[Coral-List] Arthur C. Clarke and coral reefs

Thomas Goreau goreau at bestweb.net
Wed Mar 19 11:39:07 EDT 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke died yesterday in Colombo, Sri Lanka at the age  
of 90. While he was world famous as a science fiction writer, the  
creator of the concept of the satellite, and a pioneer in proposing  
many innovative new technologies, especially in outer space, few  
people are now aware of his pioneering role in making diving and  
coral reefs known to the public. His book "The Coast of Coral" is the  
first book on diving in coral reefs written in English, and describes  
his adventures diving along the Great Barrier Reef in 1950, in search  
of adventure, and he hoped, treasure.

While the fame of this book led many to regard him as the first diver  
on the Great Barrier Reef, Arthur told me personally that when he  
first arrived there he met my grandfather, Fritz Goreau, who had  
beaten him to it,  coming out of the water with my father's home-made  
rebreather.  Arthur said that he greatly admired my grandfather,  
whose photographs of marine life in the Great Barrier Reef, published  
in LIFE Magazine in 1950 and 1951, were the first high quality  
underwater photographs and the first to expose the public to the  
wonders and beauty of life in the coral reef.

Following his diving adventures in Australia he turned to diving in  
Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and wrote another fascinating book about  
diving, "Serendib", based on the ancient name for Ceylon, which was  
regarded as such a fortunate place that the word "serendipity" is  
derived from it. For many years he dived every time he could in what  
were then the exquisitely beautiful reefs around the island, and  
watched with great sorrow as these were almost entirely destroyed,  
largely by mining for construction material in a country with little  
limestone resources. Arthur told me that he was so pained by this  
that he could never bring himself to write about corals again, and by  
that time he was confined to a wheelchair and could no longer dive.

But he continued to be fascinated by corals until the end. He was  
horrified at how the world of reefs he had loved had vanished  
practically without a trace. As the originator of Clarke's Law: "Any  
sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" he  
was entranced with delight by the work of the late Wolf Hilbertz and  
myself on electric coral reef restoration, which he immediately  
grasped, and he lobbied the Sri Lankan Government as hard as he could  
to use it to restore their coral reefs and fisheries. Sadly, they  
have yet to listen, being pre-occupied with other matters than  
bringing back their lost corals and fish.

Coral reefs have lost another forgotten pioneer.

Thomas J. Goreau, PhD
Global Coral Reef Alliance
37 Pleasant Street, Cambridge MA 02139
goreau at bestweb.net

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