Home to one of the most diverse collections of life, coral reefs are known as the rainforests of the sea. Although they cover less than two percent of the ocean bottom, it is believed one quarter of all ocean species depend on them for food and shelter. (Ocean Portal Team, Smithsonian. "Corals and Coral Reefs." Ocean Find Your Blue, Smithsonian, April 2018, ocean.si.edu/ocean-life/invertebrates/corals-and-coral-reefs.) They are vital to life on our planet but they are dying.
There are champions recognizing the danger of the diminishing coral reefs. They are working tirelessly to renew these valuable places in our oceans. The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World's Coral Reefs: The Story Of Ken Nedimyer And The Coral Restoration Foundation (Chronicle Books, May 8, 2018) written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Matthew Forsythe portrays the life of one of these champions.
It starts with one.
It's dark. The full moon has come and gone but this phase is a signal for a magnificent event on our coral reefs. On this one night millions of tiny gametes are released. One will start a new coral; more coral equals a new reef.
Growing up close to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and having a father work for NASA meant Ken Nedimyer saw his share of rockets climbing into space. Unlike his father Ken did not lift his head to the sky but sought the beauty in the surrounding ocean. He was fascinated with men like Jacques Cousteau. His greatest joy came in swimming the reefs of the Florida Keys.
Ken went from snorkeling to scuba diving. He filled his bedroom with aquariums so he could examine gathered specimens. One summer when exploring his favorite place, he noticed there were less fish and the reefs were pale versions of their normal vivid colors. The sea urchins, essential to the balance on coral reefs, were dying.
Believing there was nothing he could do, Ken, now an adult, had a live rock farm in the Florida Keys. One night the annual coral spawning event happened near his farm. Some of those gametes traveled to the rocks and they grew staghorn corals.
Ken and his daughter tried an experiment. It worked! Coral pieces could be carefully cemented to rock where it would grow. Now it was time for another experiment on the reef where Ken dived as a young boy. Others came to help Ken and his daughter. This was the beginning of the Coral Restoration Foundation. These people, volunteers, and Ken were changing the ocean environment. Never doubt the value of an individual with a singular passion to preserve places on our planet.
Meticulous research is apparent in the narrative written by Kate Messner. Her sentences reveal her appreciation for the natural realm through her word selections as she weaves gathered facts into almost poetic descriptions of the ocean, coral reefs and the life of Ken Nedimyer. She further engages readers by inserting groups of questions into the text. Here is a passage.
The reefs of the Florida Keys
teemed with life.
They painted the ocean floor fire red and murky gold.
How could the reefs grow so large?
What made all the different colors and shapes?
How could such tiny creatures build such
elaborate homes of rock?
How can you not want to dive along with the boy shown on the matching dust jacket and book case? The artwork of Matthew Forsythe beckons to readers, asking them to enter this magical space. The blend of colors, and the design of the fish, the sea turtle, coral and plant life are breathtaking. On the front, the text, boy's mask and some of the flora and fauna are varnished. The scene continues over the spine and across the back.
The book case is identical except all the text has been removed. We are indeed under the sea. The opening and closing endpapers are "seaweed" green. Beneath the text on the title page, coral is given a prominent position.
There is a soft texture to the two-page images displayed with every page turn. The brush strokes depict the angle of light and shadow beautifully. With each shift in perspective, an important emotion is added to the illustration. We feel the thrill of exploration when young Ken is snorkeling, the sadness as his flashlight casts a beam on the dying reef and the sea urchins and the building of anticipation as he and his daughter get ready to dive with sea birds circling above them.
One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Ken, as a boy, is snorkeling. On the left side of the image a school of fish are sweeping downward and out toward him on the right. The sunlight creates bright spots and where it does not reach, darker areas. Layers of sand form smooth low hills. Coral grows along the right side. We are looking at the sea as Ken sees it through his mask but Matthew Forsythe also shows the top of his head and snorkel tip above water. It's perfect.
In words and artwork The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding The World's Coral Reefs: The Story Of Ken Nedimyer And The Coral Restoration Foundation written by Kate Messner with illustrations by Matthew Forsythe brings to readers not only the importance of our coral reefs but the significance of a single individual working with intention. His commitment and accomplishments serve to inspire others. At the close of the book Kate has included sections titled
What Happened To The Coral Reefs
How Can Kids Help
Explore Online (Organizations and Articles) and
Coral Reef Vocabulary.
I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional bookshelves. In addition to the books listed by Kate, I would recommend Science Comics Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean written and illustrated by Maris Wicks for slightly older readers.
To learn more about Kate Messner and Matthew Forsythe and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. Both Kate and Matthew maintain accounts on Twitter. Kate can be found on Facebook. Matthew can be found on Instagram and Tumblr.
Please be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to note the titles selected this week by those participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.