Coral Reefs from Space

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.  

He says:

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.

She says:

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.






Underwater Cities – When?

Arup Biomimetics' Syph

I’m talking about humans. Obviously there are multitudes of living cities made up of marine organisms populating and migrating to dwell in the sea, but will humans begin to colonize the ocean? Is it a good thing? A necessary thing? How will this exploration protect itself from adding to the demise of ocean and Earth health? Why is it taking so long?…lots of questions to think about on this frontier.

Ocean Cities are definitely part of the pioneering future. Both Trendhunter and Ecofriend featured the Syph above, a concept design proposal for a competition envisioning Australia 40 years from now.

I feel inner conflict between a sense of invading wilderness and striving to live in harmony with other species as we continuously sway the balance on our curious and precarious, uncertain path to sustaining biological evolution.  The trillions of dollars spent to manufacture, engineer, and execute methods to kill people illustrate that the financial resources are there.  From governments to wealthy private patrons, the desire has not been great to develop architecture and human habitat in the ocean.

Experimental short-term stays for science and education, as well as hotels,  have been emerging for over 50 years.  These carefully controlled environments could become prototypes for off-shore housing in areas like the Maldives that are likely to be the first victims of sea level rise.

According to BBC Future, visionary ocean explorer, Ian Koblick, was ready to bring on underwater habitats in the 1970’s.  Now at 74, he admits that it is not likely in his lifetime to see his futurist vision realized.  He is the owner and co-developer (with Neil Monney) of the Jules Undersea Lodge, which used to be the La Chalupa Research Laboratory, also developed and operated by Koblick, to study the continental shelf off the coast of Puerto Rico.  From scientific investigation to contemporary tourism and mainstream ocean outreach, this habitat has served diverse populations of many species.  It is an example of what might be possible if more interest and demand for underwater cities grows.

The conservationist in me meets up with the visionary progressive and hopes for more conscious exploration and development for this still young field:  Pioneering not to conquer, but to cultivate new biomes in the ocean.   It is another provocative dance between technology and survival for so many species on this burgeoning planet.


Balance in Action

As an artist, you are always seeking to be amused and amazed.  Well, I am.  Not necessarily conscious of that constant quest, but when I see, hear, touch the THING, I KNOW the thing. This is it! This is the quality or sensation I desire to bring into my current work; here is how someone else has expressed it. For a minute, I was going to compare it to finding the perfect dress for shoppers (men, you KNOW what I’m talking about), but with meeting inspirational work of art also comes the deep understanding of the how, why, who that reinforces my determination and connection to being physical and developing my capabilities to transform myself and matter through action.  It isn’t so much about having something as it is about feeling met by the sublime.

For me, my problem-solving and filtering for process and materials to make projects never truly shuts off.  Some projects are concept driven, others process, and usually a combination of many interlacing overlapping connections.

So I want to share a few recent things that move me with such power of their grace, tenacity, skill, and beautiful wisdom in form.  And I say “things,” but within those things is the human maker and the essence of their being channeled into matter before you.


On May 12th, it was sunny and people of all ages wished me Happy Mother’s Day.  Never had that before, but was receptive to the joy splash.  I met with a friend at Madison Square Park to see the labor-loving work of Orly GengerRed, Yellow, and Blue.

Red, Yellow, and Blue by Orly Genger photo by Colleen Flanigan

The red is washed out in this photo by the overexposing light- it truly is Ruby red in person- but you can see the detail of the 1.4 million feet of hand-crocheted lobster-ropes that took 9,000 hours over a 2-year period to wrangle. Impressive forms and fortitude.  I stood there imagining if these were made out of steel and electrified. They could accrete with minerals to become incredible breakwaters and marine habitat. It would be good to insert some openings, water passages, so that flow-through would be possible, slowing currents while preventing the massive force slamming into a solid wall.

Red, Yellow, and Blue by Orly Genger. photo Colleen Flanigan

The slim tree branch above arcs to mirror the thicker waving wall below.  Did Orly do that on purpose?  Probably. She and her team certainly took time to stand back and look at what they were doing from all angles before and during the composing of this landscape masterpiece.

Red, Yellow, and Blue photo Colleen Flanigan

Even though not actually moving, there’s obviously motion in this work- in the large and small wriggles, and in the making.  As Orly says in the The New York Times, “It was more about using my body as the tool and having a direct relationship with the material.” I feel the same way. As I write this, I flash back to my most recent experience being so fully free and communicating through my senses and physicality with materials.  It was this May, for a few brief moments, with some large flexible cable and sheet metal for a pop-up art installation.  (I’ll do a post on it soon!)  It was not nearly enough time or energy invested in what she is talking about, though, that kind of physical artwork so satisfying because of the resistance and the forces acting together to blur the lines of who is really living- you or the material.  Once you are holding and working with a weighty material that in a way has muscles of its own, you see and feel how IT is working with you, as well. There is no real master or servant.  Physics and poetry allow you to become one energetic emergence.

Red, Yellow, and Blue photo Colleen Flanigan

And as Miyoko exemplifies in her performance with those lighter pieces, she needs to be centered to balance.  Sometimes what looks so steady and seamless is dependent on a feather and focus.  Both of these artists create peace and serenity through hours and hours of practice, patience, and commitment.  They give us a moment or more to contemplate balance in action and power in silently offered passions.

I said I was going to share a few things, and I only have time for two today.  Two more coming up soon!  Plus the post about the pop-up art show Reef Re-Formed: A Biorock Simulation.


giant snail invasion


GIant African Land Snail

I got an email yesterday: “I came across this article and thought it might be an interesting opportunity for Miss Snail Pail.”   Thanks, Dave!

Florida Battles Slimy Invasion by Giant Snails

Next thing I know, I’m writing to Denise Feiber, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to offer help with a solution.  Collection has already been very successful according to this document, Officials Praise Public for Helping Battle… , “Tens of thousands of giant African land snails have been captured since the massive mollusk was discovered in Miami-Dade County on September 8 and Florida agricultural officials credit public vigilance for the bulk of the captures.”  Great news that everyone’s working together. What happens to the snails once they are collected?  Are they being eaten?

People from Africa to Europe to the US recognize that snails are a nutritious food source. Destroying them is a waste of protein rich harvest.  If the goal in Florida is to eradicate a stucco-eating, plant devouring invasive land mollusk, then poisoning them with crustacean and bee-killing toxins (poisons don’t discriminate), will effectively poison ourselves and all organisms indefinitely and with unknown consequences. People are hungry and eat all kinds of weird crap. Go to a fast food chain or look down your grocery aisles. So many processed items and chemicals on display, we forget that an infestation like this is an opportunity to do something sane and proven: hunt and eat this micro-livestock into “local extinction” like humans are known to do all over the world.

The article, perhaps unconsciously, demonizes the snail as though it is a disease-ridden monster victimizing the hapless human community.  Surely other species have some things they’d like to say about our habits and microbes if they could get their words on the page. Florida is facing a real problem.  I WISH I had been at the symposium last week where they were trying to determine the plan of action. I’d like to be hired to lead the GAS (giant african snail) Task Force: a consortium of homeowners, restaurateurs, snail expeditioners… to organize a system to bring the environment into balance in a bountiful way.  If it took 10 years to eradicate the last infestation of 1966, I think by bringing them onto the table, we can reduce that time frame.

Oysters are endangered because of human consumption and pollution, so with that as proof of concept, seems hungry people can get a handle on this delicacy. And about the parasites, wear gloves and cook them. Cows and chickens have parasites too, and people know better than to eat raw coq au vin. If you’re interested in launching some snailing expeditions and organizing an event to celebrate that a prolific, valuable species is offering its life as a resource, contact me.

The hypocrisy of letting people starve or be malnourished while deeming the arrival of a massive mollusk a disaster illustrates how far removed many humans are from the food chain and creating environmental balance with available resources.
I’m anti-extinction, unless we’re talking about polio, AIDS, West Nile Virus (I have some bias), and interpret this infestation as a migration of herds of shelled cattle across the seas.
It all boils down to respecting and honoring life cycles. The snails are not the enemy.