Environmental Themes in Literature: The Impact of the Continental Shelf


The literature we consume is a reflection of the society we live in and the environmental issues that are prevalent in our world. One particular environmental theme that has been explored in literature is the impact of the continental shelf. The continental shelf, which is the part of the ocean floor that extends from the shore to the deep sea, has been a subject of discussion and concern due to its significance in our ecosystem. In this article, we will delve into how the continental shelf has been portrayed in literature and its impact on the environment.

The continental shelf has been a popular topic in literature since the 19th century, with notable mentions in works such as Herman Mellville’s “Moby-Dick” and Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that the impact of the continental shelf on the environment started gaining more attention in literature.

One of the notable works that explores this theme is Rachel Carson’s “The Sea Around Us.” In this beautifully written book, Carson highlights the importance of the continental shelf as a vital ecosystem. She describes how the shallow waters of the continental shelf provide vital habitats for diverse marine life, including fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. She also brings attention to the threat of oil drilling and other human activities on the continental shelf, which not only disrupt the fragile ecosystem but also puts the livelihoods of many marine species at risk.

Another excellent example of the impact of the continental shelf on literature is the play “Dark Tide” by Stephen P. Myers. The play tells the story of a small fishing community in the Gulf of Mexico that is struggling to survive after an oil spill on the continental shelf destroys their once-thriving fishing industry. Myers beautifully portrays the devastation caused by the oil spill and the conflict between the needs of the community and the greed of corporations. It serves as a cautionary tale of the potential consequences of exploiting the continental shelf for economic gain without considering its environmental impact.

Apart from books and plays, the impact of the continental shelf is also a prevalent theme in poetry. In his poem “The Continental Shelf,” Derek Walcott uses the metaphor of the continental shelf to talk about his Caribbean homeland and its history of colonialism. He describes the continental shelf as a “black seam in the water,” representing the cultural and political divide created by colonialism. The poem is a powerful reflection on the impact of human activities on the continental shelf, not just in terms of the environment but also on society and culture.

The impact of the continental shelf in literature is not limited to its destruction by human activities. Many authors also use it symbolically to explore deeper themes, such as the fragility of nature and the inevitable consequences of our actions. In his short story “A Continental Shelf,” Alistair Macleod tells the story of fishermen who struggle to make a living on the harsh Canadian coast. The continental shelf in the story represents a border between the known and the unknown, highlighting the uncertainty and danger faced by the fishermen in pursuing their livelihood. It is a poignant reminder that our actions not only impact the environment but also the lives of those who depend on it.

In conclusion, the impact of the continental shelf in literature is a testament to the importance of this ecosystem in our world. It serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between human activities and the environment and the consequences of our actions. Literature has played a crucial role in bringing attention to this vital theme, and it is through such works that we can gain a better understanding of the impact of the continental shelf on our environment. It is now up to us to take responsibility and make conscious efforts towards preserving this vital ecosystem for the sake of future generations.