Fascination and Hope

Carl Safina

I grew up fascinated by the ocean and its creatures.  I spent a good part of my childhood by the shore and later earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies at SUNY Purchase.  I pursued scientific studies of seabirds and fish for my PhD in Ecology from Rutgers University.

My research and recreational and commercial fishing showed me that a kind of “last buffalo hunt” was occurring in the seas.  It was clear that fish were wildlife too, but many people had a land-locked view of the environment and conservation.

In 2003, I co-founded the Blue Ocean Institute with my colleague, Mercédès Lee.   Our nonprofit strives to use science, art, and literature to inspire a closer connection to the sea.  We work to build a “sea ethic” – a relationship that extends our sense of community below the high-tide level.   I lecture and travel extensively to help highlight and explain how the ocean is changing and what that means for wildlife and for people.  More than ever, we are aware of the ocean’s problems – and that means solutions are likely to be found, helping us to recover the living abundance of our seas.


  1. Greetings Carl,

    I just finished reading Voyage of the Turtle, and just started reading Song for the Blue Ocean. What a joy it is to read your thoughtful, well researched information on ocean life. I was “hooked” from the first sentence! You have taken a very complex subject (science), and with eloquent words describe a fascinating world not easily observed.

    I am a turtle biologist in MA, and so have a special fondness for them. I encountered my first sea turtles while snorkeling in St. John 4 years ago and then again as a volunteer in Parismina, Costa Rica while walking the beach in search of nesting leatherbacks. Watching a female leatherback turtle heave herself onto the beach and then dig her nest and lay her eggs….well you know how moving this is.

    After these encounters, I of course, wanted to know more. I read Fire in the Turtle House 3 years ago, and have not eaten shrimp (my favorite seafood!) since then. Since reading your books I carry my fish eating guide in my purse.

    It was ironic, that upon finishing Voyage of the Turtle, I went on a 3 day butterfly trip with a group of people to coastal Virginia – many of whom are avid conservationists. It was very difficult to be aware of the incidental killings of diamondback terrapins, sea turtles and other magnificent life that may have occurred, to feed the seafood hungry group. At best, when asked why I did not eat seafood, I explained the problems associated with conventional fishing. And in light of new knowledge, many continued to order shrimp etc…

    And now the question….can you suggest a way to educate/inspire friends, family and associates not to eat particular seafoods (and still have them talk to you the next day)?

    Thank you tremendously for your work!!


    REPLY: http://www.blueocean.org‘s seafood project gives people information and guidance. It does not say do this or don’t do that. You can’t control other people but you can just talk about the issues. If you have no expectations, you’ll be more relaxed. Don’t argue, just discuss what you know. Sometimes people have to wear the information for a while and see how it feels. Thank you very much for writing.

  2. Dear Carl,

    I really enjoyed your book about the Albatross. I read it on a trip to South Georgia Island last November, where I spend 3 weeks of filming and photographing the wildlife, including the Albatross. Reading your book is more than just reading facts. You express so well the connection we have with other species, or we should have, for that matter.

    thank you for bringing so much to my attention. I have shared the contents of your book with many people.


  3. Dear Dr. Safina,
    I love all your books. Thank you.

  4. Dear Carl,

    I am 15 years old and I live in Spain, I just wanted to tell you that I loved your article in National Geographic in December 2007, it was about albatrosses. I really, really loved it, it was great! I like drawing animals (specially whales and seabirds) and some days ago I drew an albatross head, I’ll put it on my blog as soon as I can, I want you to see it!

    Unfortunately, it isn’t possible for me to read any of your books, because in the city where I live, there aren’t any librarys with your books (I’ve looked for them), but in a few years I’ll read them (whenever my English gets better).

    Thank you, I love your work.


  5. Hey Carl,

    I just read your essay “Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live” on nytimes.com. One thing struck me as interesting was your use of the Rinzai quote, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.” – it’s still “Buddhism” after all 😉


    Yes, and it’s still evolution, after all. It’s not about “believing in” Darwin. He was just the originating genius. And that’s my point.

  6. I understand your point, the parallel just gave me a chuckle. Buddhism isn’t about believing in Buddha either, he was just the originating genius.

  7. Hi Carl,

    Of course, I read your essay in the NYTimes immediately and forwarded it to the entire science department because we still have a few holdouts who consider that teaching evolution is a conflict with their religious views–must be the Bible Belt thing! Anyway, your essay has started some valuable dialogues that I have encouraged.

    Once again this year the boys in the Oceans class loved Voyage and Song as much as ever, leading text-based seminars, bringing in music and art (visual) and writing many poems throughout the semester. You inspire us all. Unfortunately, after a dozen years the Oceans course has been dropped as a senior core seminar course, but we plan to influence the teacher of the environmental science course that is replacing it! We won’t give up in what you, too, so strongly believe in.

    Best of everything,

  8. Excellent site, keep up the good work

  9. I’ve just found a great source for my “The Ocean Blog” to redirect to.
    I love your understanding approach to informing people how to love other species and how loving our environment, especially our seas, will sustain our own quality of life on our fragile planet.
    Your life work is awesomely inspiring, Carl!

    P.S. – the guide to which seafood (suggestions only, of course) it will be best to avoid if we’d like to keep our seas alive is great!
    I’m a vegan, and I know the fish and all other beings appreciate that, and your info will help others to make their own kind choices!

    • Thank you for the very kind words and for doing what you are doing.

  10. question: If I hook a southern blue fin tuna and fight it to my boat (say over 10 minutes) and then decide to release it – will it die??

    • It will certainly die if you decide to kill it. If you release it, it will probably survive. Many, many tuna are tagged and almost the ones tracked electronically all seem to survive. Use circle hooks to avoid deep hooking, and remove the hook prior to release, and survival is almost guaranteed. Fish released with hook can also survive, but it’s better to let them go clean.

  11. Hello Carl,

    My name is Erin Rowan and I’m interning with Heal the Bay – an environmental nonprofit based in Santa Monica, California.

    I found your blog and thought that your dedication to ocean conservation and research was inspiring! Here at Heal the Bay our mission is to keep coastal waters, safe, healthy and clean – so we’ve been fighting hard against ocean pollution and plastic marine debris, such as nurdles, bottle caps and single-use bags.

    In case you didn’t already know, here are some outrageous plastic bag facts: 1) plastic bags are the 4th most common piece of debris collected at beach clean-ups, 2) 19 BILLION plastic bags are distributed in CA each year 3) less than 5% of those bags get recycled and 4) well over 40% of marine mammal species, seabird species and sea turtle species are recorded to have been negatively impacted by the ingestation or entanglement of marine debris (60-80% of which is plastics!) – in fact 7 whales were recently found dead from ingesting plastic bags (http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2009/12/18/Beached-whales-killed-by-ingesting-plastic/UPI-47351261152108/).

    I’m reaching out to you to see if we can potentially partner and collaborate on this issue. Heal the Bay is about to initiate a Viral Bag Campaign called “Trash Your Friends” to drive awareness and action to rid our shores and seas of one-time-use plastic bags.

    Please let me know if you’re interested in learning more about this campaign, and the tools we can provide for spreading the word about banning plastic bags.

    I can be reached at erowan@healthebay.net

    Thank you in advance for your response!

    Erin Rowan
    B.S. Conservation and Resource Studies
    University of California, Berkeley
    (310) 383-7353

  12. read your op-ed in the LA Times regarding Obama’s salmon plans. Nice piece and great to see the salmon discussion in such a visible place.

    Not sure if you follow any of the British Columbia or Alaska salmon discussions. U.S. Commerce Secretary Locke made a decision in January to declare a “fishery disaster” on the Yukon River Chinook fishery.

    Coincidentally, or not, the Bering Sea pollock fishery catches between 50,000 – 100,000 Yukon Chinook in bycatch – tossed overboard.

    those and other stories at my site http://www.salmonguy.org

    thanks again for the work. Really enjoyed your book Blue Ocean.
    take care,

    David Loewen
    British Columbia, Canada

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