A Reef in Time

Marine biologist J.E.N. Vernon calls his research subject “Nature’s pinnacle of achievement in the ocean realm,” and The Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End makes an outstanding case for the truth of that simple statement. But Vernon has set himself a much more audacious task than merely convincing his readers of the beauty, complexity, and uniqueness of “the largest construction of living organisms anywhere on Earth.” His aim is to let us in, as far as possible, on his intimate knowledge of the reef’s astounding life story (one which, Vernon argues, can be understood as beginning 25 million years ago), its role in the ocean today, and its probable future. That last is not a pretty picture, as one might surmise — and although Vernon is cautious in his predictions about what global warming will and won’t do to marine life, he presents a bleakly convincing picture of what human-caused increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide will mean for the oceans in general, and the Great Barrier Reef in specific. Happily, this is not merely a call to environmental action, but an attempt by a man who is as much an enraptured diver as a committed scholar to share his love for this magnificent aspect of our planet’s life. The text is gorgeously enhanced by color photographs which will make many readers think about taking scuba lessons and making arrangements to witness the GBR’s majesty up close — while the reef still has time. –