Gustavo Navarrette and I arrived at Fundación Aitana in Cancún on March 19th to give our Zoe Reef reFORMed art and science workshop to the fabulous children, their nurturing families, and generous volunteers. As always, my favorite part is being drawn into the unknown and the surprising results. It is like watching something bloom in real time as we feel and see our way forward in each emergent moment.
Making Papier-mâché corals
Everyone semi-consciously feeds each others’ curiosity to try different approaches to painting and creating. And the speed! Working in groups like this builds beautiful fluid momentum so that by the end of 2 or 3 hours, wow, so many corals and fish!
Conversations and laughter, it was really fun and inspiring to work with these kids who are cancer patients and survivors. Not once did it seem like anyone was ill, but they are at high risk and need local care facilities. Fundación Aitana is working to bring pediatric oncology to Cancún because they don’t have it. The families have to go hours to Merida, Cozumel, and beyond. This leads to huge expenses and deaths that could be avoided. Right now as I wrote that sentence I see a parallel with the corals, how they have diseases and need urgent care too. It is nice to have times where fun activities help us to enjoy and heal ourselves and other species in some way. There is wonderful comforting connection in that.
For this day, March 8th, I posted this update to kickstarter about ZOE and some other life events. It’s a day to celebrate and honor the creativity and powerful motivations that well up within the women all over the world. May great things may be born.
Made it to Cancun! Room 2509 on the playa at Celuisma Dos Playas while they fix a water explosion thingy problem in my room on lagoon side for couple days. Variety. love that…the stolen/lost credit card hardly noticeable. No kidding, the Hotel Zone has swaddled me in its humid party of all-inclusivo-except-for-this-but-look-we’re-gonna-give-you-THIS! adventure already. Tomorrow is big meeting at 10AM. Feeling GOOD!! and so happy when I realized the little white car that wouldn’t open with my keys was the other little white car next to mine.
This was first time flying standby in maybe 20 years? Very exciting to have to keep hopping from gate to gate working with the airlines in New York to try and ensure I would catch one of only 2 flights to Cancun from either Philadelphia, PA, or Charlotte, NC. Luckily, I was able to find the right navigators with US Airways to complete travels in 13 hours. And it really didn’t seem that long, thanks to all the little hits of adrenaline and willful concentration. Off to find ZOE’s ocean home and the many people that will be working with me in Mexico.
I wanted to make an art installation on 6th street here in New York’s East Village. Using the Gossamer community crocheted and needle-felted reef, I would attach the textile corals and fish to the white undulating fire escapes, like Biorock sculptures, and project video of underwater coral reefs onto the building. Live music would play. Perhaps the instrumentalists would be on different levels of the fire escapes immersed in their steel boats adrift like such unusual organisms populating the sea.
So many ideas and projects run through me all the time related to corals and how to convey their beauty and their endangerment, their need for life support and healthy habitat, and of course, OUR need for them. When my dog walks me down a new street, it often seems as if he’s guiding me to a place or a thing to spark my imagination that unites urban life with nature’s presence, such as the idea I just described for Fire! Fire! Corals are Feeling the Heat!
What about an app that responds to your geolocations, where it appears that fire escapes, bridges, and other inspiring architectural forms are accreting with minerals, colonizing with corals or oysters, and marine life? I really want to put my energy into creating the living sculptural reefs and nurseries in the ocean, but while I’m in the city, I can’t turn off my inner vision of all this aquatic fluid atmosphere that permeates my mind. And once we get the webcams onto the sculpture, ZOE, in Cancun, the resulting projections and live feeds will tie in positively to this evolving land and sea revival experience that will hopefully lead us away from this grim end as described by scientist, Charlie Veron, in Iain McCalman’s new book – The Reef: A Passionate History (reviewed by Rob Nixon in the NY Sunday Times)
Without an abrupt decline in greenhouse gas emissions, “there is no hope of reefs surviving to even midcentury in any form that we now recognize. If, and when, they go, they will take with them about one-third of the world’s marine biodiversity.” Bearing witness to this gradual annihilation, Veron concludes, is “like seeing a house on fire in slow motion.”
A consuming conflagration metaphor. I can’t have Veron’s prediction take hold in my mind or it throws me off center and off my positive focused trajectory, but perhaps politicians, businesses, big corporations, and anyone unaware of the true bottom line, will start to listen and begin cleaning up dirty industry if a renowned scientist points this gun, already smoking, to their heads, threatening their homes with this horrifying image.
If the message stating that all is already lost gets louder than the message inviting you to think of how to get involved, what effect does that have on you? What combination of lightness with darkness motivates shifts in behavior and values? I can’t tell you how many times I meet someone who assumes corals are doomed based on hearing snips about bleaching and acidification. They smile and share personal stories or offer strategy when I tell them that from pollution to restoration, there are things that CAN be done. It isn’t time to pretend the house is already burnt to the ground and just stand there drinking beer on the sidelines like you might be doing this month watching the World Cup. (What a finish for Portugal last night tying in the last seconds!)
Seriously, Veron does say “slow motion,” and that’s an opening for optimism in the midst of despair. If that somehow gives the endangered animals more time to adapt and people more time to develop new energy, rescue activities, and to stop injecting sewage, fertilizer, and carbon into the sea, it remains to be seen what 2050 holds. My concept of the fire escapes with the corals growing over was to symbolize both the urgency and the potential to escape the heating oceans caused by climate change. To find a way out of the burning building into the air to survive the disaster.
Additional note for perspective, I recently read the book, Reef Madness: Charles Darwin, Alexander Agassiz, and the Meaning of Coral. The “coral reef problem” illuminated how recently we had no idea about how coral reefs are formed, and it intimately illustrates just how controversial and political scientific theories and quests can be, then and now. How egos take the stage and discoveries are intertwined with layered cultural and societal beliefs and systems. Some philosophies and styles are in the process of dying off; it’s like new species of understanding, expressing, and technology emerge with evolution and that directly impacts our ability to see and discern our reality. Even though corals create bone-like stone, our ideas and assertions about them are much less solid. There’s space in the world to explore working together to escape the “fires of hell” and create cooler, collaborative coral conservatories that will teach us much more than we know now.
Seeing them from space, I mean. That’s what I want to do. This week I was thinking about proposals for projects in countries I’ve never visited, and that sparked an idea. Immediately I reached out to a coral scientist friend, my go-to with these queries:
Do you know a way to see a satellite view of reefs in a large area and get info about how the reefs are doing?
To clarify: If I want to see the aerial view of surrounding waters around an island or coastline, let’s say in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and determine which areas were/are optimal for reefs yet are damaged or dying? Or areas that might be susceptible to erosion and have declining reefs? An aerial survey, yes.
I’m envisioning something like Google Earth where you can zoom in or out, get info about the corals/biodiversity below… I want to use that to help with proposals for a project. It would be so helpful to target the locations that are most likely to benefit and which have ideal conditions and communities in place for it to succeed as a long-term ecological work.
The only thing that I am aware of that could do what you are describing would be NOAA’s Coral Watch website. They have Google Earth maps that let you see where all of their monitoring stations are located along with data on reef health. It is limited to places where NOAA has placed instruments and so won’t give you coverage in countries like Dubai or Abu Dhabi. I’m not sure what you have described exists yet, although it would certainly be a very useful tool.
One of the major problems with coral reef conservation is that there doesn’t seem to be a unifying international body that collates and then summarizes and distributes all of the data from various countries. The US has NOAA, Australia has the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), etc., but no one group organizes and displays these data on a global scale. Best attempt is the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), but even they don’t have what you are describing in terms of web based visualization tools. Seems like a great idea whose time has come. The technology to do it is there, just need some group to come forward and try it.
Cool. I sat on it for 2 days and then saw this article in the NY Times about using satellites to find looted art from WWII.
You know, seeing this article, yet another shout out to your amazing, effective, and high impact satellite work, Sarah, I wanted to see if your mapping techniques could be useful for global imaging of coral reefs the world over targeting where they are dying? (and thriving) Maybe hone in on holes or conditions that make it clear that the area was once populous with dense coral, or maybe it has only recently been hit by disease or bleaching…Love insight from your perspective and expertise.
As Andrew’s email says below – the time has come, the tech is there. As a rep of coral biology and cutting edge scientific research in that realm, he sees how useful it will be. Just need to make it happen.
Coral ecosystems are still enigmatic, and the people depending on them, ready to study and work with them in a more coordinated and focused way, would really benefit from the full monty.
Reading about your work being used to save art, very close to my heart:).. and to study the endangered corals this way,,,super inspiring and hopeful.
I’d be happy to send some refs to you – this is totally outside my remit, but I have seen some satellite work on the subject. I am 100% focused on my archaeology projects, but I do supervise students in my lab who work on diverse subjects. Should any in future mention this to me as a project idea I will get them in touch!
The answer: The time has come, the tech is there, just need someone to launch this global coral space mission.