About The Book
‘Wild Encounters- Try Not To Smile’ travels to seven places, wild and natural but accessible: these are not the exclusive domain of the tough and intrepid.
Early morning swim with the Terns.
Descriptions and details of the animal encounters and places were written in the diaries ‘live-on-the spot’ before memory blurred and faded the reality and excitement of the unexpected......or worse, insensitive tourist development or natural catastrophe could lose the reality.
Bird Island in the Seychelles is a paradise for Hawksbill, Green Turtles and seabirds - Sooty Terns, Frigate Birds, migrating birds on a stopover - and for Aldabra Giant Tortoises transported to this island sanctuary. In the shallows turtles court and mate, lay eggs on the beach and hatchlings dash for the sea through an ambush of crabs... and some very special people help out the hatchlings.
Meeting with an Aldabra Giant Tortoise.
In the open sea on the Bahama Bank wild Atlantic Spotted Dolphins seek humans for playing games – jumping overboard takes on a new meaning. Swimming with dolphins, one cannot fail to appreciate their ultimate body design, their constant tactile and sound communication, dolphin friendships and the close mothering of infant dolphins. A journey to Tobago brings the breathtaking colours of Caribbean coral reefs with wafting sea fans like tracery screens from an oriental palace – the Buck Island spectacle which first inspired my underwater adventures of snorkelling. Here Giant Leatherback Turtles dazzle with their tenacity of nest building and the amazing science of how they can dive into deep ocean depths and traverse the globe into cold northern seas of Britain and Norway.
On a smaller scale a small traditional coastal village goes about its business and a group of Caribbean Reef Squid create an alien encounter. In tight formation they methodically scrutinise snorkelers while communicating by flashing and changing their iridescent colours using ingenious methods. On a hotel beach racing turtle hatchlings need guiding into the sea’s moonlit path against the competition of artificial lights, and through an obstacle course of fishing nets.
In the Indian Ocean the intricate worlds within different areas of coral reefs are seen through the eyes of a turtle on a leisurely swim circumnavigating Baros Island in the Maldives. Fish friends and foes, and much else besides, reveal themselves – these are the underwater worlds of Nemo and Dory.
The time was 1994, before the drastic coral bleaching event accompanying El Niño in 1998; the re-establishing reef, with help from conservation focused divers and guests, is slowly attaining its former wondrous state. It is the place for scenes of tight-packed diversity and coral gardens teeming with tropical fish; where snorkelling is akin to flying over a crowded city with a view into each apartment. As in most places, there are occasional reminders of the clumsy effect of man – the voluminous appetite of the spectacularly efficient Lionfish is part of this ocean’s community but accidental transfer via aquaria into the Atlantic Ocean has introduced it as a formidably advantaged feral species threatening fisheries.
Natural catastrophes are unavoidable for wildlife and people; in Yap, Micronesia there is a journey into chaos – a gripping account of the build-up of a supertyphoon around this small Pacific island. Surviving the aftermath reveals differences in cultural values and behaviour when the pampered ‘have’s’ and the traditional ‘have-not’s’ meet and get through a crisis. But even amid the pollution of spilt oil and sewage there is still an animal wonder – the science of the accurate aim of an archerfish.
During that time, 2004, it was ‘Paradise Lost’; in 2009 this beautiful little world was slowly recovering. When planes could fly after the typhoon our escape came as the journey to the islands of Palau, nearby in Pacific Ocean terms. This is an underwater paradise with the massive Ngemelis cliff, the maze of Rock Islands and very different coral gardens peppered with clams... Giant ‘Man-eating’ Clams... but they don’t. The real character of the Giant Clam revealed by modern science is far more exciting.
At the centre of one of the Rock Islands there are galaxies of jellyfish – animals whose ancestors from the surrounding sea became trapped in a strange and dramatic lake of isolated sea with depths potentially deadly to animals and any human diver. The animals' solutions are even stranger.
The final adventure of this first book of Wild Encounters spans many years – in exploring it and in its very nature. In the far north of Scotland the past is written on Viking shores. There are discarded shells from Viking seafood feasts and their seafood export activities as well as their castle ruins and long boat hidden harbours...and living tales. Where two seas meet, the Pentland Firth is treacherous and wild, island living is rugged – the tiny island of Stroma was left deserted. These are shores of Common Harbour Seals and Grey Atlantic Seals, dolphins and passing whales – all expert swimmers and beautifully equipped for the task.
Under the sands there are secret wonders, visible when beachcombing the long beaches. Humble worms used by fishermen move up and down their burrows in regular clockwork rhythms and there are shells of the longest-lived animals known on the planet, the Icelandic Clams. A clam called ‘Ming’, collected by scientists monitoring climate change in 2006, was born in 1499, a life span of 507 years. In one clam's lifetime wild places have been transformed. Happily, people can still have the joy and excitement of meeting animals living on their own territory on shores and seas, and sharing moments in their lives.