I can recall the vague circumstances which first led me to fall in love with the sea and decide to be a marine biologist. It was fishing in the Manasquan Inlet in New Jersey with my father, catching bergalls from the seawall. I was in second grade and I was immediately hooked, both on fishing and the ocean. In fourth grade we learned what an oceanographer was and I now had a name for my future career. Similarly, my wife’s experience being chosen to be a participant in the dolphin show at the Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, was the first step in the path her career would take.
Trevor Norton’s introduction to the sea was on the coast of England as a boy. Hardly the mecca of diving, the shores of England were to him the sparks of inspiration that set him on a course to a much-lauded career as a marine scientist and an author. He tells his story in Underwater To Get Out of The Rain: A Love Affair With the Sea, part memoir, part science book, and part travelogue.
It is said that scientists are generally poor at relaying scientific information in easily understandable terminology. Norton does not fall into this often truistic stereotype. He pads each morsel of scientific fact with enough coating to make it easy to digest for the average reader. Better yet, he does it without dumbing-down the information. That is a balancing act rarely found in mainstream scientific writing.
The rich detail enhances many a chapter, like when Norton describes a place he and a colleague stayed at on the island of Lanzarote:
We found a cheap pension and the old lady in black who took our money was so bent that her nose reached perilously close to the floor. The dining room was in deep gloom, perhaps because the lukewarm stew was littered with things that were to close to diced body parts for peace of mind. The little old lady scuttled in and out of the pool of light split by the candle on our table, as if she were a spider checking whether anything juicy had strayed into her web.
Each chapter relays facts about sea animals, plants, and the processes of the oceans. They are integrated into Norton’s adventures, and jobs, across the globe. Despite all his travels, Norton never conveys the feeling of being wayworn; he approaches each expedition, each assignment with enthusiasm. In his recollections he also brings out the history of some out-of-the-way locales, like the Hebrides Islands.
In the latter part of the book, Norton describes some of the damages inflicted on the ocean world, ironically, by its popularity such as overfishing, coral reef destruction, and habitat loss. But he points to those who make their living from the sea as the most suitable guardians for its well being; their motive being both economic and environmental. He ends not necessarily on an upbeat note, but a positive one nonetheless.