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Neville Coleman Awarded Order of Australia Medal
By Dave Baxter, January 30, 2011 @ 04:45 PM (EST)
Source: ABC Science

Neville Coleman has achieved excellence in many fields of self-taught expertise, including his career as an underwater explorer, naturalist and environmental photographer, photojournalist, educator, conservationist, philosopher, publisher and even as a poet, becoming to one of the most accomplished underwater natural history authors in the world. Recently awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM), Neville reminisced on his journey- "I feel that this award is making the whole story worth the effort, because it gives it a fairy tale ending.”

The Order of Australia is the preeminent way Australians recognize the achievements and service of their countrymen. Nominations to the Order of Australia come directly from the community, either by individuals or by groups. 

Coleman, 72, finds himself in this honorary position despite a poor and violent childhood, and having ceased his education early into his high school years. Working as an apprentice in a printing business, his lungs were scarred by the corrosive acids used for the etching process. Despite his injury, Coleman fell in love with SCUBA diving and grew to love the life below the waves.

In 1963, his life reached a major turning point when, drawn by a love of nature and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, he set about to overcome his greatest fear -the ocean and its inhabitants- and began spending his spare time diving in Sydney Harbor. This urge to discover, and the unknown challenge of the sea, eventually led to his exploration on a more recognized scale. In 1969, after two years of preparation, he conducted the Australian Coastal Marine Expedition: a project of almost four years, encompassing 64,000 kilometers Australian coast, the lofty goal of which was to observe, record, photograph and collect many thousands of marine creatures for Australian museums.

Even still, Coleman fought for decades to have photography accepted as a valid way to identify new species; and as a result, photography is now an accepted method for taxonomy. Since 1973, Neville has cross-referenced approximately 100,000 transparencies with specimens of animals and plants donated to Australian Museums. Following the Australian Coastal Marine Expedition, over 160 minor expeditions have been carried out in global waters, from the Seychelles, to the British West Indies, Japan, and to New Zealand.

Discovering over 450 species new to science, over the course of 14,000 logged dives, Neville also has his photographs on display at most major museums and aquariums in Australia. The Australasian Marine Photographic Index, of which he is curator, is the largest visual identification system in the Southern hemisphere, with over 11,500 species photographed and cataloged.

Today, Neville Coleman runs his own business, writing and publishing books and software applications, giving lectures, running specialist dive courses and traveling to the world's greatest dive sites: all the while continuing to photograph wildlife.

Despite problems with his health last year, Neville has no plans to slow down. He has written three new electronic identification applications, which include 9000 of his own underwater images.

Looking towards future endeavors, Colemen explains wryly, "Staying alive is my biggest plan this year.”



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