Citizens of the Sea
Wondrous Creatures from the Census of Marine Life
by Dr. Nancy Knowlton
Citizens of the Sea is not a book to be read alone. It is packed with facts and photographs that are so cool, so bizarre, and so downright amazing that you'll want to make sure you have some willing company to share them with. After years of working in the marine conservation field, I am well acquainted with many amazing ocean facts, but this book literally made my jaw drop more than once.
Did you know that there can be 350,000 bacteria in a single drop of ocean water? That there's a deep-sea worm that can release sacks of glowing green liquid from its neck to distract predators? That light sensitivity is spread across the entire body of a sea urchin, letting it function as one big compound eye?
|This baby slipper lobster is completely transparent before growing a thick
shell. Its bizarre eyes may comfuse
predators while it floats in the plankton.
(Peter Parks/SeaPics.com, p. 39)
That's just a tiny taste, as I don't want to ruin the surprises that are so much more impressive in the book's full-color, photo-filled pages. Details gathered from the recently-completed Census of Marine Life, a ten-year global initiative to study the diversity, distribution, and abundance of life in the ocean, should provide new fodder for even the saltiest of ocean aficionados. And if you really want to boggle your mind when marveling at the remarkable scope of diversity highlighted in the book, consider that at least a quarter—and perhaps as many as a third—of marine species live on coral reefs, even though coral reefs occupy less than 1% of the seafloor. How amazing is that? I certainly don't need a better argument for protecting these vital ecosystems.
What Dr. Nancy Knowlton so artfully accomplishes in Citizens of the Sea is weaving a host of intriguing facts together into stories that illustrate ecological concepts, scientific methods, and conservation messages. The book's colloquial prose guides the reader through the process of scientific naming and classification into a full range of ecological topics, including feeding, migration, mating, symbiosis, and defense.
|The jaws of an ember parrotfish (Scarus rubroviolaceus) can pulverize coral.
NationalGeographicStock.com, p. 148)
After wowing us with incredible adaptations that ocean creatures have developed, Knowlton reminds us that their value goes far beyond the wonder they inspire. The ecological, economic, and medicinal value of ocean organisms and the ecosystems they create is incalculable and priceless. As just one example, each species of cone snail—and there are about 700, many of which dwell on coral reefs—contains hundreds of potent chemicals that could hold cures for countless diseases and ailments. Only a few have ever been tested.
As we all know, though, ocean ecosystems and all of the benefits they provide us are endangered by numerous human threats: climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, pollution...the list goes on. However, as we also know, people like you are starting to be the solution, and the book ends with a hopeful message about species that have rebounded thanks to conservation efforts.
|The coloration of this poisonous sea slug (Phyllidia ocellata) warns predators that it is off the menu.
(Darlyne A. Murawski/
NationalGeographicStock.com, p. 37)
Although you may find yourself reading Citizens of the Sea cover-to-cover regardless of your intentions, its gorgeous photos, one-page stories, and "fast fact" boxes also lend themselves to coffee table perusal. The book would be an excellent vehicle for inspiring older children to get excited about the ocean, but I would particularly recommend it for adults who want to rekindle their childlike wonder. Just don't read it alone!
– Joanna Solins
CORAL Communications Associate
Dr. Nancy Knowlton is a world-renowned marine scientist whose research focuses on coral reefs. She is Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and a scientific leader of the Census of Marine Life. She founded the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography of the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Knowlton sits on CORAL's board of directors.