We’re often told about the fact that we are currently participating in the sixth great extinction, primarily because of what we’re doing to the rainforests. But it’s not always easy to grasp the reality of how many species we’re destroying simply by being told the bare facts. In fact, it can be quite difficult to believe without being given a detailed breakdown of just how many species there are in any given area of rainforest, and how these might be endemic to that area alone. So, I found it quite illuminating to watch a film, not about rainforests, but about the oceans, and to see how our greed and narrow-mindedness are driving species after species to the brink of extinction. The End Of The Line is based upon Charles Clover’s book of the same name and is a must-see.
It shows, among other things, how we have driven the Atlantic cod to the point at which it seems unable to recover, as nearly 20 years of protection have not brought about an increase in its numbers. There seems to be a point below which a species is doomed to extinction perhaps because there is not enough variety in the gene pool – it’s not necessary to wipe out every last one of them, we just have to push them past a certain tipping point and nature does the rest. The blue fin tuna is heading in the same direction, and Mitsubishi in particular seems to be the major player in their destruction. There was a glimpse of the violent reaction of fishermen (in this case, in Newfoundland) to any suggestion that they should be prevented from wiping out the very thing they depend on for survival, and politicians the world over are only too eager to bow down to business pressure groups rather than consider what is necessary for the good of the ecosystems that sustain us.
A good book to read after watching the film, apart from Clover’s own book, is Callum Roberts’ The Unnatural History Of The Sea. This gives so much more detail than a film can, and paints a very disturbing picture of how overwhelmingly abundant marine creatures of all kinds were until man really got to grips with fishing. To read about the vast numbers of fish that were encountered by early explorers of the oceans conjures up breathtaking images that are awe-inspiring. But at the same time he shows how man has relentlessly pursued each desirable species in turn, until the numbers were so low that they moved on to the next species and drove that to extinction, or close to it. And this is exactly what we are still doing. Never has there been any halt to the greed, never has there been any serious attempt to pull back the reins and work out a way of doing things in a way that enables creatures to remain abundant now and forever. Instead we push one species after another to the point of extinction. Improved technology has, as so often, been instrumental in this massacre. Trawlers, primarily, have been the culprit, but also, I think, GPS systems, which enable ships to home in on shoals with pinpoint accuracy, and then just hoover them up.
The good news, I suppose, is that now we are aware of what we’re doing, more so than ever before, and so we have the opportunity to change our ways. The remedy seems to lie in creating huge marine reserves throughout the world’s oceans which are completely exempt from fishing, which will allow fish to rebuild their numbers and replenish the seas so that fishing can continue in a genuinely sustainable way. Trawling should also be completely banned. How likely it is that that will happen is anyone’s guess. But as individuals we have no excuse for not finding out what is going on in our name, and once we know, taking appropriate action. That might mean eating only fish that is sustainably harvested or stopping eating fish altogether, as well as joining campaigns to stop local restaurants from selling fish such as blue fin tuna or shark’s fin soup. Personally, I find the scenes of fishermen plunging their hooks into the tuna they’ve caught every bit as sickening and barbarous as the clubbing of harp seal pups, and it is the casual indifference shown to animals of all kinds that was part of the reason I became a vegetarian many years ago. Fundamentally, I don’t have much hope of things changing until our relationship with the natural world changes. We need to learn again to see the world as animate, including the rocks and minerals.
Meanwhile, to see The End Of The Line go to:
There are lots of splendid films to see at this website.