Book club: ‘The Brilliant Abyss’ by Helen Scales

True Tales of Exploring the Deep Sea, Discovering Hidden Life and Selling the Seabed

Deep sea coral gardens are not only vital ecosystems for life in the deep, but also a potential source of new medicines

The deep sea is the least explored ecosystem on Earth and as a result our understanding of the creatures that live there and the vital roles they play have long been overlooked. But with advancements in technologies and a long list of discoveries made over the last few decades that is no longer the case. In her brand new book, ‘The Brilliant Abyss’, Helen Scales highlights just how much we are really learning about the deep ocean and why it is more important than we ever realised, as well as how our growing knowledge of the deep is also leading us towards a crucial crossroads for its future and our own.

What really stands this book apart from others based on the deep sea is how the author brings this hidden world and the creatures that inhabit it to the surface for all of us to see. Scales highlights the incredible array of biodiversity among the many types of different environments in the deep sea: From yeti crabs and tube worms to sperm whales and giant squid, hydrothermal vents and deep-water canyons to seamounts and brine pools. In doing so she provides the reader with one of the most concise yet informative summations of life in the deep to date.

Dumbo octopuses are one of the many amazing creatures that occupy our deep oceans.

In addition to showcasing what makes the deep so intriguing this book also focuses on why it’s so important as well. Using her own experiences on-board research vessels and examples of the latest discoveries in the field, Scales expertly demonstrates the vital services provided to us by the deep including carbon capture, nutrient cycling and providing new chemicals for medicines. She demonstrates that not only are these things ecologically crucial but also economically vital as well, while at the same time highlighting how vulnerable they can be to disturbance.   

Another key part of the story of the deep sea is one which is yet to be written. At this point in time new threats are poised to exploit the deep sea including mining, oil drilling and fishing, but unlike many other human impacts on the environment these are not yet set in stone. Scales explores these potentially destructive practices in thorough detail, exploring not just what makes them so terrifying but also so lucrative in a rapidly changing world. In doing so she not only informs us about these important issues but also shows us that there is still time to learn from our mistakes and make a different choice.

Hydrothermal vents support a wide array of species on the seafloor, but are also lines with valuable metals that companies plan to mine.

Overall, ‘The Brilliant Abyss’ is an entertaining and educational deep dive into a world which most people know little about but have everything to gain from. It also comes out at one of the most decisive time periods for our oceans and our planets future. If anyone came to me asking to learn more about the deep sea and why it matters, I would tell them to buy this book.

This review is the fifteenth in our new Marine Madness Book Club! At the beginning of every month we will be releasing a new review of an ocean inspired book and encouraging you to let us know what you think in the comments and via social media. To find out more visit the Book Club page here.


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