Ocean Planet: Writings and Images of the Sea


Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution and Peter Benchley

No matter who are are, no matter where we live or how we make a living, the oceans touch all of our lives. They sustain us, nourish us, inspire us.

Ocean Planet explores the diversity of human connections to the oceans, using writings, photographs, and objects to evoke the experiences of people whose lives have been deeply engaged by the sea. Designed to accompany the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition Ocean Planet, this anthology draws upon themes and images featured in the exhibition.

Twenty selections, ranging from great literature and nature writing to reportage and first-hand accounts, illuminate the perceptions and beliefs that forge personal bonds to the sea and show how committed writers have come to grips with the changing relationship between humanity and the oceans. The stories they tell are both joyous and tragic. Portfolios of photographs and collections of significant facts amplify the ideas expressed in the selections. The book as a whole explores four major themes: perceptions of the seas, the lives of seafarers, scientific discovery, and environmental threats to the seas.

In Visions of the Sea we celebrate the oceans as a source of inspiration, and we examine the many prisms through which humankind sees the sea. There is no consensus, save that the oceans command respect. In these writings, the sea can be cruel and magnificent, patient and relentless, romantic and scientific, savage and serene.

Seafarers focuses on people who go to sea, particularly sailors and fishermen. Despite their wide diversity, most share a strong sense of community. They develop and pass along their knowledge of the lore and the ways of the sea, and they face a life of risk and uncertainty.

The difficulties of exploring the sea's extreme pressure, inky darkness, and icy temperatures have severely limited our knowledge of vast areas of the world's oceans. In Discovery we present personal perspectives about ocean science and exploration, to help us understand why people plumb the ocean depths and to let us share the thrill of scientific discovery.

The prodigious size and great age of the oceans are almost incomprehensible. Their magnificent power far outstrips any technology we could develop to tame them. They seem omnipotent and infinite. Yet, they are vulnerable. The oceans and the life they support are showing signs of human interference.Oceans in Peril focuses on environmental threats to the delicate balance between land and sea, and on possible solutions. Ultimately, Ocean Planet is about mutual dependency. We must cherish the oceans and treat them with care for our own lives and for the future of life on Earth.

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman (gene@seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov) (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)