Marine biologist Norton (Stars Beneath the Sea, 2000, etc.) chronicles his enviable peripatetic life.
He grew up in Britain, next to a sullen sea rimmed with coal dust. But underwater, there was gold. The first image he recalls is of a cormorant scooting to the surface, “a dark javelin in a cone of bubbles.” There was no looking back for Norton. Water would be his métier. The author here provides shrewd commentary about sponges, anemones, barnacles, sea cucumbers, puffins, limpets, water spiders, coral, sea snakes and kelp. That acuity might be taken for granted, given his reputation, but he also makes intelligent observations about the histories of the regions he visits, a diverse topography including Britain, Sweden, the Canary Islands, Egypt, Yemen, the Philippines and Ireland. He engagingly holds forth on continental drift, the Bermuda Triangle, the strange juju of shipwrecks, the eroticism of the sea world. But he also delivers an elbow to the windpipe regarding humans’ degradation of the oceans. Norton claims—and justifies—his air of authority from the fieldwork he has done. He is out there getting wet and dirty, living rough, gathering findings first hand. When he talks about changes in the seascape, readers know that he has seen the before and after. Norton would never suggest that the oceans are anything less than theaters of surprise and wonder, but he reminds us that they are not limitless and recommends some significant remedial behavior to help preserve them.
A chattily erudite account of the author’s personal pilgrimage.