THE ENCHANTED BRAID by Osha Gray Davidson


Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef
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This natural history of coral reefs and our relationship to them delivers a measured but damning indictment of human environmental folly. Ten percent of the planet’s reefs are degraded beyond recovery; another 30 percent will likely decline over the next two decades. Davidson, a freelance writer with broad interests (The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South, 1996; Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control, 1993), notes coral reefs’ importance as essential strands in “the enchanted braid” of our global ecosystem. Reefs—“the rainforests of the ocean”—take up a fraction of the sea but host a quarter of all marine species. They also boast the ocean’s most stunning combination of beauty and abundance. Taking more poetic license than the scientists he interviews, Davidson describes the sensory feast he observed firsthand diving on the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and snorkeling during his days as a beach bum in the Florida Keys. Davidson’s knack for the picturesque analogy serves him well. Limning the intricacy of their complex ecosystems, he characterizes coral reefs as “the Russian novels of the sea world, full of passion and avarice, convoluted and interweaving story lines, and colorful characters by the dozens.” From the biological ABCs of coral polyps and reef formation, he moves on to address the global factors threatening reefs as never before. A depressing panoply of man-made agents contributes to the ongoing decline: blast fishing (in which crude bombs are used to stun fish), cyanide poisoning (which captures exotic reef fish live for sale to affluent diners in China), along with more prosaic but ultimately more damaging factors like untreated sewage, agricultural chemicals, and increased sedimentation from logging and development. Davidson’s accessible, heartfelt portrait of man’s deleterious effect on the sea is a sobering examination of the devilishly complex corner humanity is painting itself into. (8 pages color photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-471-17727-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998


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