Mining the awe
There was the book, withdrawn from its envelope, and I said to myself, even if it isn't worth reading it's certainly worth looking at. I was enthralled by the deep blue of its end papers, and the glowing orange grouper nestled firmly in a field of pristine white. Surely all divers will have their juices triggered by the sumptuous images contained here.
In Rhythm of the Reef: A Day in the Life of the Coral Reef, Rick Sammon has aimed to give us an "experience" of the reefs rather than a dry trip through the wastelands of academia. So he guides us on a personal tour of some of the world's top dive sites.
From dawn at the Red Sea to midday at Truk - one of the strangest, perhaps most inappropriate, of the dive sites (the images are particularly haunting), then to a rainy sunset dive at Cocos and finally to a sparkling midnight dip off Bonaire - switch off those torches, please!
The text is geared to include the environmentally ignorant non-diver, which is why it seems simplistic at times. Sammon skims the surface of his subject, documentary-style, but still manages to tantalise us with the basic facts, and to introduce a feel of the integrity of reef systems and their vulnerability to even a single element of the Earth's ecosystem being drastically altered.
He discusses the decline of coral reefs without the hysterical polemics that a hardened activist might prefer, though at times the helpful hints on photography sit uncomfortably with the seriousness of this issue. But this book is intended to encourage people into a sense of responsibility for their environment, and he manages this difficult job rather well.
There are several reasons to own this book, or to give it as a gift, from the information on reef ecosystems to fascinating facts for your dive briefings, from photographic advice to an excellent bibliography and a list of environmental organisations involved in reef conservation.
Yet the heart of this book is in the poetry of its images, that may evoke a sense of awe and call you to the oceans for a direct experience of their majesty. Without that awe there can be no consistent motivation to take care.
Let's hope that those moments spent among the glimmering glassfish of a Red Sea cave are mystical enough to bring this sense of amazement into the rest of our lives. Amen!
- Rhythm of the Reef by Rick Sammon, Swan Hill Press (01743 235651). Hardback £19.95.
Wreck and ruin
MY FIRST sight of a wreck in the Red Sea amounted to a scatter of huge storage jars and amphoras. Pools of mercury overlaid with sand had collected in the rocky seabed next to a large lead anchor stock. It was a dramatic reminder of just how long the Red Sea had been used for shipping.
This came to mind when I started turning the pages of the splendidly illustrated Diving Guide to Red Sea Wrecks. The A4-sized book covers 17 wrecks in the main Red Sea and one in the Gulf of Aqaba, Cedar Pride. She was a 1160-tonne cargo boat deliberately sunk as an artificial reef after being gutted by fire, and is now visited regularly by divers.
The ships detailed in the book are mostly steamers, along with one ancient amphora wreck. They are accompanied by wonderful photographs, and the diving details include "3-D" drawings giving the position of each wreck. Essential information is also given regarding ease of access, currents, depths, distances from shore, and any special dangers.
The much-dived Thistlegorm is particularly well-documented, as is the Dunraven, which was sunk in 1876 and first discovered by Howard Rosenstein, who ran the pioneering diving operation in Sharm in the late 1960s.
Other ships covered include the Giannis D, Carnatic, Chrisoula K, Seastar, the tragic ferry Salem Express, Umbria and Urania. Detailed too is a special interest site for all divers - Jacques Cousteau's second underwater village where eight "oceanauts" lived for a month in 1963. Today much of what remains - the hangar for the "flying saucer" bathyscape is the most prominent item - is heavily coral-coated.
- Swan Hill Press (01743 235651). Softback £16.99.
Mangroves - a trifle boring might be your first reaction, and possibly your second, but if you are a diver who enjoys tropical waters, you should know how crucial the mangrove habitat is to life in the sea. Give it a chance and it becomes enthralling.
With nice photography combined with easily read text in a clean design, Mr Stafford-Deitsch deserves as much success with this project as he had with his best-seller about sharks. He has obviously put in a lot of effort and had to endure the discomfort of biting insects and mud in several hot parts of the world.
As he says: "I hope plenty of people other than my mother buy it!"
- Mangrove, The Forgotten Habitat, Immel Publishing (0171 4911799). Softback £35.
Appeared in DIVER - January 1997