You want the good news first, or the bad news? Ok, bad news first.

It's been a tough week for the oceans. First, a report by the World Conservation Congress found that we could lose half of the planet's coral reefs in the next 40 years unless we take immediate action. Like what? Well, setting up a network of marine reserves and getting serious about curbing global warming, for starters.

Then, word began trickling out of China that no one has seen a species of endangered river dolphin called the baiji in months, and it is now feared to have gone extinct in the wild. The baiji have been battling for survival, but with so many of them drowning in fishing nets, killed by ship strikes, or succumbing to toxic contamination, things have not been looking good for them for a while. The construction of the enormous Three Gorges Dam on the Baiji's Yangtze River may have been the final nail in the coffin. Let's hope it's not too late

And today the heads of the USA's eight regional fisheries management councils will stand before Congress to tell our elected officials that there is no need to make any significant changes to the way we manage our marine resources. 'Sure, overfishing may have wiped out 90% of the ocean's large fish, and sure, we do sometimes allow overfishing to occur even on fish stocks we know are severely depleted, but... really, it's ok - we've got it covered. Trust us.' Uh, why, again?

With all this doom and gloom, we could probably all use a little inspiration to give us a glimpse of what can happen when people refuse to let things run their course, and somehow find the courage to stand up and fight. Two great new books came out this year, both written by average people that saw things going to hell and decided they were going to do something about it.

Dick Russell's Striper Wars tells the story of the fight to save the striped bass, America's most popular sportfish. After a long and often divisive campaign, Russell and his colleagues were able to get a coastwide moratorium on fishing for striped bass. The fish's recovery is one of the country's greatest environmental success stories. Incredibly, as Russell points out, this recovery is now jeopardized by Omega Protein's factory fishing operations for menhaden, the stripers' main food source. But that's another story...

Diane Wilson has written a stunningly powerful book about her battle to stop an enormous chemical plant from poisoning La Vaca Bay on the Texas Gulf Coast. An Unreasonable Woman: A true story of shrimpers, politicos, polluters and the fight for Seadrift, Texas is the kind of book that will make you think differently about your life and what you can achieve with it. Don't take my word for it, though, check out this review by Molly Ivins.

If you do pick up one of these books, let me know what you think!

John H