New Year Cycles

Happy New Year! Politics aside, 2017 is off to a good start.

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A bit further out from Zoe are some patches of corals

The last days of 2016 and the first week of 2017 were filled with special endings and beginnings, just the way solstice likes it as we consider longer days. I know, I’m in Mexico with more sun than most, but I still love to take this time of year to be grateful, let go and make space for what’s to grow in spring. We had a beautiful intimate ceremony to honor Zoe Anderson with corals at the sculpture. Happened to be the BUSIEST day of the year at the dive shop, but the guests of honor were true grace and acceptance de la vida loca. We created a circle of memory holding hands in the sea and placing some new corals with great intentions for life. Beautiful meaningful moments together.

Here you can see a few of the corals added, burgundy algae, and some sponges taking residence.

On New Year’s Eve some more magic happened. My Air BnB guest invited me to join her with a few friends who just so happen to work with National Geographic and were heading to Cozumel to celebrate birthdays and vacation. Nice. We had a super time diving at Zoe and another reef thanks to Sand Dollar Sports Dive Shop. They’re excited to see how they can help support more coral restoration efforts and the Zoe project through explorer programs, so stay tuned! From eating chips and guacamole to talking about Emerging Explorers made for a fortuitous New Year’s Eve.

To add more to the mix, Shaan Hurley of Autodesk came down with his drone and joined our diving adventure, too. Can’t wait to see his underwater and aerial shots. He was here in 2014 training university students (UNAM) and government scientists in photogrammetry.

And here you have a little cockpit view from January 2nd when our #OpenROV, Patito, made its maiden voyage into the sea. Fun! Our Expedition is here.

Thanks again for being on this adventure and making it happen! With love and hope into the new year.

This post was the latest update for our current razoo campaign. Please check it out to learn more about our goals and how you can join in.

Also, if you are a scientist and want to work on some of our Zoe research, including lab tests, in the field, equipment, longterm and short term,…reach out to misssnailpail@gmail.com. From water quality to biodiversity counts to coral skeleton porosity, electromagnetic fields, photo documentation, there are lots of things to discover!

 

Scouting el Sitio

Hola!

Scouting installation site in Punta Nizuc. photo courtesy of Ray Santisteban

I arrived here in Quintana Roo on December 28th. I wanted to experience my first Mexican New Year’s Eve, an advance celebration of ZOE installation into el mar. Date still to be determined, but as director, manager, producer, artist, my job is to find eternal internal resources to keep saying, “We aim to install __________ .” (put upcoming month in the blank.)

It’s a huge country, so I won’t generalize my New Year’s Eve on the beach and roaming through streets of Playa Del Carmen with new local friends as representative of Mexico, but it was a special moment to release the floating fire-lit balloon into the sky with Grecia Goretty, Ricardo Rubio, and Gerar Orozko Astigarraga envisioning what I hope the new year holds. Looking up to the stars into the past present future with wonder and soft sand between my toes, I watched my wishes dissolve into the dark sky.  About six hours later, I welcomed the first red rays glazing the sea.

New Year’s Dawn. photo Colleen Flanigan

Yesterday I went with Raymundo Santisteban of The Stills to measure distances for the underwater installation of ZOE and to take photos and video of the area for our team and supporters. The location for the sculpture will be about 100 meters from the dock at Nizuc Resort and Spa.

Looking towards the resort. photo Colleen Flanigan

The water was really clear for us to see the natural reef close to the installation site. This is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the 2nd largest barrier reef after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

Coral Reef at Nizuc Resort and Spa. photo Colleen Flanigan

These native corals represent species we’ll be transplanting onto the coral refuge. It’s a pretty subdued palette, think conservative, fashionable interior decor, including some porites porites, gorgonians, staghorn and elkhorn, among others. The fish spending their time here will come swim by our habitat, too. Not only is ZOE for coral, it will attract many species of marine life looking for new homes where coral reefs have been disappearing. Reefs provide habitat for 25%-30% of marine species, so providing life support for them and reducing deadly environmental stressors, like pollution, is essential to the health of the entire ocean.

ZOE will attract these and other fish. photo Colleen Flanigan

 

 

 

ZOE looks ahead in the midst of spawning and pollution

Aerial view of Gulf of Mexico

I opened my window just as we were flying over Punta Nizuc where we plan to install ZOE. There is a lot of ocean in the photo, but I was so focused on Punta Nizuc, it was a great surprise to see the reefs and aqua clear waters where we plan to put our coral refuge. Without Google-Earthing, I could get an idea of the broader seascape of the area. We plan to locate ZOE near the resort in shallow waters.  There are species of corals that like being very close to the surface.  Actually, while snorkeling in the area, the healthiest coral reefs seemed to be in the shallows.

Not far out from the dock is the site where we will anchor the sculpture.  The rest of my August visit entailed meetings with the Director of the Marine Park and the MUSA directors, as well as scientists at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México (UNAM) in Puerto Morelos to develop our proposal for a scientific research collaboration between Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP) and UNAM.  Growth monitoring is our main focus, as well as observing differences between neighboring natural corals and those on the Biorock® mineral accretion reef.

Autodesk has generously offered to come to Mexico to train us in their latest photogrammetry process, the cutting edge in 3D digital modelling.  They’ll train me, my team, including a group of university students, in how to capture the photos of our coral transplants and neighboring corals.

Coral scientist, Serguei Rico of UNAM, is working with me on our proposal to ensure ZOE is a conservation experimental project of the National Marine Park as well as a tourism attraction for MUSA.  He was telling me that another PhD student wants to start experimenting with taking photos to digitally model corals for monitoring coral growth as his thesis. As he was describing it, I couldn’t help but jump in and tell him that part of the project was to offer free training for just that! Perfecto.

Serguei has been following how corals have been effected by nitrogen run-off and other pollutants since the emergence of mega-tourism. Sewage from all those hotels along the Hotel Zone in Cancun and down the Riviera Maya is deep injected. It seeps into the aquifers and ocean causing corals to suffer new diseases.  There were only 3 inhabitants on Isla Cancún in 1970. Now there are over 722,000. With no treatment plants, you can see how this is an epic problem with all that untreated shit running into the sea. Corals are much more sensitive to the bacteria in sewage than humans, and the parts per million are well-beyond their standards.

While I was in Mexico this trip, I witnessed baby turtles being released on a full moon. (next post.) I wish I could’ve joined the small group of scientists watching corals spawn at night, but they want to protect the animals while they are making babies from too many intrusive people. I understand needing more privacy, and wanting to avoid the potential for humans to get crowded and bump into the reefs.

Sunset before spawning
Spawning gives a smokey milky appearance. Acropora Palmata aka Elkhorn Coral.
Endangered corals spawning in August, 2014

Spawning photos are from PN Costa Occidental de Isla Mujeres, Punta Cancún y Punta Nizuc.

The dream to plant some corals onto ZOE is getting closer to being realized.  Working with the scientists, meeting the resort manager, connecting with other artists who want to be part of the local team to install and create future works…It was a wonderful process and we took many steps forward.

Look closely and you can see where we plan to install as soon as we do.

 

 

 

 

we have moved next door!

Heading to Cancun Thursday. Time to mark the spot for ZOE’s ocean home at Nizuc Resort and Spa. Here’s one visitor’s view.

From DNA-Dividing at Club Med to ZOE at Nizuc Resort and Spa, transformation is on.  To get you up to speed – see the Living Sea Sculpture cover photo above? That is ZOE awaiting installation in Punta Nizuc from 2011. We were going to install off the beach of Club Med. Since Nizuc Resort and Spa only opened in 2013, they were not an option back in 2011. Timing!!

Roberto Diaz of both MUSA and Aquaworld (he’s a major doer) has been making things happen, and the government is being towed along with approving grace.  Cheers to Roberto!

And big thanks to María Antonia Gonzáles Valeria who I met here in NY at a Genspace event. She went back to Mexico City to see how she could help through her university, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).  She introduced me to a recent marine biology graduate focusing on corals in Pueto Morelos, Serguei Rico, who is ready to meet and see how we can work to appropriately appropriate enough coral transplants for installation with his department.  This is a big deal in Mexico – making sure we have the approvals since it is in a National Park protected area; corals are only available for projects after hurricanes, damage by boats, and through lab propagation.  I look forward to working with Serguei and Jaime, Director of the Marine Park, to ensure ZOE becomes a Living Sea Sculpture with endangered corals colonizing.

Steps!! More soon!

Reef reFORMed

Welcome the Year of the Horse!

A big year for travel. And all you Oxes working so hard in 2014, it will pay off.  Watch out, Rats, not to get under any hooves.   And as a Pig myself, I’m glad I didn’t know 2013 was supposed to be horrible for me because it was great in so many ways.

 

Here we see coral propagating like a Chinese New Year’s fireworks show. Watch it Grow on the 1″ scale model of a Living Sea Sculpture soon to be installed in Mexico.

January 28th was TEDxSpence, a youth event in Manhattan.  An inspiring day of talks and workshops with super girls at the school.  Below is the 3rd version of Reef reFORMed in New York.  I wanted to capture the improvisational sculptural installation, so tried low-tech time-lapse for the first time with iStopMotion on an iPad.  The 7-9th graders opted for 6 second intervals.  Here’s what happened in a couple hours~

 

Do we need more Biorock reefs in Florida?

I just received an email asking about the potential for Living Sea Sculptures in Florida.

“Living here in Sarasota, FL, I’m wondering if a Bio-rock reef would increase the fish populations that dolphins and porpoises eat, and therefore would keep them here so that we humans could see and appreciate their majestic beauty more often. I believe we have dwindling populations here now. Have to talk with some marine biologists here… am in initial thinking about how an art-sci project could catalyze and galvanize the community on this issue. Perhaps it’s planting more mangroves that we need, while also educating public on benefits of “zero-scaping” to stop fertilizer run-off from ocean-side lawns.  Any thoughts on the benefits of Bio-rock sculptural reefs here?

My response: I would LOVE to work on more projects in Florida.  It’s a great place to expand the current approaches to coral nurseries and integrative ecological healing, community interaction, and local economy. There is an existing project, the first coral reef fisheries habitat and restoration project using Biorock mineral accretion in the US, installed in 2011 at Lauderdale-by-the-Sea.  The Global Coral Reef Alliance worked in collaboration with Vone Research and the Lauderdale-by-the-Sea Commission to create this unique site powered with solar buoys.

This video shares some of the ideas and theories motivating the project.  I talk with marine biologists and scientists often to gain up to date information about the state of coral and ocean health since there are so many variables at play when considering climate change, acidification, resiliency, and adaptation.  Amidst the differing opinions and uncertainties, one thing seems to stand constant, restoring reefs and cultivating coral with awareness of their biological needs as they relate to environmental stressors are critical pieces of the present day foundation to build future coral reef ecosystems.

The Biorock process allows us to realize dynamic, organic compositions with living organisms in the fluid sea as a means to nurture a sense of belonging and place high value on loving action to heal the polyps and their beautiful colonies.  With more sculptural reefs and less fertilized lawns, Florida will invite more fish and dolphins to their coast.

 

 

 

 

prehistoric to present – forests from the trees

Tree of 40 Fruit, 2008 - present

Recently I was at an event where a beautiful tree by artist, Sam Van Aken, was being auctioned off to benefit Creative Capital. It was not in full flourish yet, but still a young green leafy growth with 20 varieties of stone fruit grafted: a technique whereby tissues from one plant are inserted into those of another so that the two sets of vascular tissues may join together. This vascular joining is called inosculation, and allows for asexual propagation of related species.

The process takes years for Sam to work with his plants to cultivate these sculptures that have a life of their own.

Sam with one of his hybrid trees, 2013

Here is a description, in his own words, about this hybridization and interdisciplinary project.

 The Tree of 40 Fruit is an ongoing series of unique hybridized fruit trees. Blossoming in variegated tones of pink and white in spring, through a process of sculpting by way of grafting and pruning, each tree in this series has the capacity to grow 40 varieties of fruit from the family of stone fruits including peach, plum, apricot, nectarine, and cherry, and will reach an approximate size of 20’ tall with a canopy of 20’.

 

The Tree of 40 Fruit are allegorical sculptures. As a symbolic number found throughout western religion, culture, and government, the number 40 symbolizes the infinite, a bounty that is beyond calculation. Like the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden, these trees are a potential; they are the beginning of a narrative that transforms the site they are located in. The far-reaching implications of these sculptures include issues of genetic engineering, biodiversity versus food monoculture, and, ultimately, the symbiosis of humankind’s relation to nature. 

 

One of the most challenging aspects of the work is the planning or envisioning of how each graft, time of blossom, and fruiting will change the aesthetic and balanced quality of the tree. It is at this point that the process becomes sculptural. Nature poses a challenging collaborator. Where a bronze sculpture would provide an easier ally, working with living material can be temperamental. But it is this living quality that I feel gives the tree its greatest impact and potential.

 

The innate challenge of attempting to effect an aesthetically directed and functional “lifestyle” for multiple organisms without overshadowing nature’s voice within each tree is a microcosm of the perennial, universal quest for balance in uncertainty.  This is the same story with Living Sea Sculptures.  Although I have yet to begin “pruning” the aquatic topiary-like forms, I’m thinking of how to bridge the divide between destructive human desires, needs, actions and constructive organic ecosystems. Artists who work with other beings that don’t speak in words are blurring the lines of art, science, and technology as they develop interspecies projects and dialogues.  I’m in awe of the quiet partners, since they’ve been around for so many thousands, or millions, of years, and in relation to them, we are Earth dwelling novices exploring their unique reproduction and life-giving bounty.

Now, to share a quick look into our ancient tree-lined past.  In case you haven’t heard of the primeval forest in the waters of Alabama, it dwarfs our relatively new research into collaborating with living nature.  Buried for years without Oxygen, it has persisted with its Cypress smell intact.  In 2005, Hurricane Katrina most likely ripped back the protective layers of sand and sediment to reveal this 50,000 year old forest.  One person suggests it has been in the ocean for 12,000 years; most accounts I find say it is estimated at 50,000 years old, but as you see in the video, it is not long for this exposed world.

Something about unexpected ancient forests surviving in the ocean juxtaposed with a 40 stone-fruit forest springing from one tree…I can’t stop thinking of Thoreau’s quote that I saw this past week while helping a friend wrap up his mother’s, Barbara Rothenberg’s, artwork at her studio.

“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.”- Henry David Thoreau