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The Jade Coast: The Ecology of the North Pacific Ocean

by Robert Butler

The Jade Coast stretches from northern California to southeast Alaska, and Robert Butler, in his roles as park naturalist, wildlife biologist, government scientist, and university professor, knows a lot about the region and the thousands of species that live there.

The Jade Coast is an attractive book that looks at the open ocean and its four common coastal environments: rocky shores, gravel and sand, eelgrass meadows and salt marsh, and estuaries. After two introductory chapters on the coast’s weather, tides, and food webs, each ecosystem is looked at in greater detail, with the myriad creatures described according to their role: producers, filter feeders, grazers, scavengers, or predators. The four environments are distinct and faunally rich in their own ways. Each species within these four settings is placed in the context of its role in the food web, giving the reader a clear understanding of the complex interactions that make an ecosystem.

The difficulty here lies in the subject’s very richness – the Jade Coast boasts 6,500 species of invertebrates alone. This abundance makes sections of the book occasionally read like a list. Butler wisely balances this data with some entertaining personal anecdotes, such as the time he was outsmarted by crows, and with vivid imagery, as when he compares the “mass of migratory living tissue” of spawning herring to a herd of wildebeest thundering over the Serengeti Plain.

The photographs are beautiful. Short sidebars cover a wealth of topics, from periwinkles to the best time and place to see whales, and each section is headed by quotes that come from everyone from Byron to Tolkien. There is also a useful glossary, end notes, and an index, making The Jade Coast an excellent guide to the diverse creatures any visitor to the shore is likely to find.