Tale of extreme sealife should inspire wonder and protection

By Wan Lixin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Shanghai Daily, April 11, 2014
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The international hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has directed our attention to a part of Earth a typical urbanite scarcely notices or considers: The deep sea.

Following initial twists and turns, the latest search is now focused on a patch of south Indian Ocean nearly 2,000 km west of Perth, Australia, where the depth ranges from 5,000 to 6,000 meters.

It’s difficult to imagine the vastness and depth of the ocean. In their “The Extreme Life of the Sea,” marine biologist Stephen R. Palumbi and his son, writer Anthony R. Palumbi, introduce us to the extreme environment under the waves.

Highlighting the strangest cases of marine life, the authors give us a hint of the ocean’s robust yet fragile ecosystems.

By demonstrating how each creature is tightly adapted to its specialized ecological niche under the sea, the authors persuasively make the case that the smallest human-wrought change can result in irreparable damage to the delicate ecosystem.

Part of our wonder is inspired by the sheer, inconceivable size of the ocean.

As the book begins, standing on a beach and staring out toward the horizon, you can see around 10-20 square miles of ocean surface in good weather — a fairly large habitat by most wildlife standards.

“But the global ocean is actually 10 million times the size of your view out to the horizon, and on average there are more than two miles of water under every square foot of surface,” the authors write.

The book’s goal is to illuminate the amazing diversity of the species that have adapted marvelously well to the extreme conditions down below. Hopefully, awareness of this diversity will inspire more conscious protection efforts.

The book skillfully suggests the diversity of the marine creatures in superlative categories: the earliest, the deepest, the oldest, the fastest, and so on.

In Chapter 4, “The Deepest: High pressure and low food supply make for a difficult daily life,” for instance, we can understand why it is so difficult to salvage the debris and black boxes from the missing aircraft even if their location has been determined.

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