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Coral Reefs


Description automatically generatedA Natural History
Charles Sheppard
Princeton University Press
17 August 2021
Hardcover, 240 pages, 20.6 x2.3 x 25.6 cm,
ISBN-13 978-0691198682

Coral Reefs is an illustrated look at corals and the reefs they build around the world, as well as the causes and dire consequences of their rapid destruction. Corals are among the most varied lifeforms on earth. Bridging the space between plant and animal, these marine invertebrates serve as nurseries and homes to an abundance of fish, mollusc, crustacean, and echinoderm species which find refuge from predators within their complex shapes. They share symbiotic relationships with photosynthesizing algae, which provide corals with their nourishment. Each square centimetre of coral holds captive millions of single-celled algae.

This stunningly beautiful book profiles the astonishing diversity of the world's coral groups, ranging from mushroom corals and leather corals to button polyps, sea fans, anemones, and pulse corals. It describes key aspects of their natural history and explains why coral reefs are critical to the health of our oceans. Representative examples of corals have been selected to illustrate the broad range of species, and the book's informative commentary covers everything from identification to conservation.

There are chapters on reef fish and how the diverse species living on the reefs interact, making it an excellent resource for naturalists, divers, cruisers, and anyone who has been enthralled by seeing these remarkable ocean dwellers and colourful reef architects. It also covers the formation of different types of reef communities, atolls, islands, and limestone land structures.

The book covers the enormous list of threats that reefs face today including destructive fishing practices, sewage and nutrient runoff, diseases, predators, shoreline development, pollution, climate change, and more. It also covers how people are working to protect them and are assisting with artificial reef structures.

It even has a chapter on boat anchoring! A small pleasure craft can create a ‘halo’ of 30 feet (10m) with each drop of an anchor as the chain drags along the bottom with the sweep of the tides. The author makes the point that the destruction is most evident in sheltered harbours of holiday destinations where charter fleets have large numbers of rentals. There is an illustration showing how a mooring is much more environmentally sound than anchoring and a photo of where anchors have dragged across sea grass beds.

The book features more than 200 exquisite colour photos, including some rare and unusual species. I will never look at a coral reef in the same way again and will marvel even more at their beauty and complexity. I worry about the health of our reefs. The warming sea attacks the evolutionary bond between coral and algae, the main engine of the ecosystem’s existence.

Charles Sheppard is professor emeritus of life sciences at the University of Warwick. Consultant editor Russell Kelley is the author of the Indo Pacific Coral Finder and the Reef Finder. He is program director of the Coral Identification Capacity Building Program, which provides training in coral identification around the world.







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