"Historical Marine Ecology"

A recent issue of Smithsonian Magazine has an article about historical marine ecology. It is a fascinating new way to look at the ocean’s bounty from a historical perspective. Ecologists and marine biologists look at photographs, newspaper accounts, ships’ logs, cannery records etc to estimate the quantity of fish that used to live in the sea. Especially compelling were the triptych of photographs that showed proud catches off Key West in 1958 when prize Goliath grouper were as big as the man that caught them, the second photo showing white margate from 1983 as big as a breadbox, and then 2007 with snappers resembling minnows. The Goliath grouper is now endangered and there are only a very few lucky fishermen who land a margate any more.

Historical research fascinates me and I’d love nothing better than to spend hours in dusty stacks in some obscure library somewhere. With the advent of the internet I’d thought that style of research was diminishing, at least for researchers who want to study the recent past and not ancient documents like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Above photo from here

But comparing photos and records to the present day reality is a great way to establish benchmarks of where we’ve been…and where we’re headed.

Below photo from here

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