Barry Oliver dips into a new book ded­i­cated to the dwellers of the deep

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Holidays Afloat -

ALEX Mus­tard ap­par­ently prac­tises ‘‘ revo­lu­tion­ary nat­u­ral-light fil­ter un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy’’. What­ever that is, the re­sults are im­pres­sive judg­ing from Reef­sRe­vealed (ABC Books, $59.95), his cof­fee-ta­ble col­lec­tion of images from a strange, usu­ally hid­den world.

His colour­ful ‘‘ won­der­land of char­ac­ters’’ is a sight to be­hold but reefs seem to be alive with pos­si­bil­i­ties for pho­tog­ra­phers who aren’t afraid of get­ting their feet wet, though I’m sure a lot of divers would pass many of Mus­tard’s sub­jects, un­aware they were even there.

Our snap­per, an award-win­ning marine bi­ol­o­gist, mostly goes well be­yond the usual wav­ing coral or gi­ant wrasse close-up, though the Nemo-like clown­fish peep­ing from a sea of ten­ta­cles on the cover is a bit of a dis­ap­point­ment.

There are far bet­ter shots inside: the weird shoal of ghost pipefish, the won­der­fully named Span­ish dancer nudi­branch, the sea whip goby with its gog­gle eyes, the Cole­man shrimps, which wouldn’t look out of place in a sci-fi movie, and the mimic oc­to­pus, which only came to the at­ten­tion of sci­en­tists in 2005.

Es­ti­mates of the num­ber of species liv­ing on coral reefs vary wildly, from 618,000 to 10 mil­lion, Mus­tard says, with more still be­ing found. (The walk­ing shark, on p124, was not dis­cov­ered un­til 2006 and as yet has no sci­en­tific name. The au­thor says that in all the time he spent pho­tograph­ing them, off In­done­sia, he never saw one swim.)

De­spite global warm­ing and other con­cerns, Mus­tard re­mains cau­tiously op­ti­mistic on the fu­ture of coral reefs: they may be frag­ile on a short timescale but over longer pe­ri­ods they are ge­o­log­i­cally ro­bust, he says. Even so, hu­man ac­tions re­main the most se­ri­ous threat to this re­mark­able ecosys­tem’’.

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