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Soundings by Kennedy Warne



In Soundings, Kennedy Warne celebrates the infinite variety and spellbinding beauty of life in our oceans, which he has seen firsthand on many diving expeditions, and makes a plea for us to strengthen our connection to and take better care of our Blue Pacific.


In his first story, about a recent fishing trip with his 92-year-old father, he fondly remembers other fishing trips they did together. He credits his father, a keen fisherman, and his grandfather, a boat builder, for fostering his love of the sea, which propelled him towards marine studies.


Later, as a writer for National Geographic for 20 years, he had many opportunities to dive in locations around the world and connect with local people and environmental scientists.

In lyrical and seductive prose he takes us on magical underwater journeys to many exotic places. On diving in the Arabian Sea he writes:


The undersea world was drenched in the sumptuous hues of a sultan’s palace. Long, waving indigo arms of soft corals mixed with pomegranate fronds of feather stars. Speckled-grey moray eels, whose gaping mouths revealed a startling burst of custard yellow, leered out of crevices, while butterflyfish flitted past in tangerine flashes. Crevices bristled with black urchins; I swam too close to one and paid for my carelessness with an ankleful of spines as sharp as acupuncture needles.


But in these Arabian seas, unsustainable fishing, incessant seabed dredging and massive coastal modification are crippling the marine system. One of the groups at greatest risk are sharks. He was horrified by the mountain of shark carcasses that arrive nightly in the Deira fish market in Dubai. Marine turtles, which have existed on the planet for 200 million years, are also greatly at risk; their light is flickering out.


Why would anyone in their right mind accept an invitation from National Geographic to dive in ‘cold, very rough shark-infested waters’ in South Africa? Kennedy Warne did, and on this journey, also encountered an underwater environment unparalleled in its diversity and abundance.


And it would seem sheer madness to go diving in the Okavango Delta in Botswana where crocodile, aggressive and calculating predators live. And not only crocodiles! The locals say that hippopotamuses cause more deaths and injuries than those aggressive and calculating predators. Kingsley viewed it as an essential part of his work. He survived to tell the tale.


Almost all of his underwater explorations were in salt water. Gansbay (Goose Bay) in South Africa was the exception. He was there as part of his fieldwork for National Geographic. Here shark-watching boats operated the whole year round, and hand feeding of sharks was a popular tourist industry. But how might this be affecting the sharks, and should this be happening? Kennedy Warne explores the reasons for and against.


He went on a diving assignment in Canada for National Geographic in the Gulf of St Lawrence. Here baby harp seals remained protected under Canadian Law, but the hunt for older pups was booming. He weighed up the pros and cons of a contentious issue, i.e. whether sealing, which provided a livelihood for Inuit hunters but which distressed animal rights advocates, should be seen as a legitimate use of a renewable resource or not.


Kennedy Warne also spent a month diving and travelling around the Pacific as National Geographic wanted him to report on the rising threat to reefs and let readers know that their future was in jeopardy. He dived in Danyon Bank, east of the island of Cebu, in the central Philippines and found himself in a wasteland of pulverised remains of a coral reef.


But on Apo island, a ‘No Take’ marine zone had been established in the 1980s. At first, many islanders were opposed, but the benefits proved to be twofold. As the density of the fish inside the reserve increased, individual fish spilled over its boundaries where they could be legally caught. Many tourists and sightseers also began to flock to the island, to see the wondrous creatures, and brought much-needed tourist dollars, which helped to alleviate the poverty of many locals.


This successful outcome led to many more ‘No Take’ marine reserves being established along the coast. However, as Kingsley points out, these are not sufficient for replenishing the ocean, in the same way that planting trees is necessary but not sufficient for reversing the earth’s warming climate.


In his last story, he is back home in New Zealand, in Deep Cove. When he was a teenager, it was as ecologically depleted as anywhere in the Bay of Islands. Then in 2010, dismayed by the disappearance of sea life, two of the local hapū placed a traditional rāhui in place, which has been renewed every two years. The results of this have been stunning. The sea life is abundant again there now, and it is one of the best places to snorkel in the Bay.


Kennedy Warne believes that we must all embrace the feeling of kinship and connection Māori and other indigenous people in other parts of the world have to the land if a turnaround is to be achieved in biodiversity decline, a climate in disarray, and an ecosystem teetering on collapse.


His book is much more than a thrilling adventure story. He has used his storytelling skills to great effect to convey important environmental messages.


Reviewer: Lyn Potter

Massey University Press

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