25 March, 1938
Lives Holyport, near Windsor, Berkshire.
Life and career Born in Portsmouth, father served in the Navy as
a mechanical engineer for 30 years. Was an only child until the age of
15 when his sister, Jennifer, was born. Science lessons prompted his interest
in biology. While at Southampton University he met his wife Jennifer,
who is now head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University
of Westminster. He went to Canada to take up a postdoctoral research fellowship
at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia in 1962. Was persuaded to return
to Britain by a Government team trying to combat the effects of the brain
drain in the Sixties. Took up a Nato research fellowship at Plymouth before
getting a senior research fellowship at London's Natural History Museum
in 1965 ('the first time my job had taken me away from the sea'). A longtime
council member of the Marine Conservation Society, which he chaired from
1984-88, he is also an accomplished photographer, and has been a member
of the British Society of Underwater Photographers since the late Sixties.
He has acted as chairman and president of the society, and was voted best
British underwater hotographer in 1985. He is the author of numerous scientific
papers and books, and Marine Life, which he wrote with Jennifer, is regarded
as the ultimate guide to marine invertebrates. Now in semi-retirement,
he still works within the Natural History Museum as a scientific research
associate. Most recently, his work has taken him to Abu Dhabi, where he
is examining the biology of coral reefs that have been decimated by high
Passions Photography, coastal cliff walking. Also enjoys beachcombing
prompted you to take up diving?
It all goes back to Portsmouth Grammar School, when my biology teacher,
Mr Wells, would take us down to the shore and show us sea life. It was
a revelation. Then I went on to Southampton University and I just had
that fascination with the sea ingrained in me. There was no such thing
as a pure marine biology degree then, but by my third year I was doing
intertidal work and I felt the need to get down to the sub-tidal rock
areas. I just had to dive.
did you train and when?
I did my initial training accompanied by my wife on a crash course
at Swanage Pier. The school was run by a couple of ex-Naval divers called
the Wright brothers, and no, they didn't have anything to do with flying.
I joined Chelsea Sub-Aqua Club in 1966 and,
under the inspirational guidance of the diving officer Ian Galbraith,
continued my training. Chelsea was a big club - they had people from all
walks of life, in the end they had to try to limit the member numbers.
I have a BSc in zoology, and a PhD in marine biology. My specialist subject
was marine worms. I went as far as what was then called BSAC Second Class,
which enabled me to lead expeditions. I've also got CMAS three-star qualification,
and an HSE Part IV, which is a requirement for working divers in Britain.
many dives have you done?
About 1,100 logged dives over quite a range of depths and habitats. The
deepest dives I ever did were in the Blue Hole in Dahab.
is your best diving experience?
Seeing Sipadan underwater for the first time in 1980 when I went on the
Semporna expedition with Liz Wood [one of Britain's leading coral experts].
It was wonderful, because it was the most biodiverse marine life I had
ever seen. Of course, Sipadan is right in the epicentre of marine biodiversity,
so I had an inkling it would be pretty impressive. This was well before
the island was discovered for tourism. For a biologist like me, it was
is your worst diving experience?
I suppose the situation where I felt most uncomfortable was when I was
diving a cave system in Majorca. A friend had discovered the caves and
decided not to lay any ropes through it so that he could keep it for himself.
It was my first cave-diving experience, and my buoyancy was all over the
place thanks to a pony bottle I wasn't used to. My contents gauge had
flooded and I had no idea how much air I had left. I was completely disorientated,
and I realised that if anything happened to the man who was showing me
around, I would be dead for sure. There's no way I could have found my
way out of there. I have never since been wholly reliant on another person
to get me out of a diving situation.
have you dived?
All over Britain and Ireland, Norway, Costa Brava, Majorca, Malta, Corfu,
the Red Sea, United Arab Emirates, the Bahamas, St Lucia, Turks and Caicos,
Belize, Caymans, Mexico, Malaysia, and Australia. Most of the diving I'm
doing at the moment is in Abu Dhabi, which has the hottest sea water in
the world in the summer.
is your regular buddy?
In the early days it was my wife, Jenny. But when I started 'work-diving'
it was with a team. Jenny won't dive in the UK these days. My current
work buddy is Dr David John, a botanist who is part of the team. I look
for calmness in a buddy; I hate racing around and of course as an underwater
photographer I never go too far. David and I have good air consumption,
so we can spend quite long periods of time underwater.
do you dive?
I enjoy my science, and I enjoy seeing a range of organisms in their natural
environment. I also dive to take photographs, for personal satisfaction
as well as using them as a scientific research tool. Photographs are extremely
important in the identification of organisms, and it's good to see things
in their original colours.
do you want to dive next?
I'm keen to go to the area south of Sipadan. Judging from the photographs
I've seen, it has a spectacular variety of marine life.
equipment do you own?
It has varied over the years. I started diving with a twin-hose Mistral
without non-return valves. After that there was the Royal Mistral, which
had a really comfortable mouthpiece. It was lightweight and the bubbles
came out behind you, which was perfect for underwater photographs. I can't
remember what I use these days; brand names are unimportant to me , as
long as the equipment works.
five songs would you like to put on a liveaboard compilation tape?
Queen - Night At The Opera, Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon,
Puccini - Arias,
Albinoni - Adagio in G minor,
Tina Turner - Simply The Best
magic: from top, in full gear, Swanage; research on a beached whale;
from left; George and wife, Mallorca, '79; in Borneo;
being shown the ropes on the Marques tall ship; above,
on quad bike, Morecombe Bay, '94.
is the most interesting underwater animal?
I don't really have a favourite marine organism, but I find soft corals
to be the most aesthetically pleasing of all the things I see underwater,
especially those of the Indo-Pacific. Probably the most beautiful soft
corals I ever saw were in the Red Sea when I went there in the late Seventies.
Now most of them have been decimated by too much diver tourism. It's not
deliberate, just a lot of accidental contact that has a cumulative effect.
a dive tip that has helped you?
I do think it's important to approach the environment calmly. Don't move
fast, unless it's absolutely necessary. I'm a bottom dweller. I like to
get as close as possible to the sea-bed, and detest flapping about in
mid-water - you miss so much unless you are studying plankton!
figure, living or dead, would you like to take diving, and why?
Mr Wells, my biology teacher from school. I think he's still alive. I
would have loved to see him witness the beauty of the underwater world
because he inspired my own interest in biology. I'm sure he would have
loved it. He was so keen, so enthusiastic about what he did. That's what
I look for in people.