Duane Sept: Coast biologist revises seashore guidebook

The shores of the Sunshine Coast are teeming with marine plant and animal life, and if you’ve ever strolled along an area beach, looked down and asked, “What is that?” there’s a freshly updated and locally published guidebook with the answers. 

Harbour Publishing has just released The New Beachcomber’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest, by Halfmoon Bay biologist Duane Sept, an expanded edition that revises the book originally published in 1999. It was already at No. 5 on the B.C. Bestsellers list at the end of June. 

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“The new book has 830 photos and 520 species, covering lichens, seaweeds and animals,” Sept said in an interview. The new, glossy paperback also contains a 15-page front section of photos of common shells, for quick identification. “If you’re looking at a shell, it’s easier to identify one versus another if you have them comparatively arranged side by side,” Sept noted. 

Although Sept graduated in biology from the University of Alberta, he was not well-versed in marine species. He recalled that moving from land-locked Edmonton to Haida Gwaii for three years was a revelation. “I looked around the beach and wondered what on earth was all this neat stuff.” He soon found that while there were reference books on undersea life for divers, there were none on the myriad species he had been photographing in the intertidal zones on Haida Gwaii and later, after moving here, on the Sunshine Coast. 

“Eventually I put together the pieces of the puzzle and identified all the things I photographed and said to myself, ‘I think there’s a book here.’” 

Sept said he then called Howard White, head of Harbour Publishing in Madeira Park, who told him there was a staff meeting in a few days and asked if he’d join them for it. “I said ‘Sure, I’m ready.’” As it turned out, White was ready, too, and the book was soon published. “The timing was perfect,” Sept said. 

He has since published about 25 guidebooks on subjects as diverse as California and Atlantic seashores, rocks, minerals, mushrooms and birds. 

Sept admits he’s not fond of the word “beachcomber,” as it implies the harvesting of saleable items and souvenirs. He’d have preferred the book was called a “seashore guide,” but understands the chosen title makes the book more marketable, and that readers are more environmentally conscious now and won’t be misdirected by the word choice. 

When it comes to conscientious seashore exploring, Sept recommends that people take care when they examine creatures. “You can pick up a sea star, for instance, but the secret is to put it back exactly where you found it. Even if you move just a rock, carefully put it back. Creatures that you can’t see could die from the temperature change or from drying out.” 

The New Beachcomber’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest is available at Talewind Books in Sechelt, EarthFair in Madeira Park, other retail outlets, and online.

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