Early years in Sudan and Hong Kong
Richard Field attended Reading School (1954-61) and joined the foreign service staff of Cable & Wireless Ltd in 1962. His interest in marine life started when he worked for the Eastern Telegraph Company in Port Sudan in the 1960’s. He spent his leisure hours free diving and spear fishing. Inspired by Hans Hass’s book Under the Red Sea, published in the early 1950’s after his sojourn in Port Sudan, Richard bought a camera for £10 and designed and built an underwater camera housing using surplus telegraphic equipment. One of his earliest photographs, taken in 1964, shows a large group of Bumphead parrotfish.
In the 1970’s Richard moved to Hong Kong as a Chartered Engineer in telecommunications, working for Cable and Wireless. He became a keen sailor and also continued free diving. On a trip to Japan he bought a Nikonos III underwater camera, one of the first of the series to be made.
In Hong Kong he met his future wife, Mary, a biologist.
Saudi Arabia and the Red Sea
The next ‘seaside’ posting came in 1988 when, married and with a 7 year old son, he took up a job with the national airline in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the shore of the Red Sea. Many weekends were spent in a shared beach cabin in Obhur Creek. First a small, then a much larger marine aquarium, stocked with locally caught fish, took pride of place in the sitting room.
Young Francis had a long-held wish: to start scuba diving. When he turned 12 in 1993 the whole family became certified divers.
The only guide to Red Sea fishes available at the time was Red Sea Reef Fishes by Dr. John E. Randall. The Fields started to tick off in the book all the species they had observed. Richard started taking photographs with the Nikonos III but soon graduated to 35 mm Olympus OM series cameras in a second hand Hugyfot housing. He later changed to Nikon F90X in an Aquatica housing.
Frequently they observed and photographed species that were not in the Randall book and turned first to other books, then the internet for identifications. Soon Richard was in e-mail contact with a number of ichthyologists who were very generous with their help with identifications. Foremost among the early contacts was Dr Randall himself.
Gradually the idea of writing an identification book took shape. This meant becoming more serious about the scientific side of fish identification. Scientific names had to be memorised, the technical vocabulary of ichthyology had to be mastered and great care had to be taken to ensure that identifications were accurate and the latest scientific names were used.
Reef Fishes of the Red Sea written jointly by Richard and Mary was published in 1998. All the photographs in the book were taken by Richard in the Red Sea. This is important because the same species can exhibit variations in colour in different locations in the Indian Ocean.
Richard set up an underwater photography website to show his latest photographs. He established new records of a number of fish species that have not been recorded previously in the Red Sea.
He became a regular contributor of photographs to Fish Base a global information site and searchable database that documents almost all the known fish species in the world. To date over 1000 of his photographs appear on the site.
He also contributes to ARKive, a not for profit initiative of the charity Wildsreen. ARKive seeks to ‘use the power of wildlife imagery to inspire the global community to discover, value and protect the natural world’. (http://www.arkive.org)
Richard retired from his job with Saudi Arabian Airlines in early 2001. In May Richard and Mary travelled to Durban in South Africa to attend the Indo Pacific Fish Conference, a gathering of ichthyologists that takes place every four years in a different location in the region. There they had a chance to meet in person many of the scientists who so generously helped with identifications for the Red Sea book. Later that year he accompanied Mary to her new job in Muscat, Oman.
Immediately on arrival Richard and Mary started to explore the dive sites of the Gulf of Oman around Muscat. Trips to Musandam, Masirah, Salalah and Mirbat followed.
Richard was now able to devote all his time to his beloved reef fish. His second book, Reef Fishes, UAE and Gulf of Omanwas published in 2005.
During their time in Oman Richard and Mary took part in a number of conservation efforts. The Reef Ball project monitored the growth of coral on artificial reef structures located near Fahal Island. Richard did a lot of the photographic documentation for the project.
They took part in a project to relocate hard coral from an area where new hotels were being built and regularly participated in net clearing dives organised by the government ministry looking after the environment.
In 2006 Richard and Mary, now both retired, settled in Malta. By this time Richard had accumulated over 8,000 underwater photographs in colour slide form. The first few years of retirement were spent scanning and cataloguing them. In the mean time he finally gave in to the demands of new technology and switched to digital format using an Olympus PEN E-PL1 camera.
Dive trips to other areas such as Thailand and Maldives followed but their attention was still focused on Oman and the Red Sea. New, updated print editions of both previous books were contemplated but in the end the decision was made to opt for an e-book format.
In early 2012 Richard received very exciting news from Dr John Randall. Many years before, when he was still in Jeddah, Richard queried the identification of a small damselfish called Half-and-half chromis , (Chromis dimidiata). The photograph in Dr Randall’s book was taken off the coast of East Africa and did not look exactly the same as the fish found in the Red Sea. Based on DNA comparisons of the two populations it was established that they were indeed different species. Dr Randall named the new species Chromis fieldi, common name Two-tone chromis.
For complicated scientific reasons the new name was assigned to the Indian Ocean species so Richard does not have his own underwater photograph of it.
The present book is the first of three planned e-books. Arabian Underwater Naturalist will focus on the invertebrate life of the area and a new, expanded guide to the reef fishes of the Red Sea will follow in the coming months.
Richard and Mary regularly return to Oman and the Red Sea to dive and will post reports and photographs from their trips on this web site.
Their son, Francis, now lives in Abu Dhabi with his wife and young son.