Reef Life: An Underwater Memoir

reef life

Callum Roberts
Profile books, £16.99

This ‘underwater memoir’ takes readers on a fascinating journey from Robert’s first ever dive mapping unknown reefs in Saudi Arabia to his present career as a professor of marine conservation and one of the world’s leading oceanographers. Roberts expertly uses scientific and lyrical writing to colourfully submerge the reader in magnificent coral reefs around the world.

Chapters within Reef Life lead from the 1980s to present day, from the bureaucracy of setting up a research centre in Egypt to diving in one of the last ‘pristine’ reefs in the world. This coverage, intertwining Roberts’ growth as a scientist with the changing world and the effects on coral reefs, produces an engrossing story.

Throughout his journey, Roberts learns that ‘history adds deeper understanding’ to ecology, so he also digs into the historic background of places he visits to understand each of their current environmental situations, such as how the differing colonial histories of Caribbean islands have created unique landscapes under the water too.

Reef Life includes stunning imagery, some provided by award winning marine photographer Alex Mustard MBE, and the depth of description allows the reader to feel as though they are there with Roberts observing these fascinating animals. Whether readers have been fortunate enough to experience the wonders of diving on a coral reef or not, the same appreciation and respect for these ancient wonders will be felt.

Roberts does not gloss over important concerns that need to be addressed over the future protection of coral reefs, some have taken millions of years to develop and are being decimated in many areas around the world. Reef life is a bittersweet read but manages to balance the realism of severe human- induced damage our reefs are struggling against, with conservation optimism. Roberts reflects on how an English lecturer may feel if all of the world’s prized literature were being destroyed in front of them, comparing this to the equivalent destruction of coral reefs.

It may seem difficult to comprehend how Roberts can remain optimistic in his role, but as he importantly demonstrates throughout Reef Life ‘‘now is the time for action, not mourning. There is everything to play for.”

Emma Wrake AMRSB