We cannot ignore the past, and to remind us of this, the present has yielded a refreshing and essential perspective on marine science in the new book Shifting Baselines: The Past and Future of Ocean Fisheries. Looking at today's data is simply not good enough, especially when the abundance of reef fish has declined 90-95% in the last 50 years, and sea turtles have declined over 99%. This book is a large discussion around 'shifting baselines' -- a term coined by Daniel Pauly (to whom the book is dedicated) that refers to a slanted view of the world due to inadequate reference points -- and includes chapters from many of the founders of marine historical ecology.
From sardines to coral reefs, from Newfoundland to intergenerational optimism -- there is a melange on scientific material on the state of the oceans. Many of the chapters have a New England element, reminding us that most trends we see in the North Atlantic -- the boom and bust of cod fishing, the invention and shortcomings of fisheries models, the rise, fall, and uncertainty in quantifying the effects of industrial whaling -- are harbingers of trends to come worldwide.
Given the diverse backgrounds of the contributors, this book gives a wide view of what the past means for the future: what cod populations really looked like, how to detect genetic bottlenecks (for instance, a population of 100 female whales loses 0.5 percent of its genetic variation every generation), why we need to write communication into scientific budgets. Editors Jeremy Jackson, Karen Alexander, and Enric Sala have tied all the threads together (full disclosure: they are friends and colleagues, as are many of the chapter authors). The book makes excellent reading for anyone or any course interested in the background and methods of historical ecology, introductory population genetics, and science communication.