Blood on the Ice

Bathsheba Demuth’s Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait tells the story of how people learned to make money from the seas—specifically, from the waters of Beringia, the region that includes Alaska, the northeasternmost parts of Russia, and the seas in between. At first the money came from sea otters and whales, but when these grew scarce in the mid-nineteenth century, they were replaced with walruses sleeping in piles on the icy edges of the shore; then attention turned to caribou and Arctic foxes, and to the gold, tin, and oil in the earth. But as humans hunted and mined at an ever-accelerating pace, they did so with little understanding of the cyclical and finite aspects of life on earth, or of the ways their actions would disrupt the larger ecosystem, especially one as delicate as that of Beringia.

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