For anyone who is serious about the ocean, environmental conservation, social justice, equity and equality on the high seas, The Outlaw Ocean is a must read. Ian Urbina is gifted with telling some of the most difficult stories of our time. This book about wonder, danger, opportunity, lawlessness, and unsustainable resource use on our shared high seas exemplifies the author’s ability to connect us to these issues and the very real people who confront them daily.

Photo taken by Tosrten Dederichs

“The ocean may be vast, blue, and deep, but it’s still being used as a junkyard.” – The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina

This book was simultaneously so gripping we couldn’t put it down and incredibly difficult to read.  Chapters include such topics as slavery at sea, piracy, armed militias, whale slaughter, unsustainable fishing practices, abortions and women’s rights, pollution and more. The stories told showcase the very best and the very worst in human nature; the light and dark that persist in everything. Despite Urbina’s clear and concise framing of these myriad issues facing our high seas, readers will find it challenging to not empathize with so many of the real people featured in these stories, and to not feel overwhelmed by the darkness shrouding the high seas. But sharing these stories is the key to inspiring action for a better world.

Photo by Tanner Mardis

“Stories of neglect usually whisper rather than scream, and where an audience looks for a clear villain, they find ghostly indifference instead.” – The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina

To understand why such a degree of lawlessness persists, and why the environment and people continue to be exploited on the high seas, we need to understand our historical relationship with this space. For all human history, the underlying rhetoric for the high seas is that they are impossibly vast places containing inexhaustible resources for us to exploit and are, for the most part, immune to human influence. This has prompted us to extract as much as we want from the high seas while simultaneously turning to it to hide our most persistent and dangerous forms of waste. For decades, the oceans have swallowed derelict oil platforms, a quarter of our CO2 emissions, nuclear waste, plastic waste, chemical waste, and the list goes on. We are only now starting to wake up to the very real crisis we have created.

But how have we allowed this to happen? Consisting of all seas further than 200 nautical miles from any country’s shores, the high seas cover about two thirds of our global ocean. It is the home of some of the most charismatic species on the Blue Planet. The high seas also have a real governance problem. While several international bodies exist to enforce laws and regulations on the high seas, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to hold people and businesses accountable for laws broken and lives lost on the high seas. The frameworks that exist to govern shipping, fishing and environmental protection are highly fragmented, and the result is that they are wholly ineffective at protecting people and species in this vast and diverse space.

While the picture painted for the state of our shared high seas is dire, Urbina dedicates the last chapter to actionable items for readers. There are ways to help protect the high seas and the people who work there, and there are extraordinary organizations that we can support to contribute to more robust governance there. Reading The Outlaw Ocean  is an important first step we hope many of you will take to learn more about our shared high seas, and hopefully, an inspiration to take action in your daily lives to contribute to protect these spaces.

“I [also] witnessed unparalleled beauty and true marvel. I met bizarre, sometimes heroic actors in a setting that drowned the senses. A world with brighter sun, louder waves and stronger wind than I previously knew to exist.” – The Outlaw Ocean by Ian Urbina

Blog written by Claire Dawson, Science Lead Ocean Wise Seafood

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