The Miracle of Marine Life
By Sami Mustafa
Bookgroup, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9695504338
150pp.

“Just look at the world around you

Right here on the ocean floor

Such wonderful things surround you

What more is you lookin’ for?”

Thus warbled Sebastian to Ariel, in the classic Disney animated film The Little Mermaid. Indeed, the little red crab made a major point.

The mystery of what lies hidden under the vast expanse of the seas has long fascinated many. It’s an on-and-off fascination in my home, too — a few years ago, my daughter was a huge fan of the children’s animated series Octonauts, in which a motley crew of anthropomorphic animals traverses the depths of the oceans, having adventures and saving marine creatures from an array of calamities.

A glossy coffee table book with high production values is educational and can open up doors to new avenues of interest among children

I try to encourage her to continue pursuing this interest, but — and I’m sure many parents will relate — it’s hard to keep a child’s attention fixed for long when the magical gadget in their hands tempts them to abandon the informative for the frivolous. That’s why it’s so good to have books such as The Miracle of Marine Life at hand.

The Flower Hat Jelly has beaded ringlets | Images from the book
The Flower Hat Jelly has beaded ringlets | Images from the book

The large, glossy, coffee table book has been brought out by Sami Mustafa, founder and principal of the C.A.S. School, Karachi. Mustafa is also the founder of the volume’s publishers Bookgroup, which produces colourful and engaging books for children in five languages.

It should be said at the outset that the contents of The Miracle of Marine Life are not a first-hand account by the team involved in producing it. It would have been astounding had that been the case, but we in Pakistan have neither the framework, nor the resources, nor interest from those who may have resources, to create something like this.

The Sarcastic Fringehead has quite fabulous colours
The Sarcastic Fringehead has quite fabulous colours

Mustafa therefore pays due acknowledgement to “the marine biologists whose painstaking research, and the underwater photographers whose spectacular photographs” have been compiled herein, as well as to his team for “finding and downloading photographs and verifying information.” Each picture is given proper credit at the end of the volume.

In the first of the book’s three sections, we go through a variety of glorious sea creatures, many of which have some truly entertaining, never-heard-before names. Pineapplefish, anyone? No? How about a Foxface Rabbitfish? Or maybe the Sarcastic Fringehead is more your spirit animal.

Each close-up image is accompanied by a short description of the animal, its scientific name, where it is usually found and what other names it may be known by.

The Pineapplefish looks like a slice of fruit
The Pineapplefish looks like a slice of fruit

Sadly, the collection ends at ‘W’, for whale, which is unfortunate. We were very much hoping to find something new — if not on land, then at least under the sea — to replace the ubiquitous ‘X for xylophone’.

The second section, ‘Appendix I: Marine Ecosystems’, takes a look at the undersea environment. Readers will learn about coral reefs, hydrothermal vents, kelp forests and mangrove forests. This last entry would definitely be of interest for youngsters in the southern nooks of Pakistan, seeing that, at one time, the coastlines of Sindh and Balochistan were known for their lush mangroves. Alas, these local marine forests are endangered, all because of incessant pollution and avaricious land reclamation.

The Foxface Rabbitfish, but it doesn’t seem very foxy
The Foxface Rabbitfish, but it doesn’t seem very foxy

The last section, ‘Appendix II: Freshwater Fish’, could have been given a little more love, for — barring the first entry — the pictures are not accompanied by any description, and all we have are the names of fish.

All in all, it’s a pleasure to see something like this, and of such high production value, coming out of Pakistan. Having no access to a worthwhile aquarium, my daughter and I spent a good few days going through the pages, getting in some quality parent-child time as we ooh-ed and aah-ed over the glorious creatures that we can only hope to behold in real life someday.

The Leafy Seadragon is a beauty
The Leafy Seadragon is a beauty

The Miracle of Marine Life would also make a good present for birthdays, or for school prizes, not only because it is educational in itself, but because it can open up doors to new avenues of interest.

The reviewer is a member of staff. She tweets @SarwatYAzeem

Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, May 29th, 2022

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