The Edge of the Sea

Bookshelf: The Edge of the Sea

The Edge of the Sea – Rachel Carson

The Edge of the Sea
The Edge of the Sea

The Edge of the Sea completes the trilogy begun by Under the Sea-Wind and The Sea Around Us. Its focus is on the coastline, the meeting point between land and ocean where one is most conscious of the passage of time and the cycles of nature. Rachel Carson was an American writer, and lived and worked on the east coast of the United States. The northern reaches of this coast are similar to the Cape Town coastline, in that there are kelp forests and much invertebrate life in the cool water. Its southern reaches in the Florida Keys, however, are characterised by coral reefs and mangrove forests, more reminiscent of Sodwana Bay in KwaZulu Natal, on South Africa’s north western coast.

This is a more conventional piece of nature writing than Under the Sea-Wind, and its scope is far narrower than The Sea Around Us. It is fascinating, however, to delve into the secret lives of crabs, sand fleas, limpets, urchins, sea stars, clams and a large number of their neighbours. While – for the most part – we don’t find the exact same creatures on our side of the Atlantic, their adaptations to life in the intertidal zone are similar, and their behaviour and diet is too.

The section on the coral reefs and mangroves of Florida was interesting to me because that kind of coastline is relatively unfamiliar – I’ve only visited coral reefs three times (Zanzibar, Sodwana twice) and don’t know nearly as much about how those ecosystems work. It was the first time someone articulated for me a point that – in retrospect – is probably completely obvious to everyone else on earth, but for me was a lightbulb moment. Coral reefs only occur on east-facing coasts (think about the location of the Florida Keys, the Great Barrier reef in Australia, the east African coral reefs), as the western coasts of continents are typically subject to upwelling driven by wind and the direction of the earth’s rotation.

Rather than being an active participant in the life of the shore, man is portrayed here as an observer, unable to influence the tidal and seasonal rhythms that drive all behaviour here. The book is illustrated with beautiful line drawings and one or two maps, and I’d recommend it highly. There’s a comprehensive glossary with full species names at the back.

You can buy the book here, or for Kindle get it here.

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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