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The jaws of environmental destruction are hard to close

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SAVAGE SHORE: LIFE AND DEATH WITH NICARAGUA'S LAST SHARK HUNTERS By Edward Marriott Metropolitan Books 309 pp., $24

In search of the true story of the dwindling bull shark, British travel writer Edward Marriott takes the reader on a historical, archaeological, environmental, and sociological trek through Nicaragua. The stories he collects are often tragic and dismal, as desperate locals report the demise of their livelihood based on these vanishing animals. "Savage Shores: Life and Death With Nicaragua's Last Shark Hunters" drags a tight net through the entire culture of this troubled area.

From the Spanish Conquistadores, an array of pirates, up through the Civil War and the Sandinistas, this corner of Central America is brought to life through colorful and often sordid word pictures. The author carried no camera, but his vivid descriptions are a continual barrage on the senses. We join him in tasting the salt wind, frying in the heat of the sun, swatting the mosquitoes, and smelling an endless variety of unsavory characters and settings.

One cannot help but admire this writer's willingness to face continual peril in his quest for answers and understanding. Remaining unintimidated, even in a leaky dugout or on precarious footing, Marriott brings together a rich tapestry of tales.

All point to the devastating over-kill of sharks in the early 1970s during a clamor of competition and greed. Thousands of sharks were butchered each year as the high world-wide demand for shark-fin soup created many rich fishermen during a brief decade. Much of the rest of the meat was useful only for fertilizer.

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