The Whole Blue Truth A review of Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them by Ted Danson and Michael D’Orso

credit: arttmiss, flickrccOceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them (Rodale, $32.50) is not a book you would expect from a celebrity writer. But actor Ted Danson, who wrote the book with celebrated nonfiction writer Michael D’Orso, is no ordinary celebrity. His ocean advocacy and environmental awareness run deep. The actor best known for his long-running star role on the sitcom Cheers, and who now plays the anxious, pot-toking comedic highlight of the HBO show Bored to Death, first began challenging ocean pollution in 1984, when he and his family moved to Santa Monica Canyon in California. There, he and lawyer-activist Robert Sulnick helped prevent Occidental Petroleum from drilling 60 oil wells near Will Rogers State Beach.

Since those early days, Danson has sought to uncover and explain the science behind what is happening to our oceans, including ocean trash, air pollution, acidification, oil drilling and overfishing. This handsome book, mixing personal anecdote with research, graphics, history and bullet points, gives both a broad overview and provides the details that make it a compelling read. In one chapter, “An Illusion of Abundance,” he writes about how humans—the new predators of the sea—have effectively wiped out existing marine-based predator species, causing “a ripple of disruption throughout the food web, with smaller prey species, freed from the presence of predators, becoming the new top predators and wreaking havoc in what was previously a stable environment.” For example, the kite-shaped cownose ray—once a favorite food for sharks—has exploded in numbers, with 40 million now swimming between Long Island and Miami and “rising at a remarkable rate of 8 percent a year.” This book is full of such sobering facts, but there are success stories, too; stories of ocean heroes like explorer Sylvia Earle (a.k.a. “Her Deepness”) of the Mission Blue Foundation and Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And Danson, too, is a committed activist—a longtime spokesperson for the nonprofit advocacy group Oceana, and as comfortable speaking against offshore drilling in front of Congress as he is in front of a camera.