Passionate about marine conservation and ocean animals? One of the best ways to learn about our oceans and the creatures that call it home is through reading. Below is a comprehensive list of books that cover these topics – from inspiring memoirs by marine conservationists to in-depth guides to octopuses.
This resource was put together off the back of a popular blog I wrote: A guide for anyone wanting to work in marine conservation. Make sure you take a look at the guide.
It took me a lo(oooooo)ng time to put this list together. The links below are all affiliate which means if you do choose to buy a book I’ll get a commission at no extra expense to you. So thank you for supporting me and my blog. And one more thing….please do consider doing your part to protect the planet by buying these books second hand.
*** You’ll notice I’ve put 3 stars next to some of the books. These are the ones I’d consider most prominent/talked about and worth starting with if you are looking for a good overview of marine conservation.
60 books for marine conservationists:
Marine Biology: A Very Short Introduction (2013) by Philip V. Mladenov
Providing a brief overview of life in the marine environment and how humans are impacting it’s fine balance. This is a good book to provide you with a solid foundation and understanding of the ocean without getting too scientific.
***The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness (2016) by Sy Montgomery
Montgomery became well known when he wrote a feature for Orion magazine entitled ‘Deep Intellect’ about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death. The piece went viral. This book is an extension on this article and an in-depth look at these remarkable creatures.
Oceans: A Very Short Introduction (2017) by Dorrik Stow
Another from the Very Short Introduction series, this time covering the wider mapping and history of oceans. This can give you a better understanding and overall picture on topics like climate change and global warming.
The Unnatural History of the Sea: The Past and Future of Humanity and Fishing (2007) by Professor Callum Roberts
An in depth look at the history of fishing. The book covers the challenges we are facing, and will continue to face, if humans don’t do something to tackle depleting numbers due to overfishing.
***Marine Biology For The Non-Biologists (2017) by Andrew Caine
Cairne does a great job of bringing the world of marine biology to the general public. He also has a second book in the series – ‘Marine Ecology for the Non-Ecologist.
The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea (2013) by Callum Roberts
Written by Roberts, a leading marine conservation biologist, this book tells the story of man and the sea, starting from the earliest of traces of life on earth through to the oceans as we know them today.
***Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1999) by Mark Kurlansky
This book spans one thousand years and four continents, covering the obsession and fight over fishing for cod. Kurlansky shows how the most profitable fish in history now seriously faces extinction.
A book exploring how humans can benefit from having a connection to water. As we know connection is key to eliciting change and passion, this can be an interesting read for conservationists.
The Extreme Life of the Sea (2015) by Stephen R. Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi
A fun book and an interesting way to educate a wider audience in a relatable way. This book brings the seas most extreme species to life, telling their stories as characters in the drama of the ocean.
***Behind the Dolphin Smile: One Man’s Campaign to Protect the World’s Dolphins (2012) by Richard O’Barry and Keith Coulbourn
O’Barry tells his story as an animal lover who dedicated his life to studying and training dolphins, but along the way realised he needed to set them free.
Octopus: The Ocean’s Intelligent Invertebrate (2010) by Jennifer A. Mather, Roland C. Anderson and James B. Wood
The authors reveal everything they have learnt about Octopus after decades of research and time spent with these invertebrates.
Ocean of Life (2013) by Callum Roberts
Roberts takes readers on a panoramic tour beneath the seas, looking at life in the deep and how it has altered over time. He also shares the devastating impact of humanity on the oceans, but also how we can, in some ways, restore the damage.
***Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life (2018) by Peter Godfrey-Smith
If you truly want to appreciate just how smart ocean cephalopods are then you should add this book to your list!
***The End Of The Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat (2005) by Charles Clover
A bleak exploration of our pivotal moment for fishing, with seventy-five percent of the world’s fish stocks overfished. This will have devastating impacts on the ocean and humans alike.
The Oceans (2016) by The Open University
A fifteen-hour course in kindle format, explaining the ocean depths, the properties of the water, ocean circulation and how the oceans influence climate.
Sea Change: Britain’s Coastal Catastrophe (2012) by Richard Girling
Addresses issues such as pollution by sewage, dumping of waste at sea, fish extinction, coastal erosion and rising sea level. In the context of Britain, Girling asks how did these issues happen and what are the solutions.
The Unnatural History of the Sea (2009) by Callum Roberts
Delving into the long and complex history of fishing, the consequences on our oceans from early explorers to modern day trawlers, but also how the damage might be restored.
***What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2017) by Jonathan Balcombe
This book gives fascinating insight into fish, their diversity and beauty. It offers a thoughtful appraisal of our relationships with fish and inspires us to take a more enlightened view of marine life.
The Breath of a Whale: The Science and Spirit of Pacific Ocean Giants (2019) by Leigh Calvez
After a dozen years researching and observing the lives of the oceans biggest giants, Calvez shares all that she has learnt.
***The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds (2020) by Stephen Rutt
A look at the ocean animals that are often overlooked – sea birds. Rutt explores the part seabirds have played in history and today in Britain.
Future Sea: How to Rescue and Protect the World’s Ocean’s (2020) by Deborah Rowan Wright
Marine-policy research and dedicated ocean advocate, Wright, provides the tools needed to save our oceans, laying out a bold strategy: one hundred percent ocean protection.
No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference (2019) by Greta Thunberg
The incredible story and difference Thunberg has made to our oceans, and all because one day in protest she decided not to go to school.
***Advice from the Ocean: Unexpected Paths into Marine Conservation (2020) by Leah Henseler and Christine Henseler
Hearing from fourteen individuals who took non-traditional routes into the field of ocean conservation.
***Emperors of the Deep: Sharks–The Ocean’s Most Mysterious, Most Misunderstood, and Most Important Guardians (2019) by William McKeever
Shifting perspectives of sharks from coldblooded underwater predators to evolutionary marvels that play an integral part in ensuring our oceans are kept healthy.
Empty Ocean: Plundering the World’s Marine Life (2004) by Richard Ellis
Questioning if our oceans can ever recover from humans hunting, overfishing and killing marine life.
***Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans (2012) by Capt. Charles Moore
Moore discovered the world’s largest collection of floating trash, now called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP). He reveals more about that discovery in this book.
What You Should Know About Sharks: Shark Language, Social Behavior, Human Interactions, and Life Saving Information (2019) by Ocean Ramsey (Author), Juan Oliphant
Learn more about these great creatures of the sea, how they survive and what their movements and behaviour mean.
***Drawing the Sea Near: Satoumi and Coral Reef Conservation in Okinawa (2020) by C. Anne Claus
Based on twenty months of participant observtion and interviews, this ethnography focuses on Okinawa’s coral reefs. Revealing a unique approach to conservation.
Ocean Outbreak: Confronting the Rising Tide of Marine Disease (2019) by Drew Harvell
Mysterious outbreaks of infectious disease are on the rise in our oceans and this book explores the problem and what can be done to help.
***Marine Policy: An Introduction to Governance and International Law of the Oceans (2019) by Mark Zacharias
Providing readers with a foundation in policy development and analysis, describing how policy is applied to the marine environment.
Dead Zones: The Loss of Oxygen from Rivers, Lakes, Seas, and the Ocean (2021) by David L. Kirchman
This book explores why Dead Zones are on the rise and the long term impact this has on us and the ocean.
Shearwater: A Bird, an Ocean, and a Long Way Home (2021) by Roger Morgan-Grenville
A beautiful piece of nature writing exploring the birds that call the ocean home. Shearwater traces the author’s 50-year obsession.
The Ocean Book: Our endangered seas: How Endangered are Our Seas? (2018) by Esther Gonstalla
Presenting the latest research and data on ocean conservation, presented in a visual and very powerful way.
Marine Conservation: People, Ideas and Action (2018) by Bob Earll
Exploring what marine conservation means, hearing from nineteen individuals who are dedicated to working in the field.
Reef Life: An Underwater Memoir (2021) by Callum Roberts
Following Roberts long career and love of our oceans coral reefs, providing both inspiration and stories to help you see reefs in a new light.
***Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in Her Quest to Save the Seas (2015) by Liz Cunningham
Cunningham shares her conservation journey and how, despite the perils, she remains hopeful for our seas.
Whales and Dolphins: Cognition, Culture, Conservation and Human Perceptions (2011) by Philippa Brakes
Bringing together experts in the fields of cetacean research, this book explores behaviours, our relationship with cetaceans and what we can do to protect them.
Waves and Beaches: The Powerful Dynamics of Sea and Coast (2021) by Kim McCoy and Willard Bascom
Giving readers a better understanding of waves and the power of our oceans, for anyone who loves the ocean.
Junk Raft: An Ocean Voyage and a Rising Tide of Activism to Fight Plastic Pollution (2018) by Marcus Eriksen
Adventurers create a ‘junk raft’ made from plastic, an unorthodox way to highlight plastic pollution and raise awareness for conservation issues.
Telling the story of the last wilderness on earth – the deep sea – our relationship and exploits of this area.
Oceana: Our Endangered Oceans and What We Can Do to Save Them (2011) by Michael D’orso and Ted Danson
Damson talks of the oceans biggest conservation issues and how he has worked as an activist to play his part in protecting them.
Plastic Soup: An Atlas of Ocean Pollution (2019) by Michiel Roscam Abbing
This book explores the realities of plastic pollution as well as highlighting a diverse array of projects to curb plastic waste and raise awareness.
Seaweed, an Enchanting Miscellany (2020) by Miek Zwamborn
Poet and artist Zwamborn shares discoveries of seaweed’s history, culture, and science, as well as the part it may have to play in preserving our oceans.
Return of the Sea Otter: The Story of the Animal That Evaded Extinction on the Pacific Coast (2018) by Todd McLeish
A science journalist’s journey with sea otters, a creature that was hunted close to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Ocean Is Alive: Re-visioning Our Relationship with the Living Ocean (2016) by Glenn Edney
A celebration of our oceans, Edney uses his thirty years of experience to give us a sense of what it means to be a creature of the seas.
***Eat Like a Fish: My Adventures Farming the Ocean to Fight Climate Change (2020) by Bren Smith
In this book, a former fisherman shares a bold and hopeful hopeful new vision for saving the planet: farming the ocean.
Ocean Recovery: A sustainable future for global fisheries? (2019) by Ray Hilborn and Ulrike Hilborn
Attempting to paint a non-bias picture of fisheries and sustainability, sharing facts, what is increasing, what is in decline and the consequences of different fishery management systems.
Visualizing Posthuman Conservation in the Age of the Anthropocene (2018) by Amy D Propen
Using case studies where visual technologies and science play a prominent role in arguments to protect threatened marine species, this book describes how technologies, environments, bodies, and matter work together to shape and reshape how we coexist with our nonhuman kin.
Catching Thunder: The True Story of the World’s Longest Sea Chase (2018) by Eskil Engdal and Kjetil Sæter
A remarkable true story chasing down an illegal fishing boat in what will become the longest chase in maritime history.
Shark Biology and Conservation: Essentials for Educators, Students, and Enthusiasts (2020) by Daniel C. Abel, R. Dean Grubbs and Elise Pullen
A thorough exploration of sharks, their biology, how they hunt and survive and the biggest conservation challenges they face.
Song for the Blue Ocean (1999) by Carl Safina
A warning about the decline of marine resources due to commercial fishing and other causes.
Saving Our Oceans (2019) by R. L. Coffield
An easy to read overview of plastic and chemical pollution in our waters as well as a comprehensive list of groups and organisations that are tackling the problem.
*** Fathoms: The World in a Whale (2021) by Rebecca Giggs
Blending natural history, philosophy, and science to better understand whales and their fight against conservation issues.
Together We Can Turn Tides: A Manifesto to Save the Oceans, Planet & Ourselves (2017) by Jeroen Van De Waal
This book talks of the challenges our oceans face but also what we humans can do to make a difference.
All the Boats on the Ocean: How Government Subsidies Led to Global Overfishing (2017) by Carmel Finley
Looking at some of the reasons we find ourselves with a fishing industry that isn’t sustainable and what we might be able to do about it.
***Sea Change: A Message of the Oceans (1996) by Sylvia Earle Earle
The story of Earle and her incredible dedication to our oceans, taking readers on a journey to the ocean and some of the countless interactions she’s had along the way with marine life.
Coral Reef Curiosities: Intrigue, Deception and Wonder on the Reef and Beyond (2020) by Chuck Weikert
Delving deeper into the lives and secrets of coral reefs and all the creatures that call them home.
Books about Orcas
Orca’s, also known as killer whales, are perhaps the most written about marine animal, which is why they get their own dedicated list! Humans really do have a fascination with these creatures (read Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator, below, if you want to explore the reasons why).
***Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, Seaworld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish (2015) by John Hargrove and Howard Chua-Eoan
Hangrove, one of the stars of the Blackfish documentary, worked for SeaWorld for over two decades. He now works to expose the realities of keeping orcas in captivity.
Orca: The Whale Called Killer (2019) by Erich Hoyt
Hoyt and his colleagues spent seven summers following and documenting Orca’s, he shares his findings and stories in this book.
The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna (2013) by Michael Parfit
The story of Luna, a young Orca who was separated from his pod one summer in Vancouver.
***Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity (2013) by David Kirby
Following Naomi Rose, a marine biologist and animal advocate, and her two decade fight against SeaWorld and their insistence.
The Killer Whale Who Changed the World (2017) by Mark Leiren-Young
Moby Doll was a captive orca who helped change public perception of ‘killers’. Although this is ultimately a sad story of captivity, it’s also an interesting read on how people’s perceptions can be changed.
Killing Keiko: The True Story of Free Willy’s Return to the Wild (2014) by Mark Simmons
Keiko was the famous Free Willy star, and this book is the true story of the fight to free Keiko from captivity.
Exploring the history of human and orca relationships and the reasons why we have such a fascination with these particular animals.
For Love of Orcas: An Anthology (2019) edited by Andrew Shattuck McBride, Jill McCabe Johnson and Joseph K Gaydos
A touching and moving book and a display of how words can be used to build connection and emotions with the ocean. An anthology from scientists, poets and writers, inspired Southern Resident orca Tahlequa who swam with her newly dead calf for seventeen days.