Sheila Hurst is both a reader and a writer with a love of the sea. We connected through a love of literature concerning the sea, I recommended Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea Wind and she recommended The Outermost House by naturalist writer Henry Beston to me, a writer who Rachel Carson mentions as her only other influence when she wrote Under the Sea-Wind.
Ocean Echoes follows a period in the life of a marine researcher named Ellen, who is dedicated to her work, the study of jellyfish, her main desire to discover a new species. She has become ever more focused on her work since a major betrayal that crossed both personal and professional boundaries, an experience that has made her cautious of becoming close to others and less trusting about divulging the findings of her research.
She and her young male assistant Ryan, are soon to join a group on a research cruise to a group of Pacific Island atolls, a fact-finding mission that has suddenly become all the more important as their funding is under threat, the expedition will either help generate funding or could put an end to her research career.
The area they are going into is populated by islanders who have a very different relationship to their environment and the sea, they have rituals that must be respected, if they are to maintain a harmonious symbiotic relationship with the sea. Some of the researchers were resentful at having to go along with their demands, seeing them as no more than superstitions.
“One of our gods in Mala legend is the fierce sea monster Minawaka. He was once the guardian of the reef entrance to our island. He would change into a shark and travel through the reef, challenging others to fight. But whenever he fought as a shark, great waves would form, valleys would flood, and there would be much suffering…Until one day a giant octopus grew tired of the waves and the suffering caused from all this fighting. This octopus snuck up behind Minawaka and coiled his tentacles around him. The octopus began to squeeze. Minawaka begged for mercy and agreed never to fight again or harm anyone from the island of Mala.”
They saw it as the stuff of legends that had been created to explain the unknown, stories they had little use for in the information age. Ellen knew this, but some of the things she experiences in this environment she has difficulty explaining.
“Ellen had always tried to explain the unexplainable. Now, after visiting this land of magic and legends she wasn’t so sure. Maybe the opposite had been true all along and nothing could ever be fully explained.”
On their research dives, Ellen’s discovers something that may be a new species, but there is something strange and menacing about it, especially when they swarm together. Not only is she looking into this strange new species, but they are discovering the little known history of the area they are in, which has its own dark, menacing past.
Ocean Echoes begins at a gentle pace, with the sense of a story of transformation, but quickly develops into a thrilling mystery, as we enter into a marine sanctuary that is harbouring its own dark secrets. In a world of legends, we are never sure what is real and what is imagined, however the threat is ever-present and the pace quickens along with a sense of foreboding.