Home Author & Lecturer Books - Coral Reefs--Cities Under the Sea Reviews

Book Reviews

Jean-Michel Cousteau, President
Ocean Futures Society

“People do not exist outside the domain of nature,” says Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society (www.oceanfutures.org ).
“Dr. Murphy’s book makes us realize that everything is connected in the ocean world, as in the rest of the world. We are all part of nature, and inseparable from it. Our well-being,” Cousteau continues, “is linked to the health of our environment.”

“Here is a scientist you can understand,” Mr. Cousteau concludes,” who relates the extraordinary life of a coral reef to the readers’ own quality of life.” For instance, Dr. Murphy shows how solar energy is used to power the reef; he shows you there is no “waste” in a coral community—everything is recycled. He shows the reader that biodiversity helps create a sustainable community.

Dr. Murphy is a scientist, like very few, who you can understand who dazzles his audience with the world of the coral reef. His message is conveyed eloquently with words and images.

Dr. Robert N. Ginsburg
Professor of Marine Geology
Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
University of Miami

"A most unusual hybrid - part reef textbook, part entertainment,
educational and awe-inspiring. I can only hope that this volume receives the attention it deserves and that it will be in libraries worldwide to dazzle, inspire and inform."

Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Director, Reef Check
Institute of the Environment, UCLA

"Dr. Richard C. Murphy has combined over 30 years of underwater observation, much of it diving with Jacques and Jean-Michel Cousteau, with unique photographs to create his brilliant new book “Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea.” The photos, although pure ‘eye candy’ in their own right, were also chosen to illustrate specific points about how coral reef ecosystems operate – often using simple analogy with human cities. “Power Plants” are the algae that live inside corals and provide them solar power, while “Public Health” on reefs is performed by cleaner fish which remove parasites from larger fish, thus serving as “Reef Doctors.”

Not just another coffee-table book, “Coral Reefs” is packed with new insights and detailed scientific explanations. We learn why the lovely cone shell, which kills several shell collectors each year, has such a potent fast-acting venom – to quickly subdue fast-swimming fish prey. We also learn that cone venom is the subject of a major ‘drugs-from-the-sea’ research program that has already produced an important new class of anesthetic.

The book clearly explains the economic, ecological and spiritual value of coral reefs and why every human being should be concerned that reefs are facing an unprecedented crisis due to human impacts of over-fishing, pollution and sedimentation.

“Coral Reefs” is the best illustrated and most informative book aimed at the general reader I have read on the subject."

Dr. Donald C. Potts
Professor of Biology
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
& Institute of Marine Sciences
University of California, Santa Cruz

"This book provides a sophisticated, scientific and up-to-date perspective of coral reefs, yet presents it in ways that should make the concepts readily accessible to schoolchildren and the general public, as well as to teachers and scientists. The metaphor of a “city” is used to link often abstract, and sometimes controversial, ecological concepts to familiar, every-day experiences. The book can be read at many levels, from passive enjoyment of the superb illustrations to disturbed thinking about the future of these ecosystems. The prose and syntax are deceptively simple, describing phenomena and processes that can be easily grasped from a single reading of the words. But upon reflection or re-reading, practically every sentence contains deeper implications and broader applications at multiple levels: the same description of a symbiosis that delights a child with its novelty, may also stimulate a researcher to rethink basic assumptions about reef ecology.

Popular books about coral reefs tend to emphasize their physical and biological complexity and diversity within a rather static “balance of nature”, while decrying all change as destructive, undesirable and (frequently) anthropogenic in origin. Murphy does neither. He shows that what we observe as a “reef” is a dynamic system on many scales, in which innumerable interacting and often opposing physical, chemical and biological processes simultaneously and continually create, destroy or modify the components. Murphy also introduces major phenomena that may be consequences of human activity and global change (e.g. bleaching, diseases), but does not preach: rather, he indicates major lines of evidence, clearly distinguishes between what is known vs. the unknown or merely suspected, then leaves readers to think about the implications and draw their own conclusions.

The numerous photographs are superb, not only technically, but especially in their appropriateness for illustrating points. While some subjects will be familiar to readers of other reef books, many (particularly those drawn from the invertebrates) will be novel and intriguing examples unknown even to many professionals. Murphy frequently uses close-ups of very small organisms to reveal micro-scales of diversity and beauty that are rarely seen even by active diving naturalists and scientists.

This is a wonderful book that any reader should be able to enjoy at the same time as learning about the world through the eyes of scientists."

George Plimpton
Author and editor

“This book is so brilliantly beautiful and informative,” Plimpton says, “one only wishes for scuba gear to become part of Dr. Murphy’s coral reefs.”

Science News Books
Jan. 18 issue

Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea. Richard C. Murphy. With the benefit of hundreds of glorious color photographs of fish, reefs and underwater scenery this guidebook provides an in –depth look at how coral reefs function and how they benefit people. Murphy explains that coral reefs are sustainable communalities powered by solar energy, where waste is recycled and raw materials are used efficiently. Residents in this society have individual jobs and rely on each other to repair and rejuvenate their community. Profiles of individual fish species appear throughout the text and bring to light many varieties that possess unusual characteristics for adapting to their environment, for example the spiny puffer fish gulps so much water that it becomes too big for its predators to eat. Murphy also examines how the warming of the oceans is adversely affecting coral reefs almost as much as pollution and destructive fishing practices are. Darwin Pr. 2002, 177p; color photos, hard cover $45.00.

Zale Parry
Ambassador of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences

Oceans of blessings to CORAL REEFS, Cities Under The Sea, for its moving, intelligent explanation of how vulnerable our human culture and attitudes bind with the strength and frailty of coral reefs under all the seas around us.

Current Reviews for Academic Libraries
Issue 2003-May

For many people, the most attractive aspects of the marine environment are the coral reefs and their diversity of colorful animals. This interest has resulted in the production of many coffee table books with good photographs. However, in this beautiful work, marine biologist and educator Murphy has taken a significant step forward by producing a book with important educational content. Using the metaphor of a human city, he introduces the readers to the vast complexity of relationships found in a reef community. He discusses why biodiversity is security for the reef denizens and how everything that lives in the reefs is interconnected. Although written for a general readership, the work succeeds in providing a good introduction to coral reef ecology. It should also help to promote the conservation of a natural resource that has been severely abused. Summing up: recommended. General readers: lower and upper division under graduates.

Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg
Professor and Director
Centre for Marine Studies
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia

"As I sat down one evening to look at Dr. Murphy’s book, I was little prepared for what lay in front of me. Many of us involved in the fight to save coral reefs get used to the idea of promoting reefs in terms of their economic and social importance (i.e. at least 100 million people are directly supported by coral reefs). Dr. Murphy reminds us, however, that the coral reefs are simply exquisitely beautiful!

Dr. Murphy is an internationally renowned scientist who has dedicated his life to saving reefs brings this concept home to stunning effect. His photographs, are consistently exquisite page after page. The images in this collection remind us of the visual and intellectual appeal of coral reefs, and what is at stake if we don’t take steps to save them the globe over. Dr. Murphy’s expert knowledge and sharp eye enlivens reefs through fascination and accurate images and text – reinforcing their simple lessons of collaboration and symbiosis, painting the stores of reef creatures in all their abstract colour and seeming illusion. In only wish this book could be given to all those who doubt why saving coral reefs is important. How could you justify destroying such intricate beauty."

Australia’s Scuba Diver Magazine
Peter Stone

"Coffee table underwater books come and go. Most are viewed with the usually oohs and aahs and then rarely opened again, a fleeting moment of pleasure like a one-night stand. But a good book encourages a long and developing relationship, providing constant entertainment and knowledge.

Richard Murphy has created such a pleasure. This is a book that inspires and educates. The theme, an original and imaginative theme I might add, is not gratuitous. Life in the sea requires organisation, discipline, rules and regulations just as our cities and society demands. We fail miserably in our attempt at an orderly society and whereas it would be frivolous to suggest that we look toward the organisation of marine life to improve our elite position on the evolution ladder, we must nevertheless respect the wonder of nature that creates life and diversity amongst what could appear to us as chaos under the surface.

In Coral Reefs - Cities Under The Sea, each chapter depicts the society of a working life under the waves, juxtaposed with our own urban existence.
Murphy's succinct text is illustrated by excellent, relevant, photographs, yet this is not a book of underwater photographs. Although of medium format (26 x 26 cm), it defies the definition of a 'coffee table book', devoid of photographs for the sake of art, and encourages reading from
cover to cover. Whereas the photographs are clean and straightforward, the inspiration comes from a realisation that there is a wondrous community beneath the sea with similar problems to that which we humans experience."