3 must-read books about the sea

What if your doctor handed you a prescription for stress or ill health
that read, “Take two waves, a beach walk, and some flowing river,
and call me in the morning”?

You might forget that water covers two thirds of our planet, especially if you live in a city. But the sea provides much of the food we eat, 50% of the oxygen we breathe, and is home to many organisms, two thirds of which we have yet to discover. Because most of it is inaccessible, we don’t realise how important the underwater world is to life on Earth, how vital it is to our ecosystem.

My perspective of the sea changed after reading these books in succession. Like most people, I’ve always appreciated how beautiful the sea is and the calming and rejuvenating qualities of water. But at the same time, I’m wary of the deep blue, mostly because it’s full of the unknown. Now, with a deeper understanding, I’m inspired to do what I can to help conserve our seas. For the sake of life on this planet. Let’s stop taking the sea for granted. Let’s find sustainable ways to coexist with nature. Let’s explore, not exploit. 


Blue Mind

(The surprising science that shows how being near,
in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier,
more connected, and better at what you do)
by Wallace J. Nichols

We’ve all felt the sea’s healing, restoring powers in some way. ‘Blue Mind’ explores how nature – particularly water – affects each of your senses. Water, in all forms – ranging from a photo on your office table to a immersive dive – is an antidote for the stress of urban life.

You don’t have to be a ‘science’ person to enjoy this; everything is in layman terms. Author Wallace J. Nichols explains the science behind our brain’s wiring and connects it to water. He presents interesting data and anecdotes about how water impacts our lives in small and big ways.

“Humans are surrounded by man-made buildings, objects, and environments, and it can become harder and harder to remember our intimate relationship with this beautiful blue planet.

But magic can happen in the fleeting moments in which we notice the natural world – the sunset that causes us to catch our breath, the murmur of wind rustling through trees, the sharp, clean smell of rain on grass or the tang of salty air near a shore, the feel of sand or dirt underfoot.

These moments not only reconnect us to nature, but also to our own nature; they carry with them the recognition that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Ultimately, Nichols suggests that being close to water can make us not only happier, calmer and more emotionally healthy, but also more successful in life, relationships and even business. By tapping into an evolutionary urge that lies dormant in us all, we can access a powerful mental capacity for greatness. (via Washington Post)

(Also includes a special mention of floatation: “My brain felt as if I’d been staring at the ocean for hours—the kind of “mindful mindlessness” that those deeply experienced in meditation spend years trying to achieve.”)


The World is Blue:
How our fate and the ocean’s are one

by Sylvia A. Earle

Now that you know how meditative the sea can be for us, here’s the news — we really need to treat it better in return.

This book is one big, much-needed reality check.

It will open your eyes to how much the sea has changed since humans came into existence. In 50 years, modern over-exploitation has caused dramatic oceanic change. In eloquent yet urgent writing, Earle sends a warning to us all — pollution, overfishing, and issues like coral bleaching ultimately threatens our planet and the future of human existence.

Without a proper understanding of its functions and roles, many of us think that the sea exists to serve our human needs. We see everything in it as a commodity, rather than a vital component of our life support system. If we don’t acknowledge how wrong that view is now, it might soon be too late.

“Home to millions of species and responsible for driving climate, regulating temperatures, and governing planetary chemistry, the ocean makes life on Earth possible, and its health and protection are issues of critical importance to all of us.”

“As I stood on the edge of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, the largest moving mass of water on the planet, it was hard to imagine how one terrestrial species (that would be us) could in so short a time could have so profound an impact on so many that have endured so long.”

Published in 2009, ‘The World Is Blue’ is a great starting point to understand oceanic change in our lifetime. At the time, the total area of the sea that was protected was less than one percent. It’s not all depressing though. A true underwater hero, Earle describes the magical qualities of marine life and presents achievable solutions for saving our oceans.

She’s since authored a few more books such as ‘The Sweet Spot in Time. Why the Ocean Matters to Everyone, Everywhere’, and ‘BLUE HOPE: Exploring and Caring for Earth’s Magnificent Ocean.’


Freediving, renegade science,
and what the ocean tells us about ourselves

by James Nestor

Imagine spending (at least) ten minutes on a single breath, 200m underwater.

James Nestor explores how the secret to going deep is within each of us. We just need to know how to unlock this ‘mammalian dive reflex’. ‘Deep’ documents his early encounters with freediving, which then turned into a two-year exploration. Tasked to cover a freediving competition for his magazine, he attempts to pick up the skill himself. Along the way, he unexpectedly discovers different perspectives of freediving as he tags along with world record breakers and researchers on their underwater journeys.

For some, freediving is “about finding the human body’s absolute limit, breaking it, and thus extending human potential”. The reckless approach to competitive freediving gets a bad rep, and Nestor is unimpressed. Then he discovers another side to freediving. For a special few, it is “a tool to crack the ocean’s mysteries”, to fight for the future of the underwater world.

“Freediving with sharks is the opposite of an adrenaline sport. You need to be calm, balanced. You need to know yourself. Being relaxed and in control is the only way you can do it.”

Hanli Prinsloo, photo via TED

“Freediving is more than just holding your breath, it’s a perception shift … Always enter the ocean in peace with yourself and your surroundings.”
—Hanli Prinsloo

It’s clear that Nestor prefers the researchers’ approach to freediving. He joins expeditions to tag sharks with satellite transmitters, record whale clicks, and to explore the darkest depths of the sea. “To this group, freediving was about connecting with the underwater environment, looking more keenly at your surroundings, focusing on your feelings and instincts, respecting your limits, and letting the ocean envelope you – never forcing yourself anywhere for a reason. This was a spiritual practice, a way of using the human body as a vessel to explore the wonders in the Earth’s inner space.”

What are the best books about the sea that you’ve read?

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