Non-divers remain nonplussed when you try to explain the excitement of finding a frogfish or a leaf-fish during a dive, but once you get tuned in to seeing such marvellous examples of marine life, you seem to see them everywhere.
Tuning-in is what New Hollands coffee-table volume The Underwater Explorer, sub-titled Secrets of a Blue Universe, is all about. A joint effort by a mother and daughter, their excellent macro photographs enrich the pages and will show you what a cockatoo waspfish or a ghost pipefish looks like before they explain how to go about seeing it.
A profusely populated reef is visually overwhelming. Divers must learn to concentrate on individual species, is their message.
Hawkfish, wire coral shrimps, merlets scorpionfish, sabre-toothed blennies, crocodile fish, allied cowries, decorator crabs, hingebeak shrimps, depressed crabs, translucent gobies, imperial shrimps, peppermint seacucumbers, eggshell anenome shrimps, anglerfish, peacock flounders and endless nudibranchs - just a few of the species that the authors say divers regularly swim past, oblivious of their presence. No wonder the crabs are depressed!
The book tells you where to look and what to look for. One chapter is devoted to life to be found on featherstars, another to cellapods, those masters of disguise. Then there are the seastars, assorted crustaceans and the magnificently bedecked worms of the sea.
Finally comes a chapter devoted to mankind and the environment. I found this a little out-of-step with what is otherwise a very interesting and practical book. It is as if the authors dropped in something extra in the name of political correctness.
Some of the picture-captions sit uncomfortably with the situation illustrated and fail to ring true: Danja on the point of releasing a (inflated) porcupine pufferfish just rescued from some novice divers who were unaware of its distress is one that comes to mind.
Putting aside these last few pages, I found the content of the book intriguing. If more divers took an interest in such matters perhaps we would hear less of the question: What was it before you trod on it

The Underwater Explorer by Anne-marie and Danja Koehler, New Holland 0171 724 7773. Hardback£17.99.

Divernet

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