The wonderful Gill Lewis shares her thoughts on a matter close to her heart, and central to her fantastic novel White Dolphin: the protection of our oceans and sea life.
When was the last time you scrambled over rocks on the beach and probed deep into the pools of water left by the ebbing tide? We’ve all felt that sense of excitement and wonder to step barefoot into these mini other-worlds, searching for strange creatures in the swathes of seaweed and beneath rocks and pebbles; transparent bodied shrimps, snakeslocks anemones with luminous green tentacles, limpets held tight fast against the rock, small crabs and maybe even a starfish or two.
Rock-pools give us only a small glimpse of what lies beneath the waves around our British coastline. The seabed is alive with all forms of bizarre and wonderful life, in living landscapes as dramatic as those on land. There are mountains and deep valleys, towering cliffs jeweled with anemones, caves hiding sea-monsters, forests of kelp, vast underwater deserts of sand and mud. Our reefs are home to bright corals and sponges, feather stars and sea fans. All these delicate habitats provide breeding and feeding grounds for bigger fish, which in turn feed the bigger fish and birds and mammals found around our shores. We have breeding bird colonies so vast that you can hear and smell the birds a mile out to sea. We have resident pods of bottlenose dolphin, visiting whales and orca.
It was my own chance sightings of dolphins around our shores that inspired the initial idea for White Dolphin. Yet, as I began to delve deeper into research about dolphins I began to discover the dangers they face; from capture for the meat and the entertainment trade to degradation of their habitats from overfishing, pollution and acidification of the water.
Our insatiable desire for fish has depleted our global fish stocks. All around the world, we have bigger fishing vessels going after fewer fish. These vessels have the technology to map the underwater landscape and search for shoals of fish. They can mop up every last fish, pulling dredges across the seabed, destroying the delicate sea floor. They pull nets capable of fitting three jumbo jets inside. Fish stocks are collapsing. Some have gone already. It’s not just the fish that are affected. Many mammals and birds are killed too, ensnared in nets and on long baited lines.
All this paints a fairly bleak picture. Yet there is hope for the future of the seas.
And so White Dolphin became Kara’s story, about a girl fighting to save the reef in the bay of her hometown from overfishing and destruction by commercial dredgers. She knows the reef must be protected to ensure the fishing community and the oceans have a future. Kara also carries the hope that there can be a future for our seas, by belief, determination and by never giving up.
Alone, her voice goes unheard, but as she finds out, many voices can make a difference.
Kara’s story was inspired by true stories of marine conservation from around the world; the Lyme Bay Reef Project, Goat Island Bay reserve in New Zealand, protected reefs in St Lucia. In these protected areas, the ‘spillover effect’, where fish stocks are replenished and spill over to non-protected areas have positive impacts on commercial fishing and increase the health of the marine eco-system.
Currently, less than 1% of the oceans have some form of conservation status.
If 30% of the world’s oceans were protected, we could have healthy seas and sustainable fishing for now and for future generations. FOR. EVER.
We all love to see dolphins leaping out of the water, but the problem brewing beneath our seas has been out of sight and out of mind for too many years.
So what can we do?
We can buy seafood from sustainable and well-managed fisheries. We can ask our fishmonger or look for the blue Marine Stewardship Council label on the packaging.
But no fish stocks are truly sustainable at current levels of fishing. Ours seas are at risk of becoming devoid of fish, and filled with jellyfish and slime instead.
So we need lobby MPs and the government and fight for clean seas and marine protected areas and for intelligent laws that protect our oceans and promote sustainable fishing. We need to sign petitions such as the online Wildlife Trust Living Seas Petition Fish.
Maybe then, our voices will be heard, and maybe then, we can make a difference.
Gill Lewis spent much of her childhood in the garden where she ran a small zoo and a veterinary hospital for creepy-crawlies, mice, and birds. When she grew up she became a real vet and travelled from the Arctic to Africa in search of interesting animals and places. She worked in Cornwall for several years and spent many hours of her spare time in the cold Atlantic, learning how to fall off a surfboard.
She now writes books for children. She lives in the depths of Somerset with her husband and three children and writes from a tree house in the company of squirrels.
Visit Gill’s website
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The stunning White Dolphin is out now.
Gill’s debut novel, Sky Hawk, was published to much critical acclaim and has been translated into twenty languages.
And look out for Gill’s forthcoming novel, Moon Bear, publishing in May.