The Great Barrier Reef – a discovery guide

gbrcoverThe Great Barrier Reef – a Queensland Museum Discovery Guide

Principal author: Greg Czechura

Published by the Queensland Museum, 2013; 440 pp.; $59.95

This handsome volume joins a long list of books with the same title and similar contents. They have appeared every five years or so since 1968 and one might well ask why we need yet another. The answer is twofold: we know a lot more about the reef now than we have ever known before, and the photography has improved tremendously.

The visual impact of the newer books is stunning, and makes the older books (good as they were for the time) look very dull. The present book showcases outstandingly good images and many are further enhanced by black backgrounds – at a certain cost in legibility of the white-on-black text, unfortunately. The book’s page on the publisher’s site links to a substantial pdf sample if you want a good preview of its quality, but remember that, good though they are, the images on screen can’t match the clarity of the printed page.

Colour photography 1968 (lower left) onwards
Colour photography 1968 (lower left) onwards

The publishers call their book a “discovery guide” and it falls somewhere between a reference book and a coffee-table book. An introduction leads into chapters on geology, habitats, corals, algae, sponges, cnidarians, etc, and then, in the last quarter of the book, the human history of the reef: indigenous history, European exploration, tourism and management. The chapter authors, mostly curators from the Queensland Museum, are experts in their fields but can’t give us much detail because most of the page space is allocated to pictures. I found myself happily browsing but rarely settling to read steadily, and I think most readers will do the same.

I will leave a full review to someone better qualified than myself. Meanwhile, this blog post talks about the research base and the photography for the book.

Reef books displayed
Reef books 1968 onwards

Parish’s book (2007) at front left in my photo is frankly in the coffee-table category – lavish photography but minimal text. The Reader’s Digest book (1985, reprinted 1990 and maybe later) on the right of the back row is still available new, from Amazon if not locally. The earlier books cannot match their quality and in any event are probably no longer in print.

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