Book Review: ‘Secrets of the Seas’ by Alex Mustard & Callum Roberts

Culminating 10 years of photographic prowess, Alex Mustard has joined forced with Callum Roberts to produce the Secrets of the Seas: A Journey Into the Heart of the Oceans. The book features world-class images from Mustard, who is both a renowned photographer and marine biologist. Accompanying these photos is a captivating text written by Roberts, who is a professor of marine conservation at the University of York.

The moment Mustard announced the release of Secrets of the Seas, published by Bloomsbury, social media lit up excitedly in the nature photography circles. I knew this was a book I had to see for myself, and I eagerly awaited its arrival from the publishers to review.

The cover of this hardback ‘coffee table’ book features a playful and curious seal. It has the same look and feel of other amazing books that accompany big blue-chip natural history productions. First things first, the quality of the printing and reproduction is brilliant; Mustard’s photos are shown off in gorgeous, strong colours. At 10.3″ x 10.1″ in size, we are treated to large displays of images, meaning there are plenty of details to behold throughout.

secrets of the seas review

The introduction sees a grinning parrotfish bearing its pharyngeal teeth. These fish eat coral and excrete sand, largely making up the white sand beaches of reef islands. Secrets of the Seas is full of fascinating species like this and provides a window into a world beneath the waves that many of us have never experienced before.

It is no secret that our oceans are under threat, so the duo have chosen to “show ocean life in all its magnificence as it should be, and can be again with the right protection.” With the absence, but definite acknowledgement in the text, of negative impacts by humans amongst the images, this book provides inspiration for why we should work globally to conserve our oceans.

The book is separated into 10 equally captivating sections, taking the reader on an aquatic journey around the world. The first chapter, Riches beyond measure, shows off the most biodiverse underwater world in our seas: the Coral Triangle. It “supports a third of the world’s coral reefs” and “a staggering 2,500 fish species” live there. It’s no surprise, then, that the following pages are filled with photos of vast and impressive shoals of life. I particularly love the photo of a ball of what must be millions of silverside fish evading the jaws of predatory Malabar jacks.

Roberts’ words are equally spellbinding, with his seemingly limitless knowledge and interesting facts that spill from the pages keeping myself and my other 3 housemates (who are also zoologists) enthralled. Despite being written by someone so involved in the marine biology field, the text is easily understood and will entertain everyone from the casual enthusiast to invested academics.

secrets of the seas book review

A chapter dedicated solely to sharks and rays shows these graceful predators in a different light. I was pleased, but not surprised, to see Roberts document the persecution of sharks in the text. Combined with the stunning (I will soon run out of adjectives) imagery, they do well to show the truth about sharks, rather than Hollywood’s man-eating persona that has become a barrier to the conservation of these keystone species.

It is impossible to choose a favourite image from the whole book. Each one records anything from immense underwater landscapes, to truly fascinating animal behaviours. The ingenuity of Mustard’s photography is evident throughout; he’s somehow managed to capture a star trail composition from beneath the waves.

I chose not to specialise in marine biology with my own degree, but Secrets of the Seas is making me wonder if this was a mistake. Did you know that there is an octopus that uses discarded coconut shells to protect itself? Or that indigo hamlet fish are hermaphrodites and will swap between acting as the female or the male during different spawning events?

secrets of the seas book review by alex mustard

There is not one negative thing I can say about this book. If you love our oceans, then this is a absolute must-have which will sit pride of place on your bookshelf or coffee table. It is a masterpiece that you will find yourself opening again and again, just to gawk at the wonders that our oceans are hiding out of sight. With so much dedication and passion clearly printed directly onto the pages, both Mustard and Roberts have produced something that they can most definitely be proud of.

Get Hold of Your Own Copy

By now you are probably wondering where you can get your own copy. It’s a truly remarkable publication with images from a world-leader in the underwater photography field.

You can order your own copy of Secrets of the Seas on Amazon, where it is available worldwide.

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Secrets of the Seas by Alex Mustard and Callum Roberts
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Will Nicholls is the founder of Nature TTL and a professional wildlife photographer and film-maker from England. Having been photographing since the age of 12, Will's images have won a string of awards, including the title of "Young British Wildlife Photographer of the Year" in 2009 from the British Wildlife Photography Awards. Will is also the author of the book On the Trail of Red Squirrels.

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