Marine life passion
I have been passionate about British marine life ever since, as a teenager, I started snorkeling on the Norfolk coast. The water was often murky but what I could see enthralled me. I loved being in water and I was fascinated by all wildlife so bringing the two together quickly sealed my obsession!
I continued with biology through University, a research doctorate and into a career in environmental protection. I also learnt to dive and took up underwater photography. Despite wonderful trips to the Great Barrier Reef, California and the Red Sea, my heart was always in our cooler, usually murkier but (to me) more captivating waters.
My current work with underwater photography, writing and education functions as a social enterprise with no profits. Along with my wife, Teresa’s, work with schools and her children’s book (Benny the Blenny’s Shallow Sea Adventure), it’s all about ‘spreading the word’ for British marine life. By showing that our seas are far from the cold, grey world so many imagine but are full of the most charismatic and colourful creatures, we hope to encourage better care of them and assist those striving to protect them.
We are constantly reminded of how much there is to do. Coastal walkers come across us preparing to dive and usually assume we must be going to see a wreck; ‘is there marine life too?’ Schoolchildren’s (and their teachers’) jaws drop when they see pictures of the animals living within a few metres of the Plymouth Hoe Lido. One of the best examples comes from train journeys when I use the chance to prepare talks on my laptop. Sometimes, the eyes of the person sitting next to me are drawn to my screen and a conversation about the ‘colourful fish pictures’ starts up. To the question ‘where were they taken?’ I usually respond with ‘where do you think they were taken?’ and the answer is always an exotic warm-water location – Barbados, the Red Sea, Greek Islands etc! I get an astonished reaction when I say they were all taken within a few hundred metres of the British coast.
Giving presentations to a wide variety of groups, supporting The Wildlife Trusts and the Marine Conservation Society (and others) with photography, producing educational material, writing articles and papers, not to mention taking the photographs in the first place, keeps me very busy.
Much effort over the years has also gone into producing photographic books; Marine Animals of the South West evolved into Great British Marine Animals and this is now in its third edition. The books are written to serve as identification guides for common fauna but also have as much information as possible on intriguing behaviour supported by appealing photographs, with the hope that they showcase our marine life. I find it very satisfying when students tell me that, if they get asked ‘what on earth’ they look at round our shores, they simply hand the sceptic a copy of my book.
A key message of all our work is that long boat trips, complicated equipment and deep dives aren’t needed to appreciate our marine life. With patience and the right conditions, you can see wonders with a mask and snorkel right next to a beach, or simply by looking into a rockpool.
Updated information October 2021:
The 4th edition of Paul’s book, Great British Marine Animals, was published in June 2021. With 500 stunning new photographs of animals in action, extra species and a lot more stories of the creatures’ amazing behaviour, it is much the biggest upgrade so far. More information can be found at marinephoto.co.uk