Tuesday, July 6, 2021

ARC Review: The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majestic Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean, and the Looming Threat That Imperils It by Helen Scales

Title: The Brilliant Abyss
Series: n/a
Author: Helen Scales
Source/Format: Publisher;eARC
More Details: Nonfiction; Science
Publisher/Publication Date: Atlantic Monthly Press; July 6, 2021 

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
"The oceans have always shaped human lives," writes marine biologist Helen Scales in her vibrant new book The Brilliant Abyss, but the surface and the very edges have so far mattered the most. "However, one way or another, the future ocean is the deep ocean." 

A golden era of deep-sea discovery is underway. Revolutionary studies in the deep are rewriting the very notion of life on Earth and the rules of what is possible. In the process, the abyss is being revealed as perhaps the most amazing part of our planet, with a topography even more varied and extreme than its Earthbound counterpart. Teeming with unsuspected life, an extraordinary interconnected ecosystem deep below the waves has a huge effect on our daily lives, influencing climate and weather systems, with the potential for much more--good or bad depending on how it is exploited. Currently the fantastic creatures that live in the deep--many of them incandescent in a world without light--and its formations capture and trap vast quantities of carbon that would otherwise poison our atmosphere; and novel bacteria as yet undiscovered hold the promise of potent new medicines. Yet the deep also holds huge mineral riches lusted after by many nations and corporations; mining them could ultimately devastate the planet, compounded by the deepening impacts of ubiquitous pollutants and rampant overfishing. Eloquently and passionately, Helen Scales brings to life the majesty and mystery of an alien realm that nonetheless sustains us, while urgently making clear the price we could pay if it is further disrupted. The Brilliant Abyss is at once a revelation and a clarion call to preserve this vast unseen world

One subject I haven’t read enough about is the ocean. So it’s something of interest to me. When I came across The Brilliant Abyss, I instantly knew I wanted to give it a go. Helen Scales wrote a truly fascinating book, which offered an in-depth look at some of the murkier depths of the ocean as well as a number of the amazing animals that live there.

The first portion of the book was spent expertly showing how diverse, delicate, and vital deep-sea environments actually are. The animals have a much bigger role to play in the depths of the ocean than what even I originally gave them credit for. The kind of resilience needed to survive at depths with crushing pressure, frigid temperatures and searing hot (and often toxic) hydrothermal vents is almost unimaginable—yet it exists. And The Brilliant Abyss excels at making this point.

So in the later to last potions of the book, the implications of the damaging and irreparable effects of deep sea mining and fishing was laid out on the table. Loss of habitat was one key factor—i.e. the destruction of old growth coral and the steep declines in animal populations that can’t keep up with demand. The argument Scales’s makes is backed up by a few examples. Such as when she talked thoroughly about the history of a deep sea fish called Orange Roughy.

The Brilliant Abyss was an excellent read. It leaned hard into the science behind what makes the ocean the ocean, and all the many ways the animals that live there have adapted to the characteristics of their environment. Many different studies were cited, which included a few detailed sections about Scales’s own experiences. In conclusion, the abyss is as brilliant as it is fascinating. 

About the author...

Dr Helen Scales is a marine biologist, writer and broadcaster. She is author of the Guardian bestseller Spirals in Time, New Scientist book of the year Eye of the Shoal, and the children’s book The Great Barrier Reef. She writes for National Geographic Magazine, the Guardian, and New Scientist, among others. She teaches at Cambridge University and is science advisor for the marine conservation charity Sea Changers. Helen divides her time between Cambridge, England, and the wild Atlantic coast of of France.


Disclaimer: this copy of the book was provided by the publisher (Atlantic Monthly Press) via Netgalley for this review, thank you!

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