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The Fragile Edge:
Diving and Other Adventures
in the South Pacific
(2008 nonfiction winner)
by Julia Whitty
Houghton Mifflin (USA)

Judges' Citation:
In The Fragile Edge Julia Whitty shows us the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the grace of the creatures that live in it.  She also imparts a clear warning about the environmental dangers that threaten not only the sea but also the lives of Pacific Islanders, whose homes are endangered by the rising sea levels caused by global warming.  In prose as luminous as the ocean she describes, Whitty refocuses the reader's mind on "the essence of this extraterrestrial world."

Book Description

Only three hundred thirty coral atolls remain on the planet. Scarcer still are those people who have made it their life's work to illuminate the invisible intricacies of these amazing — and endangered — ecosystems.

Acclaimed journalist and producer Julia Whitty is one of those people, and in The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific, she shares everything she knows.

Whitty's experiences diving in the waters off Rangiroa, Tuvalu, and Mo'orea yield extraordinary insights into the mysterious beauty of the ocean world. Whether documenting the acrobatic leaps and bansheelike wailing of a school of spinner dolphins, risking nitrogen narcosis to better observe the stunning swarms of an army of gray reef sharks, unveiling the complex and hermaphroditic life cycles of coral species, or describing the increasingly large (and invariably human-caused) challenges these underwater realms face, Whitty is equal parts scientist and underwater shaman.

Whitty brings to life not only the goings-on beneath the ocean's surface, but also stories from the topside, painting lively portraits of those individuals whose fates are interwoven with that of the sea. From the ancient, seemingly fragile Tuvaluan woman who erupts into a joyous dance at a traditional wedding celebration (while wearing a Nike "Just Do It" T-shirt) to the jaded French dive master whose malaise can be lifted only by an enormous tiger shark he calls Belle, Whitty is as adept at crystallizing the quirks and mysteries of this planet's land dwellers as she is its aquatic ones. (Source:

Julia Whitty is the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific. Her collection of short stories, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. It received wide acclaim from critics, who praised Whitty's fluid prose and sharp wit: "Whitty [shows] prodigious natural talents: a supple biodiversity of language and an empathy for people and animals that puts most other writers in the shade," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle. The Washington Post noted that "serious environmentalists are seldom noted for their sense of humor. This is not surprising, considering the serious mess we humans have got our planet into. Still, a little laughter is healing. Julia Whitty is one of those who can provide it."

Whitty has received an O. Henry Award, a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, and the Bernice Slote Award for Fiction. Her more than seventy nature documentaries have aired on National Geographic, Nature, the Discovery Channel, the Arts & Entertainment Channel, and with numerous broadcasters around the world. Also a prolific journalist, Whitty has written many feature articles for Mother Jones, including "The Thirteenth Tipping Point," "The Fate of the Ocean," "Accounting Coup," "Smuggling Hope," and "All the Disappearing Islands." Whitty's cover article for Harper's Magazine, "Shoals of Time," was a finalist for a National Magazine Award, and she recently won a 2006 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism for her Mother Jones cover story "The Fate of the Ocean." She lives in northern California.


"For those of us who can't visit the South Pacific, television documentary writer and producer Whitty gives us the next best thing. Her way with language — at times reminiscent of Lynne Cox's poetical Grayson — makes readers feel they are actually part of the coral reef atoll environment, both above and below the surface." — Library Journal

"For Julia Whitty... veteran oceanic documentary writer and producer, revelations both profound and informed ping from all directions... loath to trade on Shark Week sensibilities, [h]er rapture is more subtle, grand, intelligent and cosmological; and her primary devotion is to the coral reefs. Whitty’s prose is supple and scientifically informed (a rare and graceful mix), and her intimacies with the ocean’s curiosities captivate. — New York Times

"Writer and filmmaker Julia Whitty will make even the most landlocked among us feel that we have been privy to the mystery and wonder of the undersea world. The product of a scientist's mind, a sociologist's eye, a Zen Buddhist's soul, and a poet's heart, The Fragile Edge is at once a natural history, a call to action, a love song, and a prayer. — O, the Oprah Magazine


Visit the author's website:

Read a review of The Fragile Edge in WaterBridge Review.

Author photo by Sharon Urquhart




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