Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Diving for stories in the beckoning sea
Massey University Press
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
It seems that it is only in the last fifty years that we have taken a new approach to the ocean and our fisheries. Only a few years ago the seas were regarded as the source of endless bounty but now we realise that there needs to be more careful management and in many cases, preservation of our fisheries and endangered species.
This move to understanding the blue planet has been championed by individuals such as Sir David Attenborough but there are also many New Zealanders such as Kennedy Warne who are bringing a new understanding to the oceans both here and internationally.
Warne is probably best known in New Zealand as the co-founder and editor of NZ Geographic magazine for which he has written for over thirty years.
Internationally he is widely known for his work for National Geographic having been commissioned to write articles about his experiences diving in locations all around the world.
In his new book “Soundings” he revisits his journeys and assignments internationally and locally linking these adventures to his own life in a family which has had strong links to the sea for many generations. With all these encounters he also connects with the social, political, economic and environmental issues around the sea and it’s populations.
He visits locations in Africa, America, Canada, the Middle East, Asia, Australia and New Zealand encountering an amazing range of habitats and species.
His grandfather Leon Warne was much involved with the big game fishing boom of the 1920s having been involved with Zane Grey, the American writer and angler who published his adventures in Tales of the Angler’s Eldorado, New Zealand. With this book he did more to promote New Zealand big-game fishing than any other person.
The accounts of his assignments are informative and entertaining, sometimes they read like adventure stories while at other times more like travelogues.
He visits places that very few of us will get to experience such as The Okavango Delta. a vast inland river delta in northern Botswana which flood seasonally, becoming a lush animal habitat. Here he travels by dugout canoes to find and encounter hippos, and crocodiles. He even comes within arm’s length of a crocodile swimming underwater at night with just a torch to guide him. Here he finds the fishing spider which sits on lily pads anchored by two of its legs, using the other six to catch small fish.
He also goes to The Magdalen Islands, a small archipelago in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence at the time of the seal hunt. This provides the opportunity for a history of the harp seal industry and the impact of bans in reducing the wholesale slaughter of the whitecoat pups. He writes of the involvement of local Inuit, fishermen and scientists and the need to balance the economic and ecological aspects of the trade. As well as the hunting impacts on the seal population he notes that in 1981 because of sea warming the ice pack which normally carries the seals for the start of their lives completely broke up and all the young seals died.
In the Philippines he observes the tourism encounter with the whale shark where tourists hang off the sides of outriggers to take selfies of themselves and the sharks which turn up each day because they are fed by the local fishermen to create a feeding frenzy. It’s a much easier occupation than catching fish and has created a new industry for the local village. But, Warne points out this is changing the dietary and migratory habits of the fish which could well have dire consequences in the future.
He links this to his growing love and respect for sharks and our changing attitudes to them which have changed over the past few years from an endemic fear of the shark to an appreciation and understanding of their place in the ecosystem and the need to see the connections between humans and nature.
His descriptions are vivid, entertaining and instructive. With all these assignments he provides histories of the area, descriptions of the the local fisheries and the many threats to the ecosystems. He also speaks with experts in a variety of specialist areas who help bring an understanding to the complex underwater world.
His descriptions of his encounters can be poetic at times as when he writes about Deep Water Cove, in the Bay of Islands
“In 2010, dismayed by the disappearance of marine life, two of the local hapū placed a traditional rāhui — a temporary fishing closure — on Deep Water Cove and the wider Maunganui Bay. Fishing was banned until stocks recovered. The rāhui has stayed in place, renewed every two years,
The rāhui has revitalised the reef. White Reef should now be called Golden Reef, because it is covered in the waving gold, mustard and brown blades of a variety of kelps and other seaweeds. Through the underwater forest swim demoiselles, scarlet pigfish, black angelfish, striped red moki, snapper, eagle rays and pigment-daubed Sandagers wrasse, patterned like a Kandinsky painting. Above the forest float dozens of comb jellyfish, translucent oval animals that show flecks of jewelled colour when they catch the sunlight. I watch four leatherjackets, a type of triggerfish, peck at one jellyfish, reducing the frail creature to strands of jelly. Yellow-tailed kingfish patrol the perimeter, occasionally darting into the kelp to hunt bait fish.”
Kennedy Warne, co-founder of New Zealand Geographic magazine and contributor to National Geographic, often writes about the sea, including the book Let Them Eat Shrimp: The Tragic Disappearance of the Rainforests of the Sea. His most recent books, however, are land-based: Tuhoe: Portrait of a Nation and View From the Road, a collaboration with photographer Arno Gasteiger. He has also produced two children’s books with Northland illustrator Heather Hunt: Cuckoo and the Warbler and It’s My Egg (and you can’t have it!). Once a fortnight Warne speaks about the outdoors, nature and adventure on RNZ’s morning programme, Nine to Noon, in a slot entitled ‘Off the Beaten Track’.