Say yes to 22 new Marine Protected Areas for South Africa

Twenty two new marine protected areas have been proposed for South Africa. The benefits of MPAs are well known, so this is excellent news for the future of our marine environment. The public is invited to comment on the proposal, and as a responsible ocean loving individual, sending an email to comment would be one of the ways you can save the ocean. Read on to find out the details.

Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)
Proposed new MPAs for South Africa (existing ones in navy blue)

Included in the proposed new Marine Protected Areas are South Africa’s first offshore MPAs. The press release from the Department of Environmental Affairs states that:

Many of these new MPAs aim to protect offshore ecosystems and species, ranging from deep areas along the Namibian border to a more than tenfold expansion of iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the KwaZulu-Natal Province. They include charismatic features, such as, fossilised yellow wood forest at a depth of 120m off Port Nolloth, a deep cold-water coral reef standing 30m high off the seabed near Port Elizabeth and a world famous diving destination where seven shark species aggregate, at Protea Banks in KwaZulu-Natal. These MPAs also include undersea mountains, canyons, sandy plains, deep and shallow muds and diverse gravel habitats with unique fauna.

What good will these MPAs do? According to the press release:

The new MPAs will secure protection of marine habitats like reefs, mangroves and coastal wetlands which are required to help protect coastal communities from the results of storm surges, rising sea-levels and extreme weather. Offshore, these MPAs will protect vulnerable habitats and secure spawning grounds for various marine species, therefore helping to sustain fisheries and ensure long-term benefits important to food and job security.

The new MPAs will increase the protected portion of South Africa’s territorial waters from less than 0.5%, to 5%. The government has undertaken to get this figure to 10% by 2019.

What does this mean for you?

Scuba diving

If you’re a scuba diver, you probably know that diving in a Marine Protected Area – particularly in a no-take zone – is an extra special experience because of the abundant fish and other marine life. The prospect of richer, more diverse dive sites to explore is an exciting one, but there are more benefits to this proposal than just enhanced eco-tourism opportunities.

Scuba diving businesses will have to acquire permits from the Department of Environmental Affairs (for about R500 per year) to operate in the Marine Protected Areas. (This has been in force for some time, and ethical dive operators in Cape Town who take clients diving in any of the existing MPAs should be in possession of a permit already.) There are also the permits issued to individual scuba divers (for about R100 per year, obtainable at the post office) to dive in an MPA – you will see this mentioned in Tony’s newsletter now and then, as a reminder.

Environmental protection

Some of the new MPAs are in offshore regions that would otherwise be at risk from destructive trawl fishing and other exploitative activities such as mineral, oil and gas extraction from the seabed.

Many of these MPAs will, like the Tsitsikamma MPA, serve as nurseries for fish stocks. Recreational and commercial fisheries will benefit from allowing the fish to spawn unmolested in protected areas along the coast. Holding ourselves back from fishing everywhere, at every opportunity, shows long-term thinking, and will have short-term benefits as well as for future generations.

Undesirable activities

Not all of the MPAs will be closed to fishing – those of you familiar with the network of protected areas around the Cape Peninsula will be familiar with this idea. For example, a number of pelagic game- and baitfish species may be caught within the Controlled Pelagic Zones of the Amathole, iSimangaliso, Protea and Aliwal Shoal Marine Protected Areas. Commercial fishing permits may also be issued for use in the MPAs.

Existing discharges of effluent are permitted to continue – specifically into the Aliwal Shoal MPA.  This means that SAPPI may continue to pump wood-pulp effluent onto the dive sites there.

What to do?

If you would like to show your support for the proposal – and who doesn’t love a well-chosen MPA? – send an email to MPARegs@environment.gov.za. You have until 2 May 2016 to do so, and you can include any other relevant comments about the MPA proposal in your missive.

You can download the full document detailing the proposed new MPAs complete with maps, management regulations and co-ordinates (a 336 page pdf) here.

Tony and I are looking forward to passing over some of the new MPAs on the Agulhas Bank (maybe numbers 11 and 12 on the map above) next year – without getting wet. You can come too! (But you may have to impersonate a twitcher.)

Who to thank?

This project has been spearheaded by a team at SANBI (the South African National Biodiversity Institute) led by Dr Kerry Sink. Dr Sink has been awarded a prestigious Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation for 2016, and her fellowship work encompasses a range of projects aimed at strengthening and expanding South Africa’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

We are extraordinarily fortunate to have a scientist and conservationist of Dr Sink’s calibre as a champion for MPAs in South Africa. So you can thank her!

Movie: Pioneer

Pioneer
Pioneer

In the late 1960s, massive oil and gas deposits were discovered in the North Sea, transforming Norway into one of Europe’s wealthiest nations. Pioneer depicts some of the early, feverish oil-related activity during the 1970s. The Norwegians needed to build a pipeline to bring the oil to land from depths of up to 500 metres. Lacking the technical expertise – particularly with respect to the underwater work that must be done by saturation divers – they bring in American assistance.

Norwegian divers (so-called “pioneer divers“) dived to depths that are now considered unsafe, even for saturation divers, and a group of them have sued the Norwegian government for compensation for damage incurred during their careers in the early days of the oil boom. Pioneer tells the story of Petter, a Norwegian diver who is present during a diving accident and embarks on a search for the cause, believing that human error was involved and that someone must take responsibility.

I enjoyed the film enormously, but most of the reviews I have read found it a bit turgid. The milieu is evoked with incredible attention to detail, including the awful 1970s moustaches and unfortunate hairstyles. The dialogue is in both Norwegian (subtitled) and English. It is beautifully filmed, with clever camera work mimicking the limited view that the divers have while working underwater and in the saturation chamber. The underwater scenes are excellent, reminiscent of those in For Your Eyes Only (I’m joking – they genuinely are extremely convincing and quite magnificent). Tension is maintained throughout, and the action takes places over a fairly short period of time.

You can get the DVD here (South Africa), here or here.

Article: New York Times on the wreck of the Kulluk

We are far enough south that – to me at least – discussions on the subject of oil companies drilling in the Arctic, much of which is now conveniently ice-free in summer, don’t register as viscerally as things that are physically closer to home. But there is a principle at stake here, and a set of risks that corporations have not fully comprehended. The Arctic is a sensitive, valuable ecosystem, and – unlike the populous coast abutting Gulf of Mexico – there are few human settlements and no infrastructure. If something goes wrong with an oil rig or a spill takes place, help is far off and difficult to obtain.

A New York Times article that appeared at the end of last year goes into detail about the consequences of a poorly-planned and executed, premature attempt by Shell to locate oil reserves north of Alaska. The Kulluk was a drill barge, and Shell planned to tow her into the Arcitic so that she could do exploratory drilling for oil.

The emphasis below is mine:

Even with permission, getting to the oil would not be easy. The Alaskan Arctic has no deepwater port. The closest is in the Aleutian Islands at Dutch Harbor, a thousand miles to the south through the Bering Strait. In the Inupiat whaling villages dotting the Chukchi coast, only a handful of airstrips are long enough for anything other than a prop plane. There are few roads; human residents get around in summer by boat, foot or all-terrain vehicle. Shell was trying the logistical equivalent of a mission to the moon. During the short Arctic summer, when the sea ice made its annual retreat, Shell would have to bring not only the Kulluk but everything else: personnel, tankers, icebreakers, worker housing, supply vessels, helicopters, tugboats, spill-cleanup barges and a secondary rig to drill a relief well in case of a blowout. In the wake of Deepwater Horizon, Shell would build a $400 million Arctic-ready containment dome, an extra layer of spill protection that it would also need to drag north.

Predictably, things went badly wrong. The chain of events reads like one of those Reader’s Digest “Drama in Real Life” stories that gripped my sister and me as a child.

Read the full article here.

Bookshelf: The View from Lazy Point

The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World – Carl Safina

The View from Lazy Point
The View from Lazy Point

The Carl Safina we (I) know and love – brilliant, lyrical, and wide ranging – returns with this book after his angry eulogy for the Gulf of Mexico (A Sea in Flames) after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This book is a return to the style of his other titles, which you should read as a matter of urgency: Song for the Blue OceanVoyage of the Turtle, and Eye of the AlbatrossIf you had to choose one author to be your guide to everything that’s wrong with, and everything that’s hopeful about our blue planet, Carl Safina would be that writer.

Safina won the 2012 Orion Book Award for The View from Lazy Point, but not everyone loves his sometimes wordy style (channeling great American nature writers such as Henry David Thoreau), so he may be an acquired taste. If you like a bit of literature mixed in with your science, I think you’ll love Safina’s writing. At intervals he allows outrage or anger to break through into his reverie; an encounter with duck hunters near his home, for example, left me with my heart pounding.

Lazy Point is a promontory at the end of Long Island Sound, not that far from New York city. Just looking at the area on the map makes me want to go there – it’s in an area frequented by vast numbers of migratory birds and abundant fish species, with an intriguingly convoluted coastline. Safina owns a cottage at Lazy Point, and The View from Lazy Point is structured around the seasonal changes he is able to observe from this spot. The daily walks he takes on the beach with his dog reveal the changing landscape and its inhabitants as the year passes.

Safina is a fisherman, and mounts an impassioned (and relatively convincing) defence of the activity. He also admits that he struggles with it, which I found slightly reassuring. He has given up shark fishing (at least, he doesn’t keep the sharks he catches any more). I’ve struggled with his fishing narratives before; fortunately in this book he’s more concerned with food than sport.

During the course of the year, Safina also travels – to Palau, Alaska, Svalbard, Belize – seeking first hand the effects of climate change and pollution on the marine environment and the people who depend on it. He sees ice melting and coral reefs bleached and overgrown with algae. I didn’t realise the extent to which coastal communities (mostly on islands) are already having their lands inundated by rising sea levels, crops destroyed and homes flooded. The problems and challenges identified in this book are massive in scope, and probably the most important (self-created) threats humanity has ever had to contend with.

After all, only in the last few decades have we understood anything, really, about how the world actually works. … Consequently most of civilization remains uninformed about the two great realities of our existence: all life is family, and the world is finite. … What I’m saying, basically, is that in very consequential ways, our modes of conduct are so out of sync with reality that they’re essentially irrational.

His call to action is justified. You can read an interview with Safina here, and other reviews of this book at the LA Times and New York Times.

You can get a copy of the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise here or here. I think you should read it.

Article: Wired on ocean wave height

An article on Wired.com describes how the European Space Agency uses satellites to measure wave heights in the North Sea, where freak waves can damage wind farms, oil rigs, and ships. Mariners have spoken about giant, rogue waves for hundreds of years, but it’s only with the advent of automated means of measuring wave heights that the existence of such waves has been confirmed. The story of the Draupner wave, believed to be the first rogue wave that was actually measured (in 1995), illustrates just how recently we’ve been able to do this sort of thing.

Here’s a video explaining how satellites take their measurements and why it’s important:

Read the article here.

Video (TED): Carl Safina on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

I’m not sure whether this TED talk came before or after author and naturalist Carl Safina’s angry book – A Sea in Flames – about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but the two can certainly be considered in tandem. His outrage is palpable.

Series: Underwater Universe

Underwater Universe
Underwater Universe

The four episodes of this History Channel series cover waves, tides and currents, predators, and pressure – all powerful features of the ocean that can be sensationalised (some more easily than others) and presented for shock value and as imminent threats to human life. Full advantage is taken of this fact.

This very American offering doesn’t boast the measured, mellifluous tones of Benedict Cumberbatch or Steve Toussaint as narrator, but the line-up of (mostly in-studio) guest narrators is quite impressive. Bruce Parker (The Power of the Sea), Susan Casey (The Devil’s Teeth and The Wave), David Gallo (scientist presenter of the TED Talk I mentioned here), Scott Cassell (student of the Humboldt squid), Richard Ellis (writer of a number of ocean history, art and science books), and Neil Hammerschlag (shark scientist) were familiar to me, as was big wave surfer Ken Bradshaw, from this article. The strange, uncomfortable way in which the studio narrators were filmed, with silent close ups interspersed with talking, was very annoying and must have been incredibly embarrassing to shoot. Or perhaps the cameraman took the footage when the narrators didn’t realise they were being filmed.

Unlike BBC documentaries, which tend to rely purely on incredible photography and fluent narrative to convey information, the History Channel favours a CGI-heavy approach that we encountered in Treasure Quest, Deep Sea Salvage, and also in the National Geographic Shark Men series. For the subject matter of this series – particularly the sections on waves, tides and currents – it was very appropriate and informative. The first episode, devoted to tsunamis, rogue waves and “monster waves”, made good use of CGI to illustrate the concepts as they were explained. The series was produced shortly before the Japanese tsunami of 2011 (there is a hastily tacked on “thoughts and prayers” disclaimer) and features interviews with a survivor of a tsunami in Samoa. I am fascinated by rogue waves – the whole episode could have been devoted to them but they don’t make for good television – we only have indirect evidence of their existence. Also, I could have done with more footage of giant ships battling storms, but that’s what youtube is for…

The least interesting and most irritating episode was the one devoted to the ocean’s top predators, which suggested that orcas are a serious threat to humans. As evidence, the cases of captive killer whales drowning and injuring their trainers at marine theme parks were cited. No mention was made of the psychosis that these whales suffer from as a result of confinement in a small, barren, completely unnatural environment. An incident in which orcas inexplicably rammed and sank a yacht in the Pacific Ocean is also described and re-enacted. Whether the orcas did what they did because they wanted to kill the people on board is highly debatable. There is also a half-hearted attempt to paint whales as potentially vicious killers, recounting incidents when sperm whales rammed whaling boats in the 19th century. More power to the sperm whales, I say.

The other dangerous predators were (predictably) white sharks, Humboldt squid, saltwater crocodiles and Australian box jellyfish. There was a small environmental message at the end of this episode, mentioning that squid will probably end up the top predators in our oceans if current trends – fishing out large predatory fish and global warming in particular – continue.

The third episode, on the immense pressures that objects in the deep ocean are subjected to, was very interesting to Tony and me as divers. A confusing interview with a diver whose brother got DCS on a wreck dive leaves (I suspect) much out. Were they even qualified divers? Why was he surprised that his brother felt unwell and confused as to the cause after he popped to the surface from 30 metres after a 30 minute dive?

The bulk of the third episode, however, recounts a 1981 experiment called Atlantis III in which three volunteers were taken in a saturation system to a simulated depth of 686 metres while breathing Trimix 10 (70% helium, 20% nitrogen and 10% oxygen). It took 31 days for them to decompress. The chief of the experiment, Peter Bennett, was the founder and former CEO of DAN. There’s a more information about the project here – worth a read (download the pdf slowly), and a briefer account here.

The series concludes with an episode on tides and currents, including rip currents. The massive tidal range of Morecambe Bay in the United Kingdom,  is discussed at length. At low tide, up to 300 square kilometres of mudflats is exposed, and flooded again when the tide comes in. The guides who escort people out onto the mudflats when the tide is out seem like charming individuals – it is recommended not to wander around at low tide without local guidance. In 2004, the rising tide trapped and drowned 23 Chinese immigrants who were working the cockle beds – with such a large expanse of land to cover, the rising tide comes in at great speed. There is also a harrowing re-enactment of a father and his two sons getting washed out to sea in a rip current in Kauai that should make you think twice about swimming at beaches with warning signs on them.

You can get the DVDs here if you’re in South Africa. Foreigners, go here or here.

Bookshelf: A Sea in Flames

A Sea in Flames: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Blowout – Carl Safina

A Sea in Flames
A Sea in Flames

The memory of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is fairly fresh, as it’s been exactly two years since the rig exploded. Eleven men were killed, and unimaginable quantities of crude oil leaked out into the fertile fishing and tourist area where the rig was drilling. The rig was drilling in water 1.5 kilometres deep, and during the course of exploratory drilling, had made contact with deposits of natural gas and oil at a depth of over 6 kilometres under the sea floor. When a pressure test (basically to establish whether the well had been sealed properly) failed, oil and gas shot out of the well at incredible volumes and pressure. It took four months for BP (the rig’s owners) and Transocean (the rig’s operator) to stop the oil gushing out of the well.

Carl Safina has written three other books – Song for the Blue Ocean, Voyage of the Turtle, and Eye of the Albatross – establishing himself as a lyrical, sensitive author with a deep love for the creatures he writes about. This book is a radical departure from that writing style. It was penned swiftly, while the crisis was unfolding. Safina seethes with rage, drips sarcasm, and does not bother to hide his contempt for BP, the coastguard, and the US government’s handling of the spill. BP in particular receives frequent tongue lashings, displaying astonishing ineptitude, dishonesty and even contempt for the ecological and human tragedy that the spill unleashed. BP chief Tony Hayward eventually stepped aside, but not before embarrassing himself and enraging both the horrified public and the US government. BP’s report on the disaster can be found here, along with some very sanitised and bright  (and digitally manipulated) images and videos. This clip from the US Coastguard shows the immensity of the fire that ignited when the rig exploded (it went out two days later, when the rig sank).

There are ample other sources which describe the oil spill and its effects, the timeline of the spill, and the efforts made to stop the flow of oil. I will mention, however, what particularly struck me in reading this book.

First, it’s abundantly clear that while oil drilling and prospecting technology has progressed at an incredible rate over the last 30 years, cleanup and recovery equipment has not changed at all since 1970. Driven by the diminishing availability of oil reserves that are actually easily accessible, drilling has moved into the deep ocean and is a task of immense complexity and technological sophistication. As Safina observes, oil companies receive great rewards for finding and extracting new oil deposits. The risks, however, are almost entirely borne by the public and the environment, both of which suffer far greater losses when a spill occurs than the oil companies do.

Massive volumes of toxic chemical dispersants were sprayed onto the slick and injected into the plumes of oil under the ocean surface – the effects of these is unknown and has not been studied. The remainder of the relief effort involved floating booms (totally ineffective in the presence of waves or wind chop) as physical barriers, and manual cleanups of beaches and marshes. Disaster management plans for the Gulf of Mexico – a tropical environment inhabited by whale sharks, dolphins, turtles and shrimp – made mention of walrus and other creatures found only in Alaska. A lot of copy and paste, and very little thought, went into these plans.

Safina draws heavily (perhaps too heavily – this is very disappointing) on news reports of the spill, including much speculation about its extent and likely effects by journalists and media spokespeople. He describes the frustration and depression experienced by the inhabitants of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and the other areas affected by the spill, and the crushing uncertainty of whether the oil would wash up or pollute a given area. Ultimately most of the estimates of the spill’s effects were shown to be overwrought and overly pessimistic. Oil eating bacteria that occur naturally in the Gulf of Mexico (which is subject to natural oil seepage at the rate of a few thousand barrels per day – it’s an oil rich area with cracks in the seafloor that constantly admit tiny quantities of oil into the ocean) were able to consume part of the oil. Some of it evaporated naturally. Some of it was dispersed into droplets so small as to be invisible to the naked eye when mixed with seawater. A tiny amount was collected from the gushing well by vessels on the surface.

Much oil, however, was washed up on beaches, deposited on the seafloor or in marshes, and remains suspended in the water of the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of sea birds, and hundreds of turtles and dolphins were oiled. Long-lived, slow growing creatures such as turtles, dolphins, and tuna will only show the effects that the spill has had on their populations in a decade or more’s time. Concerns that entire planktonic life cycle stages of creatures such as bluefin tuna were wiped out by the dispersant chemicals and low oxygen concentrations (caused by the growth of oil eating bacteria) will only be tested in years to come when the absence or diminution of a generation of tuna can be measured. Fish stocks in the gulf rebounded during the months in which the fishing grounds were closed, but fishermen are now reporting diminished catches, sickly and dying crabs, and stillborn dolphin calves as a matter of course. The oyster farming industry in the area has been all but wiped out. Consumer confidence in seafood from the affected area plummeted amid fears that fish and shellfish would be toxic or contaminated by oil and dispersant chemicals. Confidence has not recovered, and nor has tourism to the region.

While it seems that the worst case scenarios touted by the press during the spill were exaggerated (this opinion piece is an excellent analysis of the uncomfortable collision between scientists and the media), estimates of the spill’s extent proved to be very accurate. BP’s estimates of the rate of flow from the well were outright lies from the beginning, but mathematical models based on current, wind, and the area of ocean fouled by the oil over a given time period provided flow estimates that were later demonstrated to be spot on.

Safina’s primary conclusion is that we need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, starting immediately. Instead of pouring huge amounts of money into researching technology to reach ever more remote oil deposits, we should be channeling funds into clean alternative energy sources. He points out how we have lost any sense of the difference between price, cost and value (he writes a bit about the distinction here). We fail to recognise the value of the service provided by the world’s forests and oceans in absorbing carbon dioxide, for example, because they do not cost us anything in order to benefit from them. Thinking about the earth’s resources in these terms will enable us to be less cavalier about squandering the benefits they supply.

Safina also executes something of an about turn in his opinion of the US Coastguard’s handling of the spill. At various points as the disaster unfolded, it appeared that the coastguard was firmly in the pocket of BP, and was deferring to the criminal party in the management of the crime scene. A meeting with retired Admiral Thad Allen leads Safina to a more nuanced understanding of the events he witnessed, and his opinion of Allen’s handling of the catastrophe is much improved.

This book was written quickly, in the heat of emotion, and it’s very obvious. Even the title is somewhat overwrought, and I’m dubious about the merit of writing the entire book under a misconception that was only corrected at the eleventh hour by meeting with Admiral Allen. While Safina’s book provides an on the ground picture of what it was like to live among the communities that experienced the full effects of the spill, it isn’t easy to follow the chronology of the spill. He doesn’t go into much detail about what BP tried in order to stem the flow of oil (that information was, in any case, withheld from the public for the most part) and is not really concerned with a linear history of the spill. There is room for a reasoned, more clinical account of the spill and its effects, especially after enough time has passed to fully understand what those effects might be.

Some more opinions on the book can be found here and here. This article is a good read concerning the extent of the recovery in the region of the spill. Finally, this article describes the dramatically reduced catches of seafood in the Gulf region, and the horrible mutations and lesions that are being found in many of the species there.

You can purchase the book here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not. If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here.

Bookshelf: Deep Driller

Deep Driller – Henry F. Merritt

Deep Driller
Deep Driller

I started reading this book by accident – it’s actually a novel, which I didn’t realise, and I’m very picky about my fiction reading. The author has had a long career in oil exploration around the world, and this is his first effort.

The book concerns (and is set on) a giant drilling platform in the North Sea off Scotland, called Deep Driller. A terrorist plot by a group of Scottish separatists threatens the rig with destruction. As the action takes place in the 1970’s, the crew on board must rely on helicopter couriers, telex and radio to communicate with the mainland. A threatening storm complicates matters further.

For a book of this length (about 150 pages) the cast of characters is large, and I found it hard to keep track of who each of them was as a result of jerky transitions from one viewpoint to another. Merritt builds up the tension quite nicely, but the book ends very suddenly and left me feeling that much more could have been done with the original plot idea. Hammond Innes would have a field day developing the story line a bit more and for several hundred more pages. Parts of the dialogue were tiresome to read as the author insists on reproducing in print the accent of every multinational crew member.

Despite what I felt were flaws in pacing and plot development, the insights I received into the oil exploration business were intriguing. I did enjoy the descriptions of life on board the drilling platform – something the author is very familiar with and which has fascinated me since I was a child. It is in these sections, describing the process of drilling a well, or the layout of the drilling platform, that Merritt really comes into his own. I hope that he makes future efforts to write on these subjects, as there is an air of mystery surrounding this most lucrative and essential economic activity that has ties to geology, oceanography, and a host of other specialist areas. This book also equipped me to understand the Deepwater Horizon oil spill a lot better from a technical point of view.

Buy the book here if you are in South Africa and here if you’re not. If you want to read it on your Kindle, go here.

Bookshelf: Atlas of Oceans

Atlas of Oceans – John Farndon

Atlas of Oceans
Atlas of Oceans

I confess that I was not totally enamoured of this book when I started reading it. It seemed overly simplistic, but by the time I finished it I realised that its author had neatly summarised both the wonder and variety of the world’s oceans, and the threats facing them from human activity.

Boasting a foreword by Carl Safina, whose most well-known book is Song for the Blue Ocean, the book is written by John Farndon, a prolific children’s author, and published by Yale University Press. Farndon is British, as is evidenced by his assertion, during a discussion of the warming effect that the Gulf Stream current has on the north Atlantic ocean, that Great Britain has a very pleasant climate. No one else – except perhaps an Inuit – would make such a claim.

Farndon’s credentials as a science writer for children make this volume a pleasure to read – he deals with wide ranging and fairly complex topics, but in a completely understandable way. The book is well illustrated with photographs (some – such as ones of a row of narwhal and a calving ice shelf, of dubious quality), diagrams and maps. The sections each cover two facing pages, so it’s quick to dip into and finish reading a section before bed (for example)!

Special sections focusing on particular habitats (such as coral reefs or the ice), wildlife (I was particularly charmed by the highly endangered vaquita) and issues (mainly related to conservation) are spread throughout the book. Farndon lays the groundwork for a basic understanding of our oceans by covering concepts such as ocean tides, currents and physical oceanography, and then moves on to specific sections on each of the world’s oceans. He also writes about the major seas, such as the ones in Europe and the South China Sea.

This isn’t a long or complex book – it’s under 250 pages long – but comes with a glossary, a list of endangered species (including their status of endangerment and scientific name), suggestions for further reading, and contact details for a long list of ocean conservation organisations. It’s the kind of book that I will dip into frequently – there are some useful photographs (one of the marks left on the seabed by bottom trawling fishing boats springs to mind) and maps (I liked the one showing the whole 2% of the world’s oceans that are in marine protected areas – MPAs) and excellent coverage of the overfishing problem facing us today. Also dealt with are oil spills, whaling, global warming, coral reef and ice shelf destruction due to warming of the oceans, dead zones that result from fertiliser runoff into the sea, and anything else you can think of that impacts the health of our oceans.

An edited extract from the book can be found here, along with a magnificent photo of a basking shark. I recommend it, and it’s suitable and accessible for anyone from a precocious ten year old and up. It’s the sort of book you could give to someone who doesn’t know much about or care particularly for ocean matters, and it would bring them right up to date (and probably make them care).

You can buy the book here if you are in South Africa, and here if you’re not.