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Grand Reef of the Stagonids

Toreo woke with a sudden start, then lay back down - he hadn't realized the extent of his hangover until he tried to get up. With a groan, he turned his head to look around him.   "What...?" The marshal didn't remember much of last night, but the realization that he had been sleeping at the bottom of an outrigger canoe was deeply unpleasant. He tried to sit up again, but the muscles in his abdomen refused the call. Toreo let out a groan before looking upward. The morning sky, like every clear sky out in the islands, was a beautiful sight. Or it would be if the clouds weren't moving a little too quickly.   He bolted upright and immediately put his head over the side to retch, before looking around. The outrigger was adrift; he was definitely not at the marina dock in Nenuph. The marshal looked at the untied ends of the mooring rope with a sour expression.   "Don't tell me I'm going to have to row back to town." Though Toreo couldn't identify any of the islands on the horizon, he was smack in the middle of the Grand Reef, and the ocean was full of colorful corals and schooling fish. More than a few extra-curious fish were following the outrigger as it drifted.   There was something strangely calming about the situation. Being afloat in the middle of the Grand Reef in the early morning, without the magistrate to pester him? He watched a school of fish dart in and around a keyhole coral. The painter of Vodeni was right - the mural was a mere shadow of the seascape paradise.   Wait. Was that a dreadshark following the canoe? Toreo squinted before reaching for the oar. There was more than one. Did his retching attract them? Were they waiting for him to die of alcohol poisoning so they could eat his corpse? The marshal shook his head and began to paddle. Paradise was nice and all until the sharks ate you.

Geography

The island reefs of The Stagonids are the largest and most productive shallow ocean fisheries in all of Saibh. While the islands of the Stagonids vary in size and importance, the Grand Reef is a single colossal underwater world, surrounding the islands and snaking through the outlying waters. The reef is at its most prominent in the eastern trailing edge of the archipelago, a day's sail past the walls of Nenuph.   To first-time visitors, the reef presents an incredible sight; a riot of colorful corals stretching between the horizons, with all manner of fish swarming by the thousands. On a clear day, the reefs and sky can create a visual that many artists of the Etoile Capital City describe as 'paradise', an endless expanse of blue sky and water. The natural beauty of the seascape remains the principal draw of the region and attracts a multitude of visitors from all across the Principality.   The Grand Reef remains a dangerous navigational hazard for any ship with a deep draft. Because of this, shallow-bottomed outriggers are the predominant form of personal transportation in and around the reefs themselves, with heavy power-sails restricted to known safe channels.

Fauna & Flora

The Grand Reef is the most diverse waterscape known to Etoile. The local corals (a type of underwater plant-like organism that 'builds' the reef structure) are almost certainly unique to the area; reefs in other parts of the Feryll Sea are smaller and less successful. A general principle borne from natural observation is that success begets success. The three hundred miles of corals attract incredible variety and quantity of fish and are a bonanza for both naturalists and fishermen. Academy researchers are on their sixth edition of a published survey of sea life in the Grand Reef, and each edition is forwarded with the frank admission that the survey will likely never be complete. Noted species include:  
  • Vast quantities of orange halibut, a sizable flatfish, rarely found in significant quantities in other parts of the sea, and a primary commercial fish
  • Red-tipped needlefish, the toxins of which cause Needlefish Poisoning
  • Dreadsharks, named as such for their ferocity and danger to fishermen when caught
  • Pacifying seagrass, an aquatic plant that induces stupor in animals when eaten, a valuable medicine source
  • Iridescent Silverfish, the scales of which seem to change color on viewing angles, a favorite subject for sketchwork
  • The only known source of pearlfish, a bottom-feeding fish that holds and builds a unique pearl in its belly for digestion, which is far more expensive than the comparatively mundane pearls from oysters, fished by The Isle of Pearls 
  • Expeditions to the Grand Reef by would-be naturalists are common enough to where the Academy maintains a permanent boarding house in Nenuph for visiting scholars.

    Natural Resources

    The principal natural resource to be found in and around the Grand Reef are fish. Fishing in the Grand Reef is said to produce up to six times the number of fish produced in other waters, on a daily basis. The sheer quantity of fish makes the Reef seem inexhaustible, but in truth, catches have declined on a seasonal basis, and the Principality of Etoile has imposed catch restrictions. Fishers sell the catch they don't intend to eat to salter operations in Nenuph, preserving the fish in salt for shipping to other parts of Etoile. Each fisher is only paid a per-day maximum in an attempt to discourage overfishing.   Other than the fish themselves, the natural beauty of the area is the second most important resource of the Reef, and tourist consortium interests often clash with that of the local fisheries.

    History

    While the Grand Reef is a majestic sight, it has historically been a major hazard for shipping, as the Stagonids serve as a critical crossing point on the great circular trade routes. Captains sailing through had to contend not only with potential interdiction from the local pirates, but also the labyrinth of shallow reefs and sandbars, a wrecking hazard for any carrack without up-to-date navigational charts. This was most apparent during the Principality's campaign to suppress pirate activity, after The War of Unification - several Principality Siege-sails ran aground on reefs, with more losses from wrecking than to pirate battle.   Subsequently, the Principality dredged a deep channel between Port Ives on the mainland and Corrir Island, destroying the section of reef there but opening a safe transit passage for trade ships. The elimination of the pirates enabled massive growth in both the tourism and fishing industries in and around the Grand Reef - the fishers of the reef have scaled from simply hand fishing from outrigger canoes, to hauling fish in by the hundreds into the holds of specially-constructed Power-sails. The commerce fishers compete for space with the tourist sails all across the Great Reef.

    Tourism

    One of the first Etoilean visitors to the Stagonids was a painter from The Academy of Etoile seeking inspiration; upon her return to the capital, she painted a colossal mural depicting the Grand Reef as it appears surrounding the walled island of Nenuph. The mural, while an excellent example of Etoilean romanticism, was considered by the painter a failure; she believed it did not capture even a fraction of the beauty of the Reef. This, however, did not stop tourism developers from taking immediate interest in exploiting the area for the trade, the Unified Trade Consortium foremost among them.   Tourist craft are now a common sight in the reef waters, often lined up in single file in some of the more treacherous channels. While the fish don't seem to mind the crowds, locals to the area regularly voice their displeasure, as the hulking passenger power-sails often disrupt the local fishermen.
    Type
    Coral Reef, Atoll
    Location under
    Owning Organization
    Inhabiting Species

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    Comments

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    Jul 19, 2020 12:53

    Amazing article! My favourite part was how expeditions are common enough that the academy has a permanent boarding house. Great touch!   I do have a question: with all of that fishing going on, plus the tourism, is there any chance that the reef is being overexploited?

    Jul 19, 2020 18:36

    Oh, most definitely. They're just not at the point in the timeline where the effects are obvious (unlike the real world)

    Jul 19, 2020 19:34

    Makes sense, thanks for answering :)