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Secrets of the Coral Reefs: Exploring the Underwater Wonders    by Rick Sammon order for
Secrets of the Coral Reefs
by Rick Sammon
Order:  USA  Can
Voyageur Press, 2004 (1995)
Hardcover, Softcover
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

At this time of year, with winter looming over those of us in the northern hemisphere, the prospect of underwater exploration in tropical seas is particularly enticing, and the rainbow-hued photographs in Secrets of the Coral Reefs bring the undersea world vibrantly before our eyes. The author, Rick Sammon, is president of CEDAM ('Conservation, Education, Diving, Archeology, and Museums') International. Forewords by Lloyd Bridges and Jim Fowler warn that it's 'the eleventh hour' with reefs around the world in dramatic decline. They ask us to do more than look at the pretty pictures here - but rather to learn about the delicate ecosystems that they portray and support efforts to sustain 'a healthy marine ecosystem'. At the back of the book is a list of organizations that offer 'conservation-oriented scuba diving expeditions' which help preserve the reefs.

Sammon invites us on a tour of 'coral cities' - reefs and coral-encrusted shipwrecks - that show the 'rhythm of the reef' as it changes 'from the first light of dawn to the mysteries of the midnight sea.' He explains the infrastructure of coral reefs, how they propagate, their inhabitants, and how different reef types form. He leads us through changes in the reefscape through the day, and explains photography issues, including 'If you snooze, you lose.' The armchair tour includes sunrise on the Ras Muhammad Reef, Red Sea, Egypt (host of over a thousand species of tropical fish); midday at Truk Lagoon, Micronesia (where coral grows on shipwrecks); twilight at Cocos Island, Costa Rica (host to some of the largest seahorses in the world); and midnight at Bonaire, The Netherlands Antilles (photos here are a symphony in orange).

Sammon concludes with a plea for the 'Future of the Coral Reef'. He relates damage done by dynamite fishing, commercial fishing with 'long lines'; blasting coral for building materials; and commercial collection of tropical fish. But he also speaks of effective conservation efforts, and explains what individual divers can do to avoid harming the delicate ecosystem. I was lucky enough to scuba dive in the 70s off Great Keppel Island on the Australian Great Barrier Reef. It struck me then that underwater is the one place where we can find a truly alien environment on this planet, yet one that's interlinked with our own well-being in subtle ways. Read Secrets of the Coral Reefs to learn about these wondrously strange regions and what we can do to help conserve them for our children and theirs.

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