a team of research divers, she marvels at the “exquisite hope” in the age-old rite.

As in her last book, Dancing at the Dead Sea: Tracking the World's Environmental Hotspots, Mitchell makes science personal, conveying abstract concepts through simple but striking imagery. “Like the blood in your body, the ocean waters are constantly on the move,” she writes. “You have no blood that is only of the brain or only of the thumb. There is no sea water that is only of the Pacific or the Indian Ocean. There is only one ocean and it is a single system chemically, physically and biologically.” And even a system as vast as the ocean has limits.

Sea Sick is a transformative journey to the deeps for the reader as much as the author. One hopes a collective epiphany is in the offing.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image