In This Review

Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas
Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas
By Colin Woodard
Basic Books, 2000, 300 pp.
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource
Water: The Fate of Our Most Precious Resource
By Marq de Villiers
Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 338 pp.

These highly readable books cover the earth's most distinguishing feature-abundant water in liquid form-and complement one another nicely; the former focuses on salt water, the latter on fresh water. Woodard addresses how human activity has altered once-pristine seas, sometimes with disastrous effects. Part travelogue and part ecology lesson, his book covers the eutrophication of the Black Sea, the decline of the North Atlantic cod fishery, the retreat of the Mississippi delta, the bleaching of the Belize coral reef, the nuclear contamination of the Marshall Islands, and the warming of the Antarctic peninsula. It is an informed, balanced, and constructive account, albeit with a bias toward small fishermen.

De Villiers underscores the contrast between water-rich and water-scarce countries. He focuses on the pressures that human demands place on supplies of fresh water-the use of rivers as channels for waste disposal, imprudent diversion for irrigation, and the legitimate human needs of growing urban populations. Special attention goes to the increasingly depleted aquifers (ancient underground reservoirs), where water is pumped out faster than it is replenished. Water levels are dropping in many parts of the world, including areas of high food production such as India, Pakistan, northern China, and the high plains of the United States. Genetically engineered plants might promise less demand for agricultural water, but the author enjoins that water resources need to be managed more efficiently. A good way to start would be to cease regarding water as a free good.