Book Reviews

Big Pacific

A journey into exploration and revalation

By Rebecca Tansley
Reviewed by Gilbert Peterson
RRP NZ$59.99

The Pacific Ocean, says author Rebecca Tansley in her opening paragraph, defied definition—it’s greater than all the planet’s land masses combined, contains half the world’s water, hides its deepest places and is home to some of the world’s most dazzling creatures.

How then to deal with such an enormous topic? To her credit Tansley does this by telling many, many stories about the different places and creatures found in the Pacific vastness. Her approach is as if to say, the best way to get to grips with the huge importance of the Pacific is to zero in on some of its fascinating details. By doing this the wonder of the big picture may well strike home. Big impressions are created by focusing on the lesser known or ‘new’ facts about the animals and places featured. It’s an approach that takes the book a long way towards success. The stories read as original, well told, with a welcome absence of clichés.

Big Pacific’s intriguing mix of anecdotes draw the reader onto the next page: what’s the next bunch of interesting facts about? Which animals get the most attention? (Top predators and whales of course). Which environments are most repre- sented? (corals, volcanoes). Which places and territories are most represented? New Zealand gets more than its fair share of attention, for the local market no doubt. The US attracts solid coverage too, though neither are so deserving perhaps as Alaska, or Antarctica, or even Chile, none of which feature. The biggest question was always going to be what to leave out.

Compelling though are the stories about things I knew nothing about; the annual harvest of the Palolo worms considered a delicacy in Samoa and other Pacific Islands; that giant kelp is not a plant but a marine algae; the golden pearls of Palawan Island. The information is abundant if rather ad hoc.

Perhaps too, Big Pacific doesn’t pay sufficient heed to environtmental threats; fish pillaging and plastics pollution for example. But it’s mission might equally be held to be to inspire readers with the Pacific Ocean’s grandeur and variety thereby motivating us to respect and protect it. There is no doubt everyone will find here many tales of the unexpected that will wow, fascinate and surprise them into doing just that.

Dive Scapa Flow

100th anniversary edition

By Rod Macdonald
Reviewed by Gilbert Peterson
RRP £30.00

In his acknowledgements in this, the sixth reprinted edition of his authoritative account of the WWI wrecks of Scapa Flow, author Rod Macdonald writes: “(When) I first came to Orkney in 1982 as a young fresh-faced recently qualified sports diver…I was surprised to find there was virtually no information on the wrecks available…” And he has been writing on them and many others ever since.

The first edition of this book was printed in 1989; other books by Macdonald include Great British Shipwrecks, Dive Truk Lagoon-Japanese WWII Pacific Shipwrecks, and Dive Palau–the shipwrecks.

On June 21st, 1919, their German commanders ordered the scuttling of 74 German war ships interned at Scapa Flow north of Scotland at the end of WWI as the terms of the Armistice were still being determined. Rod Macdonald writes with clarity and enthusiasm about those circumstances, and the subsequent history of the ships after they became available for diving on in 1977. He’s been diving there now for 35 years, and there is no question that this is the definitive account.

The book is loaded with facts and figures about the battleships, cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats and other craft sunken in the Scapa Flow harbour, with maps and b/w photos from the times. It’s a history too of the dive record, with colour photos of the ships as they are now, how they are lying and their condition.

Anyone wanting a dive adventure at the fabled Scapa Flow, or just with an interest in shipwrecks, surely needs this book.

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