10 June 2005

Book Review: Currents of Contrast - Life in Southern Africa's Two Oceans

THE ocean currents peculiar to southern Africa create four distinct marine provinces with richly varied habitats -- the cool temperate west coast of the Benguela region, and the warm temperate south coast, subtropical east coast and tropical east coast of the Agulhas-Mozambique region.

These waters create what authors Thomas Peschak and Claudio Velasquez Rojas describe in CURRENTS OF CONTRAST -- LIFE IN SOUTHERN AFRICA'S TWO OCEANS (Struik, R275) as the world's third-hottest biodiversity hotspots, with more than 18625 described plants, 70000 species of invertebrates and more than 11100 marine organisms, including 2150 species of fish -- more than 1000 of them found at Kosi Bay.

This superbly illustrated natural history kicks off with how and why the currents affect the region, and describes briefly the history of human habitation, exploitation, and conservation.

The section on the Benguela contains some fascinating insights into the lives of sharks. There is a section on "fingerprinting" great whites (though "finprinting" would be a more accurate term, as they are identified by the shape, pigmentation and serration of their dorsal fins) and another on False Bay's flying sharks.

Despite the common perception of the great white, described by one newspaper writer as "a 4000-pound ocean predator with a mouthful of dagger-like teeth and a nasty habit of occasionally snacking on humans", SA was in 1991 the first country to give protection to the great white.

An industry has sprung up around them, with at least 11 companies offering cage diving. Some days Jaws-spotting tourists outnumber sharks 200 to 1.

Africa's only kelp forests -- home to sea urchins, perlemoen and filter feeders including sea cucumbers, sponges and sea squirts -- are covered, as are the coral reefs biochemists are hoping will yield antitumour and antiviral agents. Less obvious creatures also feature -- seahorses, warrior limpets, the immensely diverse inhabitants of the submarine canyons off Sodwana, where coelacanths have been seen -- alongside dolphins and whales.

There is no way Peschak and Velasquez Rojas could have packed in every life form into this coffee table book. The two marine biologists have instead focused on findings of the past 25 years, and presented photographs so tempting you will dig out your snorkel and head for the beach. This is a book for marine junkies.

Even if you think you have seen it all on television documentaries, there are interesting surprises here, like the Great Sea Urchin Mystery. No, all will not be revealed here -- find the book and read it for yourself!

Source: www.allafrica.com


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