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Reviews of the Snorkeller's Guide to the Coral Reef by Paddy Ryan

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I had the pleasure of reviewing Paddy Ryan’s first book, Fiji’s Natural Heritage which was published back in 1988. I remember being fascinated by the brilliant photography and easy writing style. Ryan’s latest contributions of the non-fiction library have stirred the emotions no less. The Ryan trademarks – wonderful photographs and readability – are prominent in two recently published books: The Snorkeller’s Guide to the Coral Reef and Wild at Heart: The South Island’s West Coast.

In The Snorkeller’s Guide Ryan has used the talents of Peter Atkinson, one of the world’s top underwater photographers, to supplement his own efforts. The end result features 215 magnificent full-colour photographs. Most of these depict life on the coral reefs of the Red Sea and Indo-Pacific region, but some are dedicated to snorkelling itself.

It is the author’s wish that this book will encourage readers to give snorkelling a try. This relatively inexpensive and undemanding activity can lead to a passionate interest n the world beneath the waves and Ryan hopes, a desire to protect it. To this end he introduces the reader, step by step, to the dos and don’ts of snorkelling, before leading off on a coral reef tour.

Each major group of reef life form is covered, e.g. the corals themselves, mollusks, reptiles, crustaceans, fish etc. Along with the outstanding photography the text serves as an ideal introduction to this amazing world few of us ever have the opportunity to see at first hand.

The fact that this book was an international best seller (31,000 copies pre-sold) suggests that many people other than myself find Paddy Ryan’s works worth a read.

The Daily Telegraph, 3 August 1994

This book is pretty as a picture, and the 200 color photos inside justify the rather steep price for such a short book.

The author’s intent is to get people off the beach and into the water to enjoy the wonders under the surface. Novices will get a huge boost from the section on getting started, which walks beginners through the crucial step of selecting appropriate gear to begin and underwater adventure. It then tells them what to do once they actually immerse themselves in the ocean.

The book also contains a wealth of valuable information about dangerous sea creatures and what to do if you encounter them. Luckily Ryan saves that chapter for last so readers with lively imaginations won’t be dissuaded from entering the ocean.

He also provides tips that might not be so obvious to everyone, such as warning not to snorkel next to sewer outfalls.

Looking at the book’s gorgeous photos of fantastic coral formations and exotic sea creatures will be enough to lure anyone into the water with a mask and snorkel. But your chances of seeing these incredible sights in Hawaii’s ocean are slim.

Most of the photos were taken in Australia, Fiji, Malaysia and other parts of the Indo-pacific basin that fertile cradle of ocean life whose creatures mostly can’t make the long deep-water journey to Hawaii. Fortunately Bruce Carlson of the Waikiki Aquarium provided photos of Hawaii’s unique flora and fauna to give snorkeler’s in Hawaii a clue about what they are looking at through their face mask.

The text clearly and engagingly explains the complex relationships that exist on a coral reef, and describes the roles each plant and animal species plays in maintaining that ecosystem’s health. It also tells how humans can avoid disrupting that balance.

While not specific to Hawaii, this guide book will be valuable to ocean lovers anywhere they choose to snorkel in a coral reef environment.

Honolulu Star-Bulletin 23 July, 1994

Paddy Ryan’s widely acclaimed first book Fiji’s Natural Heritage published in 1988, was created out of Paddy’s love for Fiji. Once it had been completed it struck paddy that although it was hard work putting together a book, if he could combine it with snorkelling and diving, the work would be eminently satisfying.

Looking at similar publications he realised there was gap in the market and so The Snorkeller’s Guide to the Coral Reef was born. All in all the book has been 10 years in the making. These days coral reefs are threatened by crown-of-thorns starfish and the phenomenon of coral bleaching. Paddy believes in making a concerted effort to protect the coral reefs and a strong environmental message echoes throughout the book. Snorkelling is an environmentally friendly way of enjoying the reefs.

Paddy collaborated on the book with photographer Peter Atkinson. Peter owns the yacht Aisla and is fortunate enough to spend most of his time diving and taking photographs. This partnership began when Peter heard a radio interview about Paddy’s upcoming book. Peter contacted the publisher offering his services. Photographs were sent to Exile Publishing and Paddy was delighted with them. Some were chosen and when Peter understood what was still needed he then shot “the gaps”. Peter’s photographs are superb and “it wouldn’t be half the book it is now without Peter’s contribution”.

Paddy is a zoologist with a doctorate from Canterbury University. As a child he spent four years in Fiji. “This was the start of a love affair with Fiji. I learned to snorkel at the age of eight and spent most weekends skindiving.” The reef left an indelible impression on Paddy but he was not to return until 17 years later as a lecturer at the University of the South Pacific. On his return to New Zealand Paddy worked as an environmental planner for the West Coast Regional Council until he was made redundant. At the time he was devastated but now he confesses that “it was the best thing ever to happen to me”. It has given him the time to follow his love of writing, photography and travel.

Dive Log, August 1994.

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