The Enchanted Braid: Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef

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Wiley, Apr 13, 1998 - Science - 269 pages
"There is a word for what Darwin and the rest of us have felt whenin the presence of the reef: ‘awe.’ Confronted with thereef, awe is the most appropriate response. It is probably in ournature. It is also, apparently, in our nature to destroy that whichwe hold awe." —from The Enchanted Braid Of the myriadecosystems populating the underwater world, coral reefs are by farthe most complex. While their stunning beauty has been extolled forcenturies, the intricate workings of reef environments remainedlargely hidden from view. in fact, until the advent of scuba divingjust fifty years ago, corals have been among the last naturalhistories to he extensively explored. The high passion with whichscientists have greeted this particularinvestigation—beginning with the foundational theories ofCharles Darwin in 1842—is perhaps unprecedented, but hardlydifficult to understand. A phenomenon of both awesome beauty andvital importance, the coral reef is home to the most diverse rangeof species of any environment on the planet, including fish,shrimps, worms, snails, crabs, sea cucumbers, sea stars, urchins,anemones, and sea squirts. Now, in The Enchanted Braid, acclaimedauthor Osha Gray Davidson brilliantly fuses a color-drenchedcelebration of reefs with a fascinating natural history. Davidsontreats us to a journey into the heart of the intricate labyrinthsof the coral reef, from microscopic zooplankton to such toweringmetropolitan structures as the Great Barrier Reef. The result is aneye-opener for everyone—from layperson to marinebiologist—brilliantly conveying all the wonder and magic aswell as the utility and urgent necessity of coral to the health ofthe planet. The crux of reef life, scientists have discovered, liesin nature’s most intimate example of symbiosis: the mutuallybeneficial relationship between the coral polyp and its "tenant,"the zooxanthellate algae. Davidson’s history begins with thisdeceptively diminutive hybrid, the engine behind the constructionof the limestone-based coral structure. Together, the threeelements comprise a unique zoophytalite (animal-plant-mineral)form, or an "enchanted braid." Aided by an eight-page, full-colorphotographic insert demonstrating the incredible intricacies of thereef and its unique inhabitants, The Enchanted Braid identifies theapproximately 240,000 square miles of coral reef on the planettoday as indispensable not only to the livelihood of the oceans butalso to humans. The reef is, after all, the "soul of the sea," thespawning ground for tens of thousands of marine species. As sourcesof food (many islands rely on reefs for all their protein),medicine (corals are used in bone grafts and to fight cancer andleukemia), and detailed insight into the history of climaticconditions, coral reefs are critically important to human life onEarth. However, in a world of oil tanker disasters, global warming,and dwindling natural resources, they are also in grave danger ofextinction. Osha Gray Davidson’s urgent clarion call to halttoday’s man-made degradation of coral reefs is both alarmingand persuasive, effectively underscored by the rich historicalcontext of passages from Darwin’s captivating diary of hisseminal work on reefs 150 years ago. Like the coral reef, TheEnchanted Braid is itself a rare hybrid, a graceful combination ofaesthetic appreciation, scientific inquiry, and environmentalmanifesto.

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THE ENCHANTED BRAID: Coming to Terms with Nature on the Coral Reef

User Review  - Kirkus

This natural history of coral reefs and our relationship to them delivers a measured but damning indictment of human environmental folly. Ten percent of the planet's reefs are degraded beyond recovery ... Read full review

The enchanted braid: coming to terms with nature on the coral reef

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Not a scientist but a writer and diver, Davidson (Under Fire: The NRA & the Battle for Gun Control, LJ 5/15/93) has consulted with many scientists and other marine specialists worldwide in writing ... Read full review


Who Has Known the Ocean?
Animal Mineral Vegetable
Darwin in Paradise

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About the author (1998)

OSHA GRAY DAVIDSON has written for the New York Times, the New Republic, the Nation, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and short-listed for the Helen Bernstein Award. He is also the author of Under Fire: The NRA and the Battle for Gun Control, a New York Times Notable Book in 1993, and Broken Heartland: The Rise of America's Rural Ghetto.

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