Save Our Seas


On 12 March 1940, the purse-seiner Western Flyer sailed for the Gulf of California. With shiny engines and a lick of green paint, the Flyer was taking her crew to document marine life in the Sea of Cortez. Together with self-taught biologist Ed Ricketts, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist John Steinbeck was behind the expedition and in The Log from the Sea of Cortez he gives an account of their six-week voyage. He details their foray into the natural history of the sea, seeking a connection to the ocean that conjured the curiosity of Darwin and the sense of adventure of Alexander von Humboldt.

The expedition this unlikely duo embarked upon was underpinned by three important pillars: immersion, observation and connection. Steinbeck states quite clearly that he wishes to watch and record, ignoring scientific ‘strictures’, and in doing so he evokes an image of a natural historian that is familiar, if a little antiquated. A lone figure wading through a stream, noting the birds in the trees that line its banks. Another striding the shorelines, bending to root around in a rock pool or tilting the head skyward to observe a gull wheeling above. Tidy boxes of specimens, labelled in a neat hand, and carefully pinned insect collections. In any image there is a common thread: attention to the details of life on earth. Some time before the filters of statistics and society colour our observations, there is clarity that stems from curiosity. Conservation biologist Thomas Fleischner writes of the value in this: ‘Natural history helps us see the world, and thus ourselves, more accurately. Moreover, it encourages and inspires better stewardship of the Earth.’

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