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About Peter, and Making Contact

 Peter F. Sale is a marine ecologist who has seen firsthand the degradation of coral reefs during the course of his working life. A Canadian, he was educated at the University of Toronto where he completed a Masters thesis on a near-extinct race of trout, and at the University of Hawaii, where he learned to pronounce Hawaiian words tolerably well and commenced his lifelong engagement with coral reef fishes.  He has been a faculty member at the University of Sydney, Australia, University of New Hampshire, USA, and University of Windsor, Canada, where he remains Professor Emeritus. After retiring from teaching in 2006, he was affiliated through 2013 with the Institute for Water, Environment and Health, United Nations University, based in Hamilton, Ontario, where he served as Assistant Director for Coastal Projects.  Peter lives with his wife, Donna, in the Muskoka District, one of the most beautiful parts of Ontario, about three hours north of Toronto. They have one son and a granddaughter born in 2010.

His work has focused primarily on reef fish ecology and on management of coral reefs. He has done research in Hawaii, Australia, the Caribbean and the Middle East, and visited reefs in many places in between. He has successfully used his fundamental science research to develop and guide projects in international development and sustainable coastal marine management in the Caribbean and the Indo-Pacific.  Peter’s first (technical) book, The Ecology of Fishes on Coral Reefs (1991) became a classic among scientists and graduate students studying reefs.  In his first non-technical book, Our Dying Planet (2011), Peter used his own experiences to help tell the story of the global environmental crisis, making the argument that this complex and very serious problem can be solved, has to be solved, and must be solved soon if we want a good future for our children and grandchildren.  Our planet does not have to die.

In his newest book, Coral Reefs: Majestic Realms Under the Sea (2021), Peter takes a different approach.  Rather than dwell on the current plight of coral reefs, he uses stories about reefs, reef science and reef scientists to reveal the sheer wondrousness of reef ecosystems, not in terms of pretty pictures, but in terms of their intricate complexity and utter improbability.  His goal is to connect us to coral reefs, make them real to us.  These evolutionary pinnacles are natural treasures that can bring joy while enriching our lives.  They are also of immense, if unrecognized, economic value, and we should be far more invested in retaining them on this planet.

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3 thoughts on “About Peter, and Making Contact”

  1. Considerations for a second edition of Galapagos Fishes (Grove & Lavenberg, 1997) Stanford Univ Press .. I was inspired to write you because of your comment “the impetus to produce this book came in a brief phone call in 1998…. Chuck Crumly…. I would value the opportunity to speak with you (or exchange emails) for your advice. It took 20+ years to complete the first edition, but now a revision is needed. Any suggestions? Please consider haing a look at the reviews. Many thanks.

  2. I once went to St. Thomas, in the taxi we were behind a truck duly embellished with a state logo, some sort of ocean watching job. On their bumper was a gratuitously aggressive bumpersticker reminding us lesser mortals to stay out of their way because of the occupants’ certainty that their time was more valuable “not all of us are on vacation” was the last part of the sticker slogan. And I thought to myself how few people living off the largess of taxpayers take this sort of tack with the public. I mean you would never see a garbage truck or a snowplow, or someone actually being helpful, put such a slogan on their truck. I get it, how being completely ensconced from birth forward in the white male Ivy League of privilege can skewer one’s views. But I wonder if it doesn’t occur to you that some of your message is being dismissed by an audience that considers your profession, sort of beach combers with PhDs? A la Zonker the cartoon character? The perception is that college life, stretched into middle age without need for employment turned into a lifestyle of a day at the beach forever, while wagging your finger at the rest of us. Am I off base here? Is that never a problem you consider in your comportment?

    As a complete layperson, I am stunned by the breathtaking political naïveté of adult males with lots of college deg rees expressed in these works. But also I am sort of wowed by the navel gazing. Your excessive demands on others to accommodate your reef affection. (after all slavery ended, shouldn’t we stop being mean to coral?-Honest to Pete, that’s how your political anaylsis reads.) Does it never occur to you that you might need allies to win your political point? Europe certainly has a Green Party, and there is no particular reason we could not have one in the USA; but it is activism, not yet more data ( to inspire someone else to do the heavy lifting, preferably at no cost). I think leadership may be needed that will carry the day among us (admittedly) stupider people. Neither slavery nor patriarchy withered away. Perhaps you should consider political posturing part of your students’ need to know curriculum? I think in our culture there is a real streak of anti-intellectual class bias that you might want to consider as you contemplate how you wish to be perceived.

    Many fishermen consider dumping cement chunks into the ocean a completely acceptable replacement for reefs. That is the sort of advocacy you might consider articulating a rebuttal for. Cus, that sort of fundraising to dump chucks of construction garbage in the ocean is low hanging fruit for website fundraising. Giving money for coral lab growing for franken reef hybrids…..that takes a good deal more faith in the moral and academic authority of the website/author panhandler. And I can’t help but wonder that you see yourselves as distinct from other water lovers. Is it possible that you do not need to address wider public suspicious that you are a coven of frat boys who got over on society and are still playing in the ocean?

    We live on a planet where 3 out of 4 children go to bed hungry each night? 1 out 9 people on this planet are refugees/homeless. I never hear beach/reef lovers confront the Catholic Church, or call on nations to fund refugee aid, nor allow women reproductive rights, for example. I don’t think I have ever heard of one of you running for office. You must come from wealthy families, and can afford to do that sort of thing. Doesn’t it strike you that a lack of urgency is conveyed by your demeanor?

    I do hear a constant demand for research funding, and a breathtaking and mistaken assertion that you yourselves are doing something crucial in studying this soon to be defunct biosphere. The facts suggest that your projects are dismay in their puny inadequacy. Do you think it might be well worth your time at your next coffee and cookie conference to discuss how to cultivate a politically astute analysis of your demands, who might be your allies, how you can negotiate alliances? Your subject of interest will soon be no more. How can you meaningfully ask for help from those you consider the unwashed masses?
    Ellen Starbird

    1. Ellen, I’m not sure what I said to provoke this comment. My biggest concern is that most people do not appear to appreciate how radically we are altering our world, not intentionally, but accidentally. Our alterations are causing problems for all of us, problems that are becoming existential. I worry that the message is not getting across.

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