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NEPTUNE'S CHALLENGE

neptune
 

The Great Barrier Reef is in danger of being taken over by the voracious crown of thorns starfish after the 2010 Queensland floods. Neptune needs an assistant with imagination to solve this problem. When these starfish spawn in large numbers it will ruin the Reef for decades, if not forever. He chooses the teenager Charlotte who treats the Coral Sea as her backyard.

Charlotte is dumbfounded when she is turned into a mermaid and given the power of the universal language so she can understand most of the marine life and birds. Bellycan the pelican mentors her and Bottles the dolphin teaches her how to dive and swim as her body changes.

Shortly after swimming to the Bahamas, Charlotte is called back to the Coral Sea. She is the only one capable of doing an important job. The helpful characters consist of Sam the clam, Rocky lobster, Sandy sponge, Sideways crab, Bottles the dolphin and the very overbearing and bossy octopus, Madam Armsfull, manager of the Great Barrier Reef Beauty Parlour.

On her travels she teams up with albatross, manta ray, marlin and whale. She becomes aware of a number of predators of the crown of thorns who might help Charlotte. In this way the Reef may be saved… but will they be in time? 

In Store Price: $AU25.95 
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ISBN:   978-1-921919-80-0
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 177
Genre: Fiction/Children

Cover - Clive Dalkins
Cover design: Nancy Bevington

Author: Wendy Busby
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2012
Language: English

This is an interesting environmental fantasy. It is a great adventure and, once Neptune and the ability to become a mermaid are accepted, along with the universal sea language, it is all quite plausible. Children will enjoy it for the excitement and tension of the problem and its solution. There is also humour in the different sea creatures and their distinct personalities, as well as tragedy. 

It will also be popular in schools, because it carries such a lot of information about the oceans and the coral reef. Apart from the fantasy element, all the information is accurate, there are for instance, four hundred different types of seaweed on the Reef alone.

Dr Virginia Lowe – Create a kids’ book: Assessment and Workshops

www.creatakidsbook.com

 

Chapter 1- part sample

 

Norm knocked gently on Charlotte’s bedroom door before entering and bending to gently shake her shoulder to wake her up. She opened her eyes and looking up at her father, remembered they’d decided to go snorkelling off the beach early this morning.

‘See you out the front in a few minutes, Lotte. The sky is clear and the water translucent. I bet it’ll be teaming with spectacular marine life,’ her father prompted.

‘Is it dawn already? Hang in there, Dad. I’ll just be a tick.’

It took her a matter of seconds to pull on some old track pants and a t-shirt over her bathers and be on the front porch with her goggles, flippers and snorkel. It was mid-June and although it was the middle of winter the water temperature would be warm – an average of twenty one to twenty three degrees.

As the sun’s glow faintly lit the horizon, father and daughter chatted about what was happening at her school and the family farm as they walked down the rutted road to the beach and along to the rocky headland at the north end. It was brilliant to have the Coral Sea just a kilometre walk away from where they lived, and just off this particular headland was the most amazing coral garden. Norm was a banana farmer who owned a property in Far North Queensland. It wasn’t very often he could just relax with his daughter and ‘chill-out’ doing something they both enjoyed so much.

Charlotte impatiently threw off her outer clothes, donned her goggles and flippers and backed into the water, clutching her snorkel in her hand. Norm was right beside her. They only had to swim out a short way to be on part of the famous Great Barrier Reef, where the most magnificent corals and tropical fish lived. They were lucky, as most of the coast was from five to twenty kilometres from where the coral started to grow. There were over three thousand coral reefs and nine hundred islands making up the Reef. Charlotte loved telling visitors that the Great Barrier Reef was the only living structure that could be seen from the moon.

She never tired of snorkelling. There were hundreds of different types of coral. The hard corals … those with more than six tentacles, were the reef-building corals. Pieces of these were called skeletons. Then there were soft corals made up of eight tentacles, like sea fans and sea pens which waved gracefully in the currents. The category five Cyclone Yasi had hit the coast only five months ago and broken pieces of coral littering the bottom were testament to how powerful it had been.

Father and daughter swam side by side for a while, nudging each other and pointing as they saw something interesting. It was especially vibrant today with surgeonfish, anemonefish, the odd clownfish and the magnificently coloured parrotfish darting through the spires of coral. Eventually father and daughter drifted apart and were totally engrossed in their own sea realms.

Charlotte swam over a particularly pretty patch of soft corals. It was a swirling mass of colour from the hundreds of small fish of different types darting and weaving amongst the coral looking for food. She reached out and found that some of the fish were so tame they nibbled gently on her fingers.

She hoped to become a marine biologist when she left school and already knew that coral reefs occupy less than one percent of the surface area of the world oceans, yet they provide a home for twenty five percent of all marine fish species. Learning about the different species of fish and types of coral was not a chore at all … but a real pleasure.

There was so much to learn about the Great Barrier Reef, with forty species of sea birds, one and a half thousand types of fish and about four thousand types of molluscs. She also couldn’t get over the fact that there were nearly one thousand types of sea sponges. Hopefully she wouldn’t have to remember all their names.

One of the most exciting things to see when snorkelling was a giant clam, which could grow up to one metre in length. Charlotte was hovering over such a clam when a huge wave suddenly surged over her head and picked her up, tossing her about like a weightless grain of sand. Her goggles and snorkel were ripped from her face. Flippers were pulled from her feet by the surge. She was tumbling over and over and swallowing seawater. She was close to passing out, when suddenly she was lifted from the top of the next wave by something underneath her. Looking down she found herself on the back of a large turtle and she gripped tightly to its mighty shell as it swam away from the rocks and headed straight out to sea.

Charlotte did not dare let go, as she’d have been washed back to the beach and rocks to be crushed to pulp by the huge waves that were still buffeting the shoreline. She just had to trust her luck and hang on, breathing all the fresh air she could and coughing the salt water out of her lungs. She laid her head on the shell pillow beneath her and went into a kind of timeless trance.

She must have lost consciousness for a while, because as she slowly came to, she found herself lying on a small atoll in a magnificent blue lagoon with small waves lapping at the shore. She sat up and looked around her, wondering where she was.

‘Hello! Dad, where are you? I just had the most amazing dream. Just blew me away! Hello!’

She could dimly make out a shape coming towards her across the water. Was it her father in a boat? As the shape got closer it appeared to be a giant of a man with a long grey beard on a magnificent horse. She rubbed her eyes … that couldn’t be right. She sat up as the man and horse stopped just before her.

Charlotte … I’m Neptune, God of the Oceans. I understand that you want to become a marine biologist and it’s very important for the future of the world that we have biologists that truly understand the oceans and their inhabitants. I want you to travel the seas, where you’ll find ecological problems that need urgent attention. On your travels you’ll meet hundreds of types of marine life and many species of birds. I’m giving you this opportunity to gain a thorough insight into the underwater world. Open your heart and head and learn all that you can,’ said Neptune. He turned, and with a flourish of his horse’s tail was gone, just as quickly as he had arrived.

Charlotte just lay there stunned. Of course this was just a dream. Maybe Dad hadn’t even woken her yet to go snorkelling. But … deep down she knew differently.

From across the water a large pelican was swimming towards her and as it came to a halt in front of her, opened its huge beak to say, ‘I’m Bertha Bellycan, the assistant of Neptune. You’ve been chosen to join the ocean world as a mermaid and I’ll help you adjust to living in the sea. You must now follow me into the shallows, where the magic fish will transform you.’          

Charlotte was dumbstruck. How could she understand what a pelican was saying? But the pelican just stood at her feet and waited patiently.

‘Go away and leave me alone. Shoo! You’ve got to be a figment of my imagination. I’ve swallowed too much water and am hallucinating. I have to search for my father. We were caught up in a sudden surge of waves. Maybe it was a mini tsunami … whatever, I can’t believe you’re talking to me and I’m talking back!’

Bertha took Charlotte’s feet in her large beak and with great effort pulled her down the sand bank into the water where she lay submerged up to her waist. Charlotte was still too confused and disorientated to fight back.

‘What’re you doing, you silly bird? Let go! What … did you say, mermaid … me? I’m definitely going off my rocker,’ said Charlotte as she tried to wriggle her feet out of the pelican’s large beak. ‘Where’s my father? What’s happened to him? Are you going to make him into a merman? Unbelievable! Get a grip. Oh bummer – I suppose you have,’ she mumbled, as she was dragged further into the water.

‘Don’t worry … your father’s fine … he’s on the shore looking for you,’ responded Bertha. ‘Now, be a good girl and stay calm. Stop being so feisty.’

There was a swirl of iridescent fish. They swam around and around Charlotte’s legs trailing silver ribbons behind them. It was a really beautiful sight and she became quite hypnotised as she realised that they were circling her legs and binding them together. The water was suddenly filled with shimmering discs as these magic fish rubbed silvery scales onto Charlotte’s bound legs, their sticky surface adhering to form a fish tail. She felt she should struggle, but just couldn’t find any energy. She’d better jump up and hurry away. She tried that but could only flap her new tail – which got her nowhere. It seemed the only thing to do was to get fully into the water and try to swim away.

She skidded down the bank until she was totally submerged and wriggled her new tail, which propelled her forward, but also tossed her over, causing her to gasp and swallow sea water. The more she flapped and wriggled the more she came to understand how her tail worked.

 

With the help of her new companion Bertha, in only a few hours Charlotte learned to swim like a fish. Then she was hungry, and Bertha told her to try the seaweed. She discovered that she enjoyed the taste. And as Bertha told her, there were over four hundred different varieties and they all tasted different, so she guessed that she wouldn’t be missing her human diet at all.

That evening, while they were resting and Charlotte was swishing her tail in the shallows of a lagoon, she asked Bertha.

‘Why have I been chosen to be a mermaid? Will I ever go back to being a human girl? Are there any other mermaids that I can meet and learn from? You really haven’t answered any of my questions, no matter how much I plead with you … or yell at you,’ huffed Charlotte.

‘All I can tell you at the moment is that this is really necessary. We need you in the near future to complete a task that will benefit the whole Great Barrier Reef. I’m afraid there’s no other way. You’ve been chosen for your ingenuity and intelligence, and also for your love of the Reef. You’ve been given this opportunity to learn in order to become an exceptional marine biologist who really cares for the oceans.’

‘Ah! So I might go back to being a human girl. At least that’s something you’ve let slip,’ said Charlotte.

Looking into Charlotte’s wide eyes, Bertha could see the opportunity to progress a bit further, so she continued, ‘Let’s do a quiz, and maybe that will answer some of your questions. Firstly, what do you like doing most?’

‘That’s easy … snorkelling. There are so many wonderful things to see on the Reef. I can just float for hours and duck-dive to the bottom to investigate the coral and all the amazing undersea animals even closer. It’s awesome!’

‘Good,’ replied Bertha. ‘Now, we know you’ve chosen to be a marine biologist as your profession. To study marine biology you would have to leave home and go to university. Would this be a problem for you?’

‘Are you kidding? I like to be independent, and I’m sure I’d make lots of new friends at uni. I’d miss Mum and Dad and my two brothers, but I’d see them at holidays,’ said Charlotte as she swished her fish-like tail in the water, sending a spray of iridescent drips into the air.

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