A HOPEFUL story highlighting the use of plastics and the consequential damage to the oceans has been released today by two Durham University graduates.

The book ‘Setsuko and the Song of the Sea,’ written by Fiona Barker and illustrated by Howard Gray, from Durham, has been published today by Tiny Tree Books.

It tells the heartwarming fictional story of youngster Setsuko, who believes she is the only Japanese ama diver left. She meets a humpback whale who, like herself, thinks he is the only whale left, and is searching for a friend.

Throughout the story, the two form a strong friendship, and during playing in the sea, they try to clear it of plastic.

Setsuko tells her whale friend he will be able to find a pod if he travels in the right direction, but before leaving, the whale teaches her ‘the song of the ocean’ as a thank you for her help.

Setsuko sings the song for the people on land, bringing back a connection with marine life and the beauty of the ocean.

Fiona, who is a health care scientist, studied psychology at Durham University and went on to do a masters in audiology at Southampton, followed by a PHD at the University of Surrey.

Mrs Barker said: “In 2017, I did the Marine Conservation Society plastic challenge, which takes place every July.

"During this, you pledge to remove a single-use plastic item every day throughout the month, with hopes that much less waste will be generated by the end, and that is what inspired the book.

“I wanted to write a book about the sea, and I knew Howard would do an amazing job with the illustrations.

The Northern Echo: Left, author Fiona Barker, right illustrator Howard GrayLeft, author Fiona Barker, right illustrator Howard Gray

“I think children understand the problem more than adults, so I think they’ve got a handle on how serious the situation is.

“I study human behaviour, and I hope my book will inspire young people and their parents to perhaps change some of their behaviour, so we’re having less impact on the environment and producing less waste- it is what you do that matters, not what you say.

“I really didn’t want to write a lecture, which is why the message is in the illustrations rather than the story. I want to say a massive thank you to Howard, and to Hideaki Matsuya for doing the translated excerpts for the story.”

Mr Gray created the colourful and vibrant pictures for the story. He studied zoology at Durham University and went on to do a PHD in dolphin genetics, before becoming an illustrator.

This story gave him the chance to combine his passions of both the sea and art, and his illustrations showcase the vast amounts of plastic pollutions that plagues our oceans, helping the book tell a deeper story.

He said: “I’ve always liked art and wildlife, so I always took a science route in life and did artwork as a hobby.

“After completing my zoology degree, I travelled to Oman in the Middle East to volunteer on some projects working with dolphins and looking at their behaviour.

The Northern Echo: Colourful artwork celebrating the ocean by illustrator Howard GrayColourful artwork celebrating the ocean by illustrator Howard Gray

“There were a lot of beach strandings affiliated with net injuries and marine animals being caught in nets, and it is always upsetting to see the effects of human activities on these populations, particularly the ones who are vulnerable to those kind of things.

“Plastic pollution is a big problem in the oceans and all plastic ends up there- it’s polluting our environment, our seas, and the fish; and animals eating the plastics."

It is estimated that by 2050, there’ll be more plastic than fish in the sea by weight.

“The message in the story is more gradual, subliminal, and subtle, which I think suits the purpose," he added.

“I really like that the story was set in Japan, as it gave us the chance to look at local Japanese artwork, which was cool to try and incorporate, such as manga, and the text used on traditional woodblock prints.”

Aimed at readers five and above, it is hoped the book will be used to help children and families move away from single-use plastics and understand the impact on our environment.

The book is backed by The Marine Conservation Society, with a charity donation made from every sale of the book.

Setsuko and the Song of the Sea The book is available from Amazon, Waterstones, and various bookshops, and direct from the publisher at tinytreebooks.co.uk