Freelance writer and scuba diver Stephen Harrigan travelled to the island of Grand Turk in the Caribbean to study the undersea life there and as a sort of voyage of self-discovery. The result of this remarkable trip is the 1992 book Water and Light; a Diver's Journey to a Coral Reef. Harrigan chose this island because it was someplace he was not familiar with, and it has a pristine coral reef and abundant sea life including a breeding ground for humpback whales. Harrigan describes Grand Turk as "...a stern place with no nightlife and no Club Med."
This book, divided into chapters, is almost a series of connected essays. Harrigan discusses biodiversity and the natural history of a coral reef, but in a light, non-technical way, enjoyable to both nerds and novices. He also writes about the joys and trials of being a beach bum, living in the Caribbean and mingling with a number of colourful characters. Harrigan's writing style is elegant, lyrical and clever, but never pretentious. Water and Light is written in a manner which transports the reader to a very vivid undersea wonderland, filled with color, light and beauty.
Harrigan also muses on the history of the area. He talks about Darwin and pirates. His natural history work takes us from octopuses to sharks to coral polyps. He writes a bit about the degradation of the environment, not with a preachy or pedantic air, but with the practicality of a man who genuinely loves the sea and the reefs and who hates seeing what sediment, pollution and careless divers have done to these beautiful areas.
There are also some fascinating cultural insights about life in the Caribbean. As an Englishman told Harrigan, "It's like living in an unreleased Bogart movie." Harrigan darts from one subject with the grace and speed of a swimmer zipping between areas of a reef.
A friend of mine suggested that I should read this book, even though I do not dive. As a non-diver the idea of reading a scuba book was at best an oddity to me. I understood why she had recommended it very soon. This book absolutely floored me.
Harrigan's writing, at once fun and elegant, his
description of the beautiful underwater world which he was privileged to visit and his interesting travelogue are a real pleasure to read. He explores the interconnections between the different organisms and, in fact, the connections between humans, in a fascinating way. Water and Light is a page-turner in the best sense of that phrase.