Friday, June 21, 2013

Lisa-ann Gershwin's "Stung!"

Lisa-ann Gershwin is director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory Services. She was awarded a Fulbright in 1998 for her studies on jellyfish blooms and evolution, and since that time has discovered over 150 new species—including at least sixteen types of jellyfish that are highly dangerous, as well as a new species of dolphin—and has written for numerous scientific and popular publications.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Stung!: On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean, and reported the following:
Bummer. How sad that it’s not The Page 43 Test, where one of the worst cases of introduced species and jellyfish blooms in history weaves the stories of impacts and jellyfish. Or p111, from which the lesser-known implications of fishing are discussed as a powerful basis for ecosystem change. Or p161, where a vignette on the giant jellyfish wreaking havoc on Asian fishing grounds leads into the extremely serious problem of too much fertilizer in coastal waters. Or p232, where climate change is presented in plain English: not the politics of it, but the problems with warmer waters that are occurring now, regardless of whether one chooses to believe that it is natural or man-made. Or p288, with a poem about red tides and toxic algae (yeah, really!). Or p317, where the three primary effects of ocean acidification are discussed, along with how our uncontrolled global atmospheric CO2 experiment has gone terribly wrong. Or p334, where I quote from the big cheeses in different fields of marine and atmospheric research, on how bad things really are... not someday, but now.

In fact, p99 discusses how jellyfish are so damn good at taking over distressed ecosystems, which is only part of what the book is about. In a nutshell, Stung! is about disturbances and their unanticipated and unwanted consequences. Jellyfish are a visible indicator that something is out of balance, and are merely responding to environmental stimuli. Lucky them that we are causing more of the conditions in which they prosper: warmer water so they grow faster and breed more, fewer predators and competitors, plenty of fresh surfaces on which to settle ... lucky them!

But what about us? What if we don’t want collapsed fisheries and corrosive ocean waters and dead zones and mid-ocean garbage patches and toxic food? Bummer again, because these things are already happening around us, and it appears that we have passed a tipping point from which we can return. We now have to decide whether we want to keep hurtling down this same path – at breakneck speed toward a crummier way of life – or if there is value in slowing it so that our kids might have a better chance to salvage the ruins of our success. We have a choice.
Learn more about Stung! at the University of Chicago Press website, the Stinger Advisor webpage, and the Stung! Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue