The Two Oceans Aquarium was host to an underwater book launch on Friday July 7, which saw explorer Riaan Manser and co-author Murray Williams read about Manser’s kayak journey around Madagascar in diving suits inside the I&J Exhibit, surrounded by stingrays, turtles and fish.
Mr Manser, from Somerset West, was the first person to circumnavigate Madagascar by kayak – alone and unaided.
He has also achieved other firsts, from cycling 37 000km around the perimeter of Africa, to rowing across the Atlantic with his fiancé, and kayaking around Iceland with a handicapped partner.
The year-long adventure around Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, was together by Mr Williams in a 125-page children’s book called My First Wild Island Adventure.
During the 5 000km journey, which took place in 2009, he survived many obstacles, including pounding seas, cyclones and an unrelenting sun, as well as a bump from a shark, whales meters away from his kayak, a robbery and incarceration from rebels.
“During my cycling around Africa, it was so amazing because of the experiences. I went through on every single coast in Africa. I learnt languages and lived in jungles – and I wanted to share this with children,” he said.
He said in Madagascar, the sea life was exhilarating.
“I learnt so much about the animals and kelp dying, and the strain our oceans are under.”
He said originally, he wasn’t going to write for children, but an encounter with Mr Williams and his daughter during a bike ride in Somerset West got the ball rolling.
“Bethany (Mr Williams’ daughter) called out to me in passing: ‘You should write children’s books’. And I promised her I would. A dew days later, it was beginning to materialise.
My First Wild Island Adventure is the second children’s book by Mr Manser, and follows on chronologically from My First African Adventure, published in 2022, documenting a journey during which he was the first person in history to cycle solo around the outside edge of Africa.
Mr Williams said with the “My First” books, they were for families.
“You get children’s books and adults books and they are very different. What we want to create is books for families and people and to create a place where they meet. Everything in these books are real things that happened to Riaan. There are stories, pictures and fact pages.”
Of the underwater launch, Mr Manser said, they thought of doing something different.
“We thought ‘why don’t people just do this?’ – and now we know.”
He said, while it was difficult to stay on the seats provided in the exhibit because of the scuba gear, he could not contain his excitement when seeing the children’s excitement through the glass, especially when a turtle made an appearance while he was reading of his adventures with a turtle.
He said they were also worried that the muscle crackers were going to interrupt the treasure chest and go for the colours in the book but that didn’t happen.
“I was secretly hoping that they were going to give us a show.”
The communications manager at the aquarium, Heather Wares, said the aquarium were in awe of the adventurous spirit and perseverance of Mr Manser and his team.
“They draw attention to the importance of education (with fun) of the marine environment and its inhabitants. We are honoured to be a part of this incredible first-of -its-kind underwater book launch.”
Mr Manser said he takes his role as a children’s book writer very seriously.
“Mothers are important, but fathers lacking in our children’s lives create societal problems. I take this job very seriously. I’m not only a father to my boys, but through my books, I am helping parents connect with their kids.”
Mr Manser does readings at schools to introduce children to reading. To connect and organise a reading, contact email@example.com