In Spring Tides, marine biologist Fiona Gell tells the story of a pioneering project to create the very first marine nature reserve on the Isle of Man. Growing up in a traditional fishing family on the island, Fiona spent her time on her grandfather's boat, listening to stories from the local fishermen and combing the beach for mermaid's purses and whelks' eggs. She developed a lifelong love of the sea and Manx culture, and on her return to the island after twelve years away studying marine life, she led a three-year-long struggle to protect an area called Ramsey Bay and the precious emerald green eelgrass forests which grew there. With scientific insight and spellbinding prose, she perfectly captures the wonder of island life, from the intricate beauty of bright pink maerl to the enormity of giant basking sharks spotted off the cliffs of the bay. This beautiful story from a small island reveals the transformative power of the sea and the importance of protecting it for future generations.
"This is my earliest memory. I am three years old and I sit in the bottom of my great-uncle’s pot boat and take off the bands from the lobsters’ claws. The deepest of blues, they creak over the bilges with robotic limbs towards my father’s bare feet as he rows. Over the scent of the herring bait I can smell the fresh, sweet smell of wrack on the shore. This book has come out of over twenty years of studying the sea and trying to protect it, and a lifetime of loving our other world beneath waves. The sea is my work and my passion. I have been its advocate in situations where I must be reasoned, considered and evidence-based. But, I am also seduced and obsessed by the infinite diversity of the sea, its breath-stopping beauty and capacity for surprise. I have stood frozen in primitive fear as a basking shark, its granite skin dappled by sunlight, looms under the boat for long seconds. I have dived on our cold water horse mussel reefs, where the queen scallops are encrusted in golden sponges and the crimson squat lobsters wave their claws in the current, laughing with delight into my regulator. I have breathed deep on the bow of a scallop dredger in the twilight before dawn as we make our way to the fishing grounds, the crew on the deck smoking in silence as the sun begins to rise out of the dark, silver sea."
Dr Fiona Gell has a PhD in marine conservation and over 20 years experience working as a marine biologist. She is currently the Marine Wildlife and Conservation Officer with the Wildlife and Conservation Division of the Isle of Man Government. She grew up on the Isle of Man and still lives on the island with her husband and young son. She is also a published poet.
"A stunning book, exquisitely written and all of it observed with enormous compassion for the natural world. Every page of Spring Tides gives the reader everything they want: poetry, knowledge, bejewelled specifics of the ocean and its creatures. As we read, we grow richer, too. You will fall in love with this book, treasure it, and keep it somewhere safe. A book for our time."
– Monique Roffey, author of The Mermaid of Black Conch, Costa Book of the Year 2020
"Insightful and brimming with marvels, this story of one woman's love of an island opens a window to our entire ocean, why it matters and how to protect it. At a time when the rampant decline of nature can feel overwhelming, Gell offers a reasoned and much-needed ray of hope, showing that it is possible to safeguard livelihoods and the ocean's living treasures, and that it doesn't have to be a choice between the two."
– Helen Scales, author of The Brilliant Abyss and What a Shell Can Tell
"I loved Spring Tides. Seeding hope and wonder for future generations is a courageous calling and this is a beautifully-crafted triumph. The interweaving of motherhood with marine science, climate and the immeasurable pleasures of our own seashores is a pure delight. Please read this book!"
– Nicholas Crane, author of The Making of the British Landscape
"Fiona Gell writes with the understanding of a scientist and the soul of a poet. The result is a beautiful and bracingly honest account of her efforts to protect the island seas of her home. Her descriptions are so vivid that as you read you can almost feel the lick of saltwater on your skin and smell the desiccating seaweed of a summer low tide."
– Callum Roberts, author of Ocean of Life
"A beautiful, briny portrait of one woman's infatuation with the sea. Fiona Gell has been steeped in salt water her whole life, and her deep understanding, knowledge of and love for her subject shines through."
– Cal Flyn, author of Islands of Abandonment
"It's a rare treat to read a book about the sea that is as professional as it is passionate. Fiona Gell's experience and immersion in her subject is impressive."
– Tristan Gooley, author of The Natural Navigator
"Anyone bound for the sea should be armed with this exceptional and engaging book."
– Country Life
"A passionate, moving account of the transformative power of the sea"
– Martin Chilton, Independent 'Book of the Month'
"Elegantly written [...] a heartfelt and authoritative memoir by a person formed and sustained by the island's natural environment [...] Spring Tides brims with quirky anecdotes rooted in love for a unique place as well as delivering an important message through expertise lightly worn."
– Charlie Connelly, Geographic magazine
"Fiona Gell describes a life dedicated to the preservation of a delicate habitat with a stirring, even spiritual, commitment."
"Flowing between oceanic memoir and marine conservation on the Isle of Man, [Gell] lures readers with evocative descriptions of nature and personal histories of a life by the sea. It will appeal to the inner naturalist and to the child within who scours rock pools, seeks treasure troves of drifting shells, and marvels at a Maiden's Purse [...] Gell's writing is as enticing as it is informative [...] this luscious memoir in which readers learn how nature reserves are essential in the wider context of climate change. We yearn for that mutual exchange which occurs when we nurture nature as we wonder at horse mussel reefs, quahogs, and cephalopods, and we fall in love with the sea."
– Lynn Buckle, The Irish Times