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April 10, 2016 | by  | in Books |
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Ocean Notorious

★★★★★

Author: Matt Vance

Publisher: Awa Press

 

Matt Vance, like many brave souls before him, felt the pull of the South well before he glimpsed his first iceberg. When he took a job as a lecturer and Zodiac driver on a ship shuttling adventurous travellers down into the depths of the Southern Ocean, it was the beginning of a lifelong passion for conservation and education concerning the bountiful waters, lands, and species of the South.

Ocean Notorious contains stories of Vance’s encounters with the South, as well as of those who went before him: Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen racing to reach the South Pole and making extraordinary discoveries along the way; the New Zealanders who kept watch for enemy ships from the Auckland and Campbell Islands during the Second World War; Gerry Clark, a “fearless sailor” whose passion for seabirds lead him into oceanic turbulence time and again. Divided into three sections—“Islands”, “Ocean”, “Ice”—Vance has given us a look at the different aspects of human and animal endeavour in one of the toughest climes on Earth.

Far from a passive observer, Vance tells us of how he took matters into his own hands on subantarctic Macquarie Island, overrun with rabbits that were introduced by early sealers, and which had multiplied to wreak havoc on the ecosystem. He wrote letters to the Australian minister for the environment on his numerous visits to the island. In 2007, thanks to the tenacity of people like Vance, the largest pest eradication programme ever attempted was carried out successfully on Macquarie. It’s a satisfying story to read, and speaks of the urgency we face to respond to the degradation of our fragile planet. As Vance shows, every letter counts.

It’s invigorating to read the words of somebody so enamoured with a place, or several places as is the case here. We follow Vance from towering seas and rocky islands to the frozen continent of Antarctica, standing with reverence in Shackleton’s hut and watching the teeming wildlife—penguins, seals, whales. This book truly is a tribute, and I am filled with respect and awe for these places I will likely never go.

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