Rime of the last fisherman: Dispatches from a dying ocean - 2070

These are a curated selection of recently decrypted log-entries written by Alejandro Balmaceda, known as Earth’s last ocean fishermen, though this cannot be categorically verified. He bore witness to the cascade of events that have collectively come to be known as the ODS, the Oceanic Death Spiral. Alejandro sailed the seas in La Odiosa Optimista, a vessel ahead of its time. These entries have now been passed to me, Alejandro’s great great granddaughter and, the ship’s archivist. Interestingly, preceding the log entries were several literary excerpts taken from the poem, The Rime of The Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, published in 1798. Please note, as this is an interpretation of an old dialect, mistakes will undoubtedly have been made. For that, I apologise. Nonetheless, I hope this document can help residents of the Ark ship Irregular Apocalypse, to further understand what happened to our home planet.


Log Entry: Off the Coast of Peru. January 7, 2031


And I had done a hellish thing,

And it would work 'em woe


Anchovies. So many people grew up eating them or, eating the fish that ate them. They seemed endless in glistening, swirling shoals. Now, they’re all gone. That final El Niño did them in, evil weather. But… if we had not taken so many, …maybe they would’ve bounced back, who knows. People don’t agree on what happened to the Peruvian Anchoveta. Science declares it was the messing up of the Ocean Upwelling System off the coast of South America, due to Global Warming. Others think it was too much confidence in Science. But I know what happened. Mechanised, high-efficiency processing ships… grinding and churning anchovies into cow and fish-feed. It makes me angry on behalf of the fish. Whatever the cause, they’re gone now. 


Log Entry: Pulling out of Mousehole Harbor, England. May 25, 2034


Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay,

That made the breeze to blow!


My boat is beautiful; she has all the latest technology. I can find a single fish miles and miles away and then set the autopilot to hunt it down. The boat runs on fuel cells, has a solar sail, and virtually never runs on its diesel engine. I spent every penny I had on it. It is hyper-efficient and very green. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. None of it matters when there are no fish to catch.


Log Entry: Patagonia – Off the Coast of Argentina. March 20, 2042


For all averred, I had killed the bird

That made the breeze to blow.


Hopeless - I have been out on these god-forsaken seas for three weeks and have seen nothing, not a single seabird. They used to soar overhead, keeping me company and preventing my descent into loneliness, a reminder of life in this emptiness. All of them are dead now, all the albatrosses, most of the other seabirds…I guess that means we are all cursed.


Log Entry: Off the coast of Haida Gwaii. June 1, 2050


My god, my god, my god... These may be the last words that I utter as a free man. Hey! Get it together Alejandro… Okay… I am off the coast of Haida Gwaii, floating by the largest pirate fish farm in North America. I had never intended to get this close to Haida. A name that chills the bones of any fisherman, any person, who lives within 1000 miles of here. I have turned off my engines, and all the electronics, except the life support system in my cabin. I have sealed the doors, so that if I am boarded, they may simply sink me rather than take me alive. My boat will sink, but I can escape in my life-pod to at least live another day as a free man.


Merrily did we drop,

Below the kirk, below the hill,

Below the lighthouse drop.


It’s odd. Not two decades ago, I would have stopped in any port in British Columbia. Good food, good people. But they’re gone now. I remember visions of “Cascadia”, and comments like “Who needs those people who are the dregs of society. Let us fend for ourselves, and we will thrive.” Well it turns out that when part of the system collapses, you get pulled down too. The rest is history. Social breakdown, no rule of law, hungry people. The human-trafficking robber baron of Haida’s slave-labour fish farms provides food to the mainland, and thus no repercussions. Stay out of his way, don’t get caught in his waters, and you’ll eat another day. Goodbye, and I pray the sun shines and pushes me away to safer waters.


Log Entry: In the Pacific - One of the sites of the Iron Terror Attack. January 1, 2056


The very deep did rot: O Christ!

That ever this should be!


Those moronic, so-called, environmentalists. Right when we thought we were getting the dead zones under control. A break-away group of nations, goaded on by some holier than thou billionaire and a bunch of radical eco-terrorists, decided in their desperation and frustration to go and do something mighty stupid. They dumped millions of tons of iron filings into all the oceans simultaneously from disguised cargo ships to kick start marine productivity, drawdown carbon dioxide, plus fish food aplenty. Two birds. One iron-rich stone That took zealotry and lots of cash.

Did it work? Nope, some scientists warned them but they went ahead and did it. Sure there was a lot more plankton but then things started getting out of control, between all that fertiliser flowing in and the iron, that plankton went wild and suddenly a large part of the oceans were suffocating and not just when it was extra warm - all year round. I’ve heard people call that moment ‘The Iron Terror’ and they say it’s the beginning of the end, I hope to all the gods they’re wrong.


Log Entry: The North Sea Wind Energy Concession. February 14, 2062


Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,

Glimmered the white Moon-shine.


I know it is there, stretching to the horizon, I can see it on my instruments, a fool’s failed dream. I look out, strain my eyes and looming out of the dense fog is a pylon, brown and gold with rust, the sound of creaking tortured metal. Just one of thousands of turbines, a few even still generate power, power that goes nowhere, generated for no one, it’s too late.

Log Entry: Yaizu Port, Japan. August 8, 2063


Quoth he, 'The man hath penance done,

And penance more will do.'


I tried to sell it, a tuna; I managed to catch a tuna, a big one by today’s standards, nearly 100kg. She was beautiful. She is lying in a dump now, not one of the traders would buy it, too dangerous they said. One stuck a probe in the tail muscle and shook their heads slowly, eyes downcast. Too much mercury. It had been building up in the fish for years. People had died. In Japan, it sparked fears of another Minimata, fears that turned out to be well founded. The contamination…that was the last of it…the death knell for all commercial fisheries. Not a great day, I never did catch another tuna…maybe it was the last one.


Log Entry: The Southern Ocean. July 3, 2067


I looked upon the rotting sea,

And drew my eyes away


A friend once shared with me the Swedish delicacy surströmming– fermented fish in a can. We were in my apartment in Valpo but she went to the balcony to open the tin. The stench was overpowering. It stank like fetid pools of raw sewage. The neighbours called the superintendent to complain about the drains until I told her it was us. Now, that memory flooded back and I gagged vocally as a familiar stink clawed up my nostrils. There was nothing in sight for miles. Then. Three ocean giants just floating, their last refuge in the Southern Ocean failing them.

This is where all that acid in the oceans really screwed everything up. The krill had no time to adapt; they just dissolved into nothingness with not a hint of protest. We didn’t hunt them, but humanity killed the krill all the same. We burnt the whales’ food and laced their home with acid. I know it’s rare to even see whales anymore since most have died and sank like stones to rot on the ocean floor: whale fall, harbouring islands of life in a vast emptiness. But, I don’t want to see them, rare or otherwise.

Log Entry: Amidst the ruins of the Great Barrier Reef. May 5, 2069


Alone, alone, all, all alone,

Alone on a wide wide sea!


White, it is all just white… and dead. People tried so hard, but they failed. The heat, that oil tanker that smashed into the reef, the acidic bite, the urbanites and all their drugs running into the sea, the aftermath of the years-long wildfires. It was all too overwhelming. Occasionally I spot some colour through the murky waters but it is like a ghost looking for something that is lost. I wish I hadn’t seen this, I can’t write anything else, I am going to lie down.


Final Log Entry: Earth’s oceans. December 31, 2070


Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung


My Ocean is dead. I am leaving...



The text of this story is the copyright of Dr. Andrew Merrie. All images are copyright of Simon Stålenhag and reproduced with permission. The music is the copyright of K. La Luna.