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Darwin Books SLAEI Series


Coral Reefs


Cities Under the Sea


by Richard C. Murphy, Ph.D.



Special Feature


About the Book:

    The most fascinating aspects of coral reefs relate to how corals and reef residents meet the challenges of survival and live together.

     The focus of this book is on how a coral reef functions—the jobs of individual residents and how they collectively create a sustainable community. The author explores how solar energy powers the reef, how raw materials are used efficiently and waste is recycled, why biodiversity is security, and how everything is connected. There are also many insights into the more personal lives of reef residents—some are strange as any science fiction. By viewing coral reefs in the context of a human city, one can more easily appreciate the creative ways reef communities operate; they neither undermine their own survival nor that of other communities elsewhere. In other words, a variety of species collectively enhances the survival of the entire community.

     Dr. Murphy sees reef communities existing in a dynamic equilibrium where forces of competition, destruction, and decay are balanced by cooperation, repair, and rejuvenation.

     There are lessons for those of us who are concerned about making our own communities more sustainable. The subject matter is serious, but it is not taken so seriously that it isn’t fun.


About the Author:

    Richard C. Murphy, Ph.D., is a marine biologist, educator, writer, and photographer. His association with Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his son, Jean-Michel, began in 1968. As chief scientist and expedition researcher, he has worked in some of the most remote regions of the world studying how ecosystems function and how humans interact with the natural system. Richard is presently Vice President of Science and Education for Ocean Futures Society. His focus is sustainable development and ecotourism in developing countries and the creation of environmental educational programs for young people. Drawing on more than 30 years of exploration and study of a wide variety of ecosystems and cultures, Dr. Murphy states, “I believe a better understanding of how nature works can promote a better appreciation of the value of our natural heritage and help guide the next generation in living more sustainably on the planet..” He is physically as well as intellectually dedicated to the sea and his passions include diving, surfing, water skiing, and kite boarding.



"Here is a scientist, like very few, who you can understand, who dazzles his audience with the fascinating world of the coral reef. His message is conveyed eloquently in both words and images. We will learn that in the coral city there is no waste, that everything is a resource. He will help us understand how nature works—that it can work for you or against you and that it does all of this complex and laborious work for free! He invites you to enter the world he loves. He will make us care for it, as we should, for the well-being of our species."

—Jean-Michel Cousteau, Ocean Futures Society


"This book is so brilliantly beautiful and informative. One only wishes for scuba gear to become part of Dr. Murphy's coral reefs."

—George Plimpton, Author and Editor


"How pleased I am to see this marvelous work. . . . You have produced a most unusual hybrid-part reef text-book, part entertainment, educational, and awe inspiring. . . . I can only hope that this volume receives the praise it deserves and that it will be in libraries worldwide to dazzle, inspire, and inform."

—Robert N. Ginsburg, Professor of Marine Geology,

Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami


"With his magnificent narrative and never-before seen underwater photography, Dr. Richard Murphy conveys his exhilaration and excitement of science, the challenge of adventure and the search for preservation of the coral reefs. . . . In this book, he offers thought provoking, wise, and amusing comparisons of life in coral reefs to life in London, New York, or any other city you might know. Coral Reefs is a gift to all generations who love nature and wish to preserve its beauty."

—Zale Parry, Ambassador of the Academy of Underwater Arts and Sciences


"Dr. Richard C. Murphy has combined over 30 years of underwater observation, much of it diving with Jacques and Jean-Michel Cousteau, with unique photographs to create his brilliant new book. Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea.      . . .  The book clearly explains the economic, ecological, and spiritual value of coral reefs and why every human being should be concerned that reefs are facing an unprecedented crisis due to human impacts of over-fishing, pollution, and sedimentation. . . . Coral Reefs is the best illustrated and most informative book aimed at the general reader that I have read on the subject."

—Dr Gregor Hodgson, Director, Reef Check Institute of the Environment, UCLA


"Dr. Murphy, an internationally renowned scientist who has dedicated his life to saving reefs, brings this concept home to stunning effect. His photographs are consistently exquisite page after page. The images in this collection remind us of the visual and intellectual appeal of coral reefs, and what is at stake if we don't take steps to save them the globe over. Dr. Murphy's expert knowledge and sharp eye enliven reefs through the fascinating and accurate images and text—reinforcing their simple lessons of collaboration and symbiosis, painting the stories of reef creatures in all their abstract colour and seeming illusion. I only wish this book could be given to all those who doubt why saving coral reefs is important. How could you justify destroying such intricate beauty?"

—Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor and Director, Centre for Marine Studies,

The University of Queensland, Australia


"This book provides a sophisticated, scientific and up-to-date perspective of coral reefs, yet presents it in ways that should make the concepts readily accessible to school children and the general public, as well as to teachers and scientists. The metaphor of a 'city' is used to link often abstract, and sometimes controversial, ecological concepts to familiar, every-day experiences. The book can be read at many levels, from passive enjoyment of the superb illustrations to disturbed thinking about the future of these ecosystems. The prose and syntax are deceptively simple, describing phenomena and processes that can be readily grasped from a single reading of the words. But, upon reflection or re-reading, practically every sentence contains deeper implications and broader applications at multiple levels: the same description of a symbiosis that delights a child with its novelty may also stimulate a researcher to rethink basic assumptions about reef ecology.

     Popular books about coral reefs tend to emphasize their physical and biological complexity and diversity within a rather static 'balance of nature,' while decrying all change as destructive, undesirable and (frequently) anthropogenic in origin. Murphy does neither. He shows that what we observe as a 'reef' is a dynamic system on many scales, in which innumerable interacting and often opposing physical, chemical, and biological processes simultaneously and continually create, destroy, or modify the components. Murphy also introduces major phenomena that may be consequences of human activity and global change (e.g., bleaching, diseases), but does not preach; rather, he indicates major lines of evidence, clearly distinguishes between what is known vs. the unknown or merely suspected, then leaves readers to think about the implications and draw their own conclusions.

     The numerous photographs are superb, not only technically, but especially in their appropriateness for illustrating points. While some subjects will be familiar to readers of other reef books, many (particularly those drawn from the invertebrates) will be novel and intriguing examples unknown even to many professionals. Murphy frequently uses close-ups of very small organisms to reveal micro-scales of diversity and beauty that are rarely seen even by active diving naturalists and scientists.

     This is a wonderful book that any reader should be able to enjoy at the same time as learning about the world through the eyes of scientists."

—Donald C. Potts, Professor of Biology,

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology &

Institute of Marine Sciences, University of California, Santa Cruz


"Coffee table underwater books come and go. . . . But a good book encourages a long and developing relationship, providing constant entertainment and knowledge. Richard Murphy has created such a pleasure.

     This is a book that inspires and educates. The theme, an original and imaginative theme I might add, is not gratuitous. Life in the sea requires organization, discipline, rules and regulations just as our cities and society demands. We fail miserably in our attempt at an orderly society and whereas it would be frivolous to suggest that we look toward the organization of marine life to improve our elite position on the evolution ladder, we must nevertheless respect the wonder of nature that creates life and diversity amongst what could appear to us as chaos under the surface....

     Murphy's succinct text is illustrated by excellent, relevant, photographs, yet this is not a  book of underwater photographs. Although of medium format (26 x 26 cm), it defies the definition of a  'coffee table book', devoid of photographs for the sake of art, and encourages reading from cover to cover. Whereas the photographs are clean and straightforward, the inspiration comes from a realization that there is a wondrous community beneath the sea with similar problems to that which we humans experience."

—Scuba Diver (Review forthcoming)


"For many people, the most attractive aspect of the marine environment are the coral reefs and their diversity of colorful animals. This interest has resulted in the production of many coffee-table books with good photographs. However, in this beautiful work, marine biologist and educator Murphy has taken the significant step forward by producing a book with important educational content. Using the model of a human city, he introduces the reader to the vast complexity of relationships found in a reef community. He explains how solar energy powers the reef, how raw materials are used efficiently, and how waste is recycled. He discusses why biodiversity is security for the reef denizens, and how everything that lives in the reef is interconnected. Although written for a general readership, the work succeeds in providing a good introduction into reef ecology. It should also help to promote the conservation of a natural resource that has been severely abused."

—Choice – Current Reviews for Academic Libraries (May 2003)


"The lesson here—abundantly illustrated in beautifully clear, color photographs—is that people might make their own communities more sustainable if they imitated the Plato-like republics of coral reefs, where a variety of marine species collectively enhance the survival of the whole. A marine biologist, educator and photographer, Murphy maintains the useful communitarian analogy through eight chapters, whose titles begin with 'Power Plants and Farms' and ends with 'Social Security.' "

Natural History


"Regarding Coral Reefs: Cities Under the Sea, the text was excellent and I enjoyed the unique format that made for easy reading and is informative. It should span a broad spectrum of the reading public, young to old. Likely too it will be as inspirational as Beebe's articles in National Geographic that got me hooked on exploring the deep sea when I grew up. Proud of what you have accomplished and the credit that you bring to the marine biology community."

Andreas B. Rechnitzer, President, Viking Oceanographics


Publication date: 2002

178 plates; glossary; references; list of illustrations; index

Size: 10 x 10 in (26 x 26 cm); 177 pages

ISBN 978-0-87850-138-0 (Casebound hardback w/laminated cover)  $45.00  Buy it at Amazon.com!

ISBN 978-0-87850-139-7 (Hardbound with jacket)  (Out of print)