Liz Cunningham
Liz Cunningham

Liz Cunningham was almost killed by a rogue wave while kayaking.

Just moments earlier she had been enjoying her ride on the open ocean, digging her paddle into the water to navigate the breakers off a California beach.

But the rogue wave pushed her down under the water. She was unconscious for a few moments, and then woke up to find herself upside down. “It was like being inside a water turbine, water rushing fast in all directions,” Cunningham writes in her well-received memoir Ocean Country. “This is really it,” I thought. “I’m going to die.”

Cunningham, who lives in Berkeley, didn’t die, but the wave injured her spine, leaving her partially paralyzed. The wave also took away more than her movement, which she eventually recovered. It took away the love she had for the water and the feeling of freedom it once gave her.

As Cunningham fought to regain her health, she vowed to reconnect with the ocean — and go a step further. She decided to investigate the ocean’s health and discover ways to keep it from being ruined.

Ocean Country is a tale of the journey Cunningham took to better understand the world’s oceans. Part adventure story, part call to action, part poetic meditation, the book follows Cunningham as she visits communities around the world to see how they are fighting to save the ocean. She travels to Indonesia, the Turks and Caicos Islands, the coast of California, the island of Sulawesi and elsewhere. She sees bleached coral reefs, collapsing fisheries, lost species.

But in the end, Cunningham doesn’t despair. Despite the damage done to the world’s oceans, she finds plenty of people fighting back. She joins them, and, with Ocean Country, invites us to join the fight as well.

Cunningham will be discussing Ocean Country tonight, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. at Books Inc at 1491 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley.

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...