As a visiting author to schools, I often told students that research is not a bad word. Research means reading books and articles and watching videos about a subject that fascinates you; it means exploring the web for more and more insight and information; it may include interviewing interesting people; it may invite you to try something new, to explore a museum or historic site, or even to travel to another city or country.
Since my books are often used by teachers, I research meticulously. I over-research. You would know how much if you could see my office. Ultimately, my research leads to hands-on adventures – or even hands-on-bugs adventures (for Busy with Bugs). To write The Incredible Coral Reef, I drew on a lifetime of snorkeling off the coasts of Florida and Hawaii and throughout the Caribbean.
To prepare a new edition of The Incredible Coral Reef, I wanted to get my eyes on a healthy reef. Sadly, in the last few years, I was shocked by a dead reef off the island of Grenada and a diminished reef off the coast of Panama. Last week, I snorkeled at Cozumel, Mexico, for a refresher – and refreshing – course.
If you’ve never seen a coral reef, I’ll try to describe the experience, but it’s like describing a dream. I’ll try.
First, the color of the water is swimming-pool aqua, neon blue, brilliant turquoise. It sparkles with light and foams with waves. When you enter the water, there is no sense of transition, because the temperature is exactly right for human comfort. The water is almost as transparent as air; you can easily see into the underwater distance. As you look around, you are amazed at the activity of swaying sea fans and soft corals, schools of fish, and crawling creatures. It’s like an underwater city built on complex structures of living coral animals resting upon the skeletons of their ancestors. It’s like a colorful garden of intricate texture and design. It’s like a dreamscape filled with strange unworldly creatures, each exquisitely patterned and recklessly painted. It’s like nothing on earth. It’s the Other, the Strange and Wonderful.
I didn’t really go to Mexico for the research. I went for the reef.
Toni Albert, M.Ed., is an award-winning author of more than 40 books. Her lifelong love for nature, children, and books inspired her to commit her publishing business, Trickle Creek Books, to “teaching kids to care for the Earth.”
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