It’s getting harder and harder to watch the news.
Especially if you’ve got children around. The world seems more tangled and tortured than it’s ever been. Maybe it was always thus, and the real change is in our ability to graphically communicate the sadness to each other. News has become faster, more frightening and less constrained.
For me, there’s a question that arises out of that. Is it a denial of hard realities to be looking at the ocean, and under it, when the bulk of our media is fixated upon the miseries that take place on dry land? Is it a cop-out, the journalistic ostrich with its head in the water instead of the sand?
Or is it, just maybe, more important than ever?
In so many places where human life has wracked itself with misery, an alternative world operates nearby without apparent reference to the tumult. Underwater, a separate and inverse realm goes about its business. This is not to say that our worlds are unconnected: war has left its mark on many oceanic environments. At Chuuk Lagoon in Micronesia, the wreckage of a sunken fleet has become an environmental time-bomb. Tiny globules of oil from the wrecks are dripping upside-down towards the surface, like the ticking of that bomb.
The ocean offers us parallels and messages about our own behaviour that are hard to decipher.
On the surface of the eastern Indian Ocean off Java, dislocated humans are carried south in dangerous boats, towards Australian shores. Underneath those boats and at no other known point on the earth’s surface - aggregated Southern Bluefin Tuna breed and begin their long migration, also towards our shores. One migration is prized and welcomed: the other is resisted by every means possible. Why?
As the Gallipoli landings approach their hundredth anniversary, we still try to see them in new and unexplored ways. What marine environment did those landing craft slip through on that terrible morning? What was beneath them? The shallow waters of the north-eastern Aegean, thought to be ideal for such craft, are also home to a migratory phenomenon known as the Mediterranean-Black Sea Faunal Exchange. Fleeing the percussions, the shrapnel and the footfalls of terrified boys in helmets, there would have been monk seals, three species of dolphin, seventeen species of cephalopods, and 144 species of fish.
Consider the face of, and justification for, our most recent deployment, a terrorist organisation originally called ‘ISIL’. The acronym refers in part to the Levant, an ancient termincorporating much of the contested modern Middle East including Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The word comes from a Latin stem for “rising”; a reference not to bloody insurrection but to the rising sun.
The term is also applied to the Levantine Basin, the body of water that forms the azure backdrop to the torments of the Gaza Strip. Here, the Suez Canal meets the most saline part of the Mediterranean, drawing species northwards from the Red Sea, a movement called the Lessepsian Migration. Human intervention, in the form of the canal, has meant that Indo-Pacific species are making a home in the Mediterranean, their initial point of entry to that sea within sight of the rocket-fire over Gaza.
Meanwhile Moscow eyes the Ukraine for its Black Sea acess, as countless cultures have done before. Originally a giant freshwater lake, the Black Sea is meromictic: its various water layers do not mix. The anoxic bottom of the lake is a perfect preserving solution for ancient shipwrecks. Robert Ballard has found twenty-six wrecks there, hundreds of metres down and dating back to 500BC. Their payloads of amphorae conclusively prove there were ancient trade routes across the Black Sea between present-day Turkey and Crimea. Human history repeats itself as the sea swallows the evidence.
In our hubris, do we only consider the workings of the ocean when they ensnare us somehow? Until we lost a large passenger aircraft over the Southern Ocean, nobody, it seems, had considered the complexity of its seafloor, the vertical and horizontal scale of the unknown space.
Under the surface, the terms of engagement are different. Altered sound. No regard for the world above. Gravity, velocity and vision itself are recalibrated in ways that place humans at a remove. Confrontation occurs in concert with a set of guiding principles: predation, territory, mating. Grudges, suspicions and vendettas are unknown to the undersea world.
As this issue went to print, President Obama made an announcement. The man who too often must take the lectern to discuss tragedy and war was there to announce he would bypass Congress to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve, in the central Pacific. Coral reefs and migratory tuna will be among the lasting beneficiaries. It must have been a relief to put aside terrestrial woes for just a moment, and talk about the ocean.
Maybe there’s hope there, some lessons, or just some peace.
18 Tolaga Bay
26 Young Men and the Sea
32 Dances with Whales
52 Wandering Eye: Ric Chan
54 Discovering the Stefano Coast
60 The Land among the Streams
66 Tribal Belongings
80 Alone with the Sea: Ran Ortner
104 A Bright and Lethal Tide
Elizabeth Claire Alberts
108 Arcadia: Sound of the Sea
108 Arcadia: Sound of the Sea
118 Taken Aslide
122 Tangled up in Blue
50 Water Hours
14 Aloe & Coral
64 The Inland Sea
10 Mislaid Books of the Sea
72 The Church of the Open Sky
Danny Spooner at the former Congregational Church, Williamstown
102 Greg Malouf
Ceviche of Red Mullet
116 Too High
Deutschland, Ekstase und Uberall