Saturday, August 6, 2016

Trashing the Oceans Part 2: Normalizing Human Pollution in the Marine Environment

My previous post was on the inclusion of certain types of plastic pollution in the movie Finding Dory. Basically, the type of plastic that we see as a problem is really a problem for the 80s and 90s. The problem today is microplastics spreading throughout the ocean and the food chain.

This post, I’m going to focus on a more theoretical question about the depiction of plastic in the movie: Does the act of depicting garbage without comment somehow normalize that sight for young children? or to ask it another way, Does Finding Dory succeed in its conservation messaging?

I’m going with a gut instinct here that the makers of the film were making an environmental statement with the inclusion of garbage in the movie. If not, we have a bigger problem because that means the thing I fear will come to pass, i.e. that people have become so used to an ocean full of trash that it seems somehow normal and natural to them, has already happened. That would be bad. So I’m going with the more optimistic belief that we as an audience are supposed to be appalled by this garbage and angry that it’s there.  But unfortunately, the directors didn’t really make the garbage a plot point nor did they give any information about picking up trash or recycling at the beginning or ending of the film so the audience is left to assume their motivations. 

So, for those of you that haven’t seen the film, maybe take a look at the previous post to watch the Dory preview, but here’s a few stills from the movie so that we can get an idea of how trash is being depicted.

finding-dory-sixpack-trash




In the past, overt environmentalist messages in animated films have been just that: overt.

Fern Gully (1992): The Last Rainforest is one of my personal favorites.  I’m old enough to remember Fern Gully when it was new (when I anthropomorphize pollution in my head it sounds just like Tim Curry). Fern Gully was heavy handed and pretty much hit all the high points of environmental concerns- animal testing, native rights, logging, eco feminism. This was a movie for the 80s and 90s crowd raised on the even heavier handed Captain Planet. Our little hearts ate up these messages and we swore to always protect the mythical, magical rain forests of the world.  There was no guessing what this movie was about- save rain forests from logging!


Wall-E (2008): Another overt message here. Wall-E is startling because it portrays robots as having more humanity than humans where the environment is concerned. Humans destroyed the earth, left it, got super lazy and fat and it takes a robot to fix it. And when the earth is fixed humans get to come back down to earth and reap the benefits of reconnecting with the land. We get skinny! (ugh) We learn skills! We reclaim our humanity from robots who love Hello Dolly!! 


These movies have issues with their environmental message- Fern Gully’s reliance on supernatural causes of environmental degradation is labeled by Michelle Smith and Elizabeth Parsons as “antithetical to the environmental movement.” Wall-E has some major fat shaming issues that make it basically unwatchable to me (and I won't ever show it to my child for this reason). But it is clear at least that these films are meant to convey an environmental/conservation message. The plot revolves around pollution and the degradation of the Earth and the heroes are those that save the earth.  There are more (Bambi, Over the Hedge, Princess Mononoke), but these seem the most prominent in my mind and what is striking is how they differ from Finding Dory.

Finding Dory depicts a trashed ocean without it seemingly impacting the characters.  Yes, Dory gets caught in a six-pack ring but it doesn’t lead to a story line where she can’t find her parents because she is emaciated from being unable to eat- she gets picked up and taken into a marine facility for "rehabilitation" but the audience doesn't get the sense that she needs to be rehabilitated; she doesn't complain of pain or have any seemingly ill effects from the rings. She seems to be completely healthy while in quarantine. We don't even see the scientists cut off the ring or talk about the horrible nature of this type of pollution.

In addition, while searching for her parents, Dory swims through a desert of rusted out automobiles, broken bottles, tin cans, and tires but this is just background. Trash doesn’t stop her from seeing her parents’ shell directions and it doesn’t get her lost in the first place. In fact, during her search she comes across a graveyard of rusted metal containers serving as hiding places for a variety of sea creatures all of whom warn Dory to be quiet or she will wake the squid. Instead of appearing out of place, these cans and containers serve as useful housing for creatures just going about their lives.

At no time in the movie is the case made that the pollution is bad or that it hurts any of the animals in the ocean. Adults recognize trash in the ocean (and therefore in the illustrated ocean) as being bad, but can we rely on subtle messages where children are concerned or does this depiction without comment possibly naturalize garbage in these environments?

Dolly Jorgensen has written  about the way that seemingly unnatural edifices become commonplace in our perception of the marine environment. Her work highlights the way that oil companies seek to naturalize oil rig structures by sponsoring tanks containing these pieces at public aquariums. When an oil rig is decommissioned, companies are responsible for clean up and disposal of those rigs. A common way that oil companies have sought to minimize clean up costs has been to cut the rig off under the water line and leave it as an artificial reef. As Jorgensen points out, governments have to give permission for this disposal and one way that companies are making sure that people have no objections is to give them the sense that rigs actually belong in the marine environment- that they’ve always been there. One way that companies naturalize these rigs is to pay for tanks at public aquariums that include rigs as reefs.

Jorgensen uses the example of the rigs to reef tank at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans. The Gulf of Mexico tank is sponsored by 5 oil companies (BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and KerrMcGee) as well as an individual that has worked in that industry. These companies could have sponsored an exhibit without a rig in the tank (it’s prominent) but they didn’t and their money is going further than to educate children about the underwater environment. It is doing something priceless: naturalizing rigs as reefs in the ocean. After seeing rigs in tanks at aquariums, a place that works to construct the underwater environment for its visitors, who would be surprised when they encounter one in the ocean? The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is not the only one with a rig tank- some are less prominent than others, but when they become commonplace and unnoticeable, so do the rigs.

If this sounds completely off, just bear with me. Do ship wrecks belong in the ocean? Do they seem natural? Are they much of a bother? I ask this because there are a lot of shipwrecks on the ocean floor and it is with these that we see the work of naturalization done so well. Think of the amount of times you have seen a shipwreck depicted in either animated or nature films as part of the underwater landscape. We would be surprised if, in a National Geographic episode our explorers scaled a particularly high mountain and found a plane or tank (it happens but not that much) but we’re not at all surprised by the depiction of ships in the furthest reaches of the ocean. In fact, many sunken ships have grown reefs over their structures and have become protected marine areas.

Take for example the Shipwreck Trail in the Florida Keys.  Located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, “The nine ships along this Shipwreck Trail have many tales to tell, from the stories of individuals who came before us to why they were here and their difficulties in navigating these waters.”


The nine wrecks consist of 6 accidental wrecks, 1 ship purposely sunk to create a reef, and ironically, two ships that were about to be sunk for artificial reefs that broke free from their tugs and went down accidentally. 

What is interesting to me is how common images of ship wrecks our in my imagination of the underwater world. So much so that sinking ships to create artificial reefs has become fairly common. Instead of questioning the role of ships in underwater reef building- do these things really belong?- we just keep adding more.


I think one of the largest questions is, why would we be making artificial reefs? The answer is varied. One major reason seems to be that we know that creating a reef will bring divers to that area- you are basically creating a space where you know that people are guaranteed to see the types of organisms that they imagine are in the ocean. In many ways, this is the impact of TV and public aquariums on our understanding of the ocean: most people think that the ocean resembles a tank of fish- full of beautiful corals, multiple types of fishes, and all of these organisms should be visible immediately. The truth, if you've ever dived is that this is just not so. The ocean is big, dark, cold, and generally pretty empty. Unless you're diving on a reef in relatively shallow water. So governments are trying to draw tourists in and give them what they want and artificial reefs do this. Scuttled ships and decommissioned reefs offer structures on which new ecosystems can grow. 

In addition, these spaces are being built in places where humans have injured the existing reef structure. In places where reefs have been destroyed or are in decline, humans are using these reefs as band aids for the injuries they've caused. 

Finally, there is some evidence that these artificial reefs increase fish stocks. Especially in areas with little diversity or decreasing fish stocks, the rigs seem to offer spaces for fishes to feed and hide. Slate just reported this week that a large amount of BP money from the oil spill is being used to create artificial reefs to increase fish stocks. 

There are ongoing debates about these artificial reefs and the possible positive and negative impacts on ecosystems. Studies show that rigs and ships (along with concrete pyramids) are successful in facilitating reef growth. However, the question is, at what cost? Some suggest that, while these spaces increase fish stocks, they also allow poachers and illegal anglers to hone in on fish attracted to these areas easily; instead of large fish being spread around a large area, the reefs concentrate these fishes and make poaching easy. Basically, it gives new meaning to "shooting fish in a barrel". In addition, questions have recently been raised about the impact of these spaces on the spread of invasive species. Some researchers suggest that these wrecks amount to a disturbed ecosystem and allow invasive species to build strong communities that will then increase their numbers and allow them to spread more rapidly though the ocean. Most reports are relatively early on the colonization of these spaces by corals, but most suggest that these spaces grow more slowly than natural reefs and support smaller coral (although some researchers believe this could change over time). Most of these studies are from the last 15 years and many in the last 10, with researchers calling for more expansive research on the impact of disintegrating ships on the health of these ecosystems long term.  

What is interesting to me is the way that we take for granted (politicians and the public) that we already know the answers to the questions.  Most people don't bat an eye at the idea that there is a ship being sunk to create a reef.


It is this type of naturalization that I fear where rigs and small level pollution are concerned. It is true that we currently recognize sunken cars, rusted cans and broken bottles, and floating plastic, as not belonging in the marine environment. But Finding Dory did something concerning- it normalized that trash by having characters co exist without struggle.

So the question is, would it have been better for conservation goals to draw the ocean without pollution in the hopes that children would imagine it as such (and be startled when it is trashed) or is it better to show it as a site of trash in the hopes that children will want to clean it up.

I'm of the thought that the former is more useful than the latter. I'm open to conversation.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Finding Plastic: Images of the Plastisphere in Finding Dory Part 1



When I first saw the Finding Dory trailer, I knew I had to see the movie.  There are, of course, a million reasons that someone interested in the history and current study of the marine environment would want to see a movie about a bunch of lovable talking sea creatures. A particularly important aspect of the movie (spoilers maybe?) involves the role of public aquariums in conservation, a topic especially close to my heart. And ensconced at this public aquarium is Sigourney Weaver, also especially close to my heart (Aliens is a classic).

But nope, that wasn’t what caught my attention. What immediately caught my attention was that a trailer is usually supposed to include some of the most important and eye catching scenes in the film. And what I saw was trash. Take a look:




Dory is caught in a piece of plastic from a 6-pack during part of the trailer and she is swimming through a dead zone full of tires, rusted cars, cans, and bottles in another. It is important to analyze why these images are in Finding Dory and also the impact that the portrayal of the ocean as a trash heap might have on the way that people think about the ocean. So for this first blog post, I’m going to think about the history and current status of trash talk and the ocean. In the next part of this series, I’ll talk about conceptions of the ocean as a pristine environment and the possible impacts of portraying the ocean as containing trash.


I don’t find it surprising that the most noticeable piece of garbage in this trailer is the six-pack-ring. The rings were brought to the attention of the public during the earliest reports of ocean pollution. In 1988, a beach cleanup in Texas found 15,600 six pack rings in 3 hours (this was over a 300 mile span). If you were a kid in the 80s or 90s, there’s a good possibility that you were taught that you should cut up these rings before throwing them away so that if they made it out to sea they wouldn’t kill a sea turtle or bird. Images of desiccated animals caught in 6-pack-rings were used fairly regularly during the 80s to galvanize a public to clean up their act. While the emphasis on these plastics has been largely misplaced, the majority of debris in the ocean is not from six pack rings, it is still a highly recognizable form of pollution and presents a visceral message to those of us who grew up during this period.


This is a picture of Peanut. A red-eared slider in Missouri that must have slipped into a six pack ring when she was born in the 1980s. Found in 1993, she was cut free and is now used for wildlife conservation education. She's still alive and living in Missouri. Obviously not a sea turtle, but you get the point.

The other visual in the trailer is that of Dory swimming through a wasteland of sunken ships, cars, bottles, tins, and tires. I think the ships are something we have come to expect and associate with the ocean- in some sense shipwrecks have become naturalized and normalized when we imagine the underwater environment (more on this in the next post). But there is something jarring about the cars and tires, even though we shouldn’t be particularly surprised that they are so common on the ocean bottom that they exist even in animation.

In 1972, officials in Fort Lauderdale, Florida proposed a “tire reef”. The Reef would be built out of used tires- deemed an eyesore on land but perfect for the building of artificial reefs. The proposal suggested a win-win. The reef would get rid of ugly trash constructively (instead of just chucking it into the ocean while no one was looking) and bring more game fishes into the area for anglers and tourists (they were rapidly diminishing: read about it here).  Tire reefs had already been initiated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa, Australia, and the American Northwest (against better judgement and advice from experts) and the South Floridians were super excited. So yeah. In what I think you can imagine was a pretty bad idea, Broward county, with the help of Goodyear and the Army Corps of Engineers, dumped over 2 million tires over 36 acres about 7000 feet off the coast in 35 feet of water. The tires were tethered together at the time and anchored on concrete slabs. This became known as the Osborne Artificial Reef.


A barge dumping tires onto the Osborne Reef. 

It didn’t work out so well. While some coral grew on the tires, the tethers quickly eroded because of the salinity of the water and tires began drifting. They damaged previously healthy reef structures. Each subsequent hurricane pushed tires onto healthy reefs and further up and down the coastline. Tires from the reef have washed up on the Florida Panhandle and as far north as North Carolina. In 2001, a biologist at NOVA Southeastern began a project to remove the tires but it wasn’t until 2002 that government support began to remove most of the tires. The Army began removing the tires, combining the conservation initiative with dive training exercises. However, as of 2015, the state and federal budget only encompasses the time and manpower to remove 160,000 tires, leaving almost 40,000 to float freely off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.  The Osborne Reef wasn’t the only tire reef to fail- all tire reefs have come to naught.


The Osborne reef today. Clean up is going slowly. 

In truth though, neither six pack rings nor tires are the biggest threat to the marine environment. In fact, even though images from the great pacific garbage patch and recent reports of trash littering Chinese beaches have called attention to the issue of pollution in the ocean, it is the plastic that we can’t see that has recently been identified as a danger to marine health.

Microplastics are just what they sound like: minute pieces of plastic that are either the product of plastic that has degraded and been broken down over time or small plastics like microbeads used in beauty products and other industrial products. These plastics are nearly invisible to humans but they taste, look, or feel (depending on how the organism senses) like food to many organisms, especially gelatinous zooplankton. While it would be bad to have an ocean full of jellyfish full of plastic, this probably doesn’t sound horrible to you. What’s a few jellyfish in the grand scheme of things? But here’s the thing- if plastic is the daily special for the lowest organisms on the food chain, it will eventually be the inadvertent consumable of those highest on the food chain (that’s us). Little fish eat jellyfish and bigger fish eat them and so on and so forth until humans eat the biggest fish because we like those predator fish so very much. And before you know it, we don’t just have to worry about mercury in our tuna, but also plastics with a wide range of chemicals. The ocean is full of these microplastics.

I’ve been reading about microplastics for a while now but still I was startled after a storm in Florida to walk on the beach and encounter a clear line of microplastics along the shoreline. I had gone to the beach with a trash bag to pick up what I knew would be a huge amount of trash kicked up by a heavy surf (even I was surprised by the amount and range of trash I picked up). But there it is: a tiny, colorful line in the sand.


You can just see the microplastics of different colors on the tide line. 


This is a bottle cap found on the beach. It is ringed with algae and blends into the beach. If you weren't looking for plastic, you would think that it was a jellyfish or a beautiful shell. 


And it turns out that ingestion is not the only fear where microplastics are concerned.  While tires might not be the best way to start coral reefs, it turns out that microplastics are a pretty awesome place to build microbiomes. Microbiomes, conveniently named the “plastisphere” by researcher to identify the newly created environments surrounding these floating plastic trash heaps, are communities of microbes that build up on these microplastics.   When I initially heard about this new area of study, I was initially optimistic. Wouldn’t it be great if these plastics could host great little floating communities? Alas, no. It appears that these microbiomes are a cause for concern because they could serve as particularly crafty vectors to move viruses and bacteria across the ocean relatively easily.

So what does all this plastic talk mean? The ocean has a big plastic problem- humans have created a whole new ecosystem and handily named it. We did that. But the type of conservation we are still talking about, the type of plastic pollution we are still supposed to be fighting are the concerns of the 70s, 80s, and 90s kids. Of course, it isn’t wrong to worry about six-pack-rings and tires, but the major problem is something huger than these individual pieces of plastic. It felt like nostalgia, watching these animated moments even though I was startled that they appeared at all.



There is no solution to the plastisphere problem at the moment, technologies and strategies like those proposed by The Ocean Cleanup are still in developmental phase and fail to take into account the multiple variables required to pull-off such a large project. As of now, smaller projects to remove the plastic are here to stay. So focus needs to be on preventing more plastic from entering the ocean. 

This is where films like Finding Dory come in. It is clear that the animators, writers, and directors were hoping to make some statement with these images. Portraying the ocean as a beautiful place being trashed seems like an important step towards teaching children stewardship. However, I wonder how the inclusion of trash without actually pointing out how wrong it is, how harmful it is, might actually go to naturalize or normalize these images for younger children. The question of how to raise good stewards, and whether these types of images work, is for the next post. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Eat Lionfish!: saving our seas by consuming invasive species

Lionfish are a rapidly advancing invasive marine species. They eat juvenile fish, reducing the diversity and native fish population on some species by up to 95%. So, what to do with these creatures?

As with all problems, my own personal answer involves food. So I have always been interested in the idea that we can best manage these invasive species by eating them. Proponents of this plan don't just want to get people to eat lionfish occasionally, but instead they want to develop a cultural and social acceptance of the organism as a commonly consumed species of fish. This is a lot harder than it might seem. 

In the middle of the 19th century, two things happened in parallel: 
The first was a large influx of immigrants from Europe (and especially Germany).
The second was a noticeable decline in native fish stocks (I say noticeable because they were probably declining for some time and it wasn't until this period when fishermen sounded the alarm). 
These two occurrences (increased immigration and decreased fish stocks) were not causal (no, immigrants didn't steal our fish)  but they did mean that there were more people and less fish to feed everyone. 

So the newly created U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries decided to do something about this: they would farm carp and release it into nearly every part of the US. 

Carp was already a popular ornamental and food fish in Germany- so the US Commission thought that the introduction of this species would be a win-win. They already knew that immigrants considered this an acceptable food source and they assumed that the fish would become popular with other Americans as their native fish stocks declined. What could go wrong? 

Initially, citizens responded favorably to carp introductions. According to Robin's Dougty's history of carp farming in Texas during this period:  

"Texans were expected to find carp delectable-especially European
immigrants or first- and second-generation Americans of German stock,
who were supposedly accustomed to the practice of carp culture in the
Old World. Initially, people reacted very favorably to their stocks of
young carp obtained free from the U.S. Fish Commission ponds in
Washington, D.C., or, after 1882, from state carp ponds in Austin. In
July, 1883, the U.S. Fish Commission sent out a survey to 2,ooo recipients
of earlier carp shipments across the nation. Sixty-seven respondents
from thirty-three Texas counties replied positively to the set
of fifteen questions. The number of responses from the Lone Star State
matched that from Ohio (Texas ranked fourth in the nation); the response 
was about half of that from Virginia, which ranked number
one."

But excitement about carp was quickly replaced by disgust and annoyance. Farm bred carp were kept in squalid conditions: the fish are hardy and thrived in muddy, murky ponds on basically any food. However, they also take on the taste of those muddy, murky and garbage filled locations. Complaints flooded into the Commission that the fish were inedible. 

In addition, the stocking of lakes and rivers lead to an overabundance of the species. The German carp began to push out the already declining native species. For those fisherman interested in trout, the carp was a less beautiful and sporting fish, regardless of taste. 

As public opinion turned against the carp, the Fish Commission continued to try to make it a thing. They posted pamphlets on cooking methods 

This poster seems a bit informal, exasperated, and slightly grasping. I'm not sure it's particularly convincing all things considered. 
And they were particularly interested in promoting all fish during WWI and WWII because of meat shortages. 



But alas, similar to fetch, carp was never really going to happen. 

There are other instances of trying to interest people in eating invasive species, especially when those species have overtaken and threatened the food source upon which those populations used to thrive. For instance, the oyster and mussel populations in Cancale, France are being crowded out by the invasive Atlantic slipper snail. While locals refuse to eat the snail, which they consider little more than disgusting vermin, one entrepreneur is trying to interest high end Parisian restaurants in the species. 

No one quite knows how the lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific found its way into the Atlantic. The first sightings in Florida occurred as early as 1985. What we do know is what has happened since then. Lionfish have invaded the Caribbean and Atlantic seaboard. They have been spotted as far north as Rhode Island and are beginning to work their way into estuaries. The hope that lower salinity would stop the spread of these fish inland has been smashed by the realization that they have broad salinity tolerance, meaning that they will have an impact on both reef ecosystems and broader littoral and coastal ecosystems.  

Some scientists, activists, and environmentalists think that the best form of control could be to make it a popular food fish. The January 2016 updates to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch lists lionfish as a "best catch" and states that "When you buy lionfish you are helping to prevent the spread of this invasive species in US waters." Earthinvaders.org  points to Cuba's success with eating these fish: 

"The Cuban government promoted harvesting lionfish in 2011–and when we visited in 2014, we saw only one pez león over five days of snorkeling on the reefs. Although the invaders persist in deeper waters, the fishing pressure appears to be working." (They do not cite this assertion so take it with a grain of salt)

One of the concerns with harvesting and processing lionfish is understandable: they have poisonous spines. Those spines can remain poisonous up to an hour after they are caught. Learning to properly clean the fish is the first step to eating them. 


After they are cleaned, they can be cooked like any other fish. Many people compare them to grouper or other salt water fish. 

I was lucky enough to get to try lionfish this winter while vacationing in Cape Canaveral, FL. Grills bar and restaurant has started serving lionfish and I was excited to get to contribute to ecosystem conservation by eating and drinking beer on a deck in 80 degree weather. This is the type of conservation that Americans really like!



 Grills prepares their lionfish by frying it and then broiling it (something they call froiling) and they serve it with a type of teriyaki sauce. 

The fish is a huge amount of meat- in fact, we shared the appetizer above and it was overwhelming how much of the fish is actually meat. The flesh is similar to any white fish you might have had- it doesn't taste "fishy" (a common complaint about fish because apparently people like to eat food that doesn't taste like food and while I find that confusing I accept it). In fact, it doesn't taste like much at all, so I think that would be a great hit with consumers. There are a lot of tiny bones if you don't fillet it first, but the fish is so good it is worth the effort of weeding them out. 

One of my favorite things about the lionfish is that its skin is edible. While many people don't like to eat fish skin, I absolutely love it. The taste and texture are something that appeal to me (I love trout and catfish for this reason). Lionfish skin is really good and on a fried fish like the one above, it was probably my favorite. part. 

All in all, I hope that the lionfish catches on in the US. If it doesn't, it won't be because it isn't good to eat. I would order it as a regular entree, even without the added incentive of eating invasive species. 

It's fetch. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The historical precedent to Mickey and Jay


If you're on the internet, you might have been introduced to the above video of two guys freaking out about a sunfish they've spotted near Boston. If you haven't watched it, it's lovely for a few reasons but also not exactly safe for work (the cursing is epic). One of the reasons I was so excited when viewing it was that one of the first reactions is to "call the aquarium." I study the interaction of aquariums with the public and it's great to see that people see what they think is either a new creature or an injured creature and want to call their local aquarium.

But I was also interested in the video when I ran across this picture researching this morning:


This is a picture of a sunfish caught off the coast of Catalina Island on Sept. 3, 1919. Mr. Van Campen Heilner (The man behind the cart) describes the capture in the Bulletin of the New York Zoological Society:

The narrator goes on to say he wanted to take the fish into shore alive, but quickly found that it wasn't going to happen- it was so heavy that the drag created from the boat basically killed the poor thing (if the harpooning and gaff through the mouth and eye socket weren't enough). While there wasn't a big enough scale the weigh it when they did get to dock, they did measure its length.  The sunfish ended up measuring 10 feet 11 inches. 

The sunfish in this narrative was doing the same thing that the one in the above video is doing: basking on the surface of the water to get warm after diving to great depths (go here to read more about it).

They are found throughout the ocean and there are often sightings similar to the one in the video (minus the freaking out and Boston accent).

We should never forget that the history of marine animal sightings is usually peppered with men on boats screeching "What's that?! Let's kill it and find out?!" However, we should be happy that the first reaction this time around was 'let's help it' and 'let's call the aquarium.' That seems to be progress,  even if it devolves from there.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Beach Nourishment: Environmental Questions

When I first started researching beach nourishment for this blog, my initial question was "how does this form of environmental engineering affect wildlife?" I thought there would be some pretty straightforward answers, especially since the history of beach nourishment in the US is almost 100 years old (1922-present). But instead, I found a lot more questions than answers.

Don't get me wrong- there have been studies done to try to assess the environmental impacts of beach nourishment on both organisms in the borrow area and the deposition area. There are several articles that highlight optimal studies (Nelson, "Beach Restoration in the Southeastern US" Ocean &Coastal Management, 1993 and Petersen and Bishop, "Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Beach Nourishment" Bioscience, 2005) and after reading these and several other articles, there seem to be two different environmental questions that stem from beach nourishment: 1. what does constant sand removal and deposition do to organisms that live on or near the beach? and 2. how does a change in sand quality or quantity impact those same organisms?

The first set of questions, regarding the impact of removal and deposition of sand on organisms and the environment is probably the group of questions that spring to mind when thinking about this subject. In much of the reading, it would appear that, while rigorous research has yet to really be performed, early indications suggest deposition of sand does not negatively impact many organisms who live on or near the beach in the long run.

Based on research highlighted by  Nelson (1993), crabs and clams that live in the area closest to the beach do decrease in number after the initial deposition of new sand. For the first season, their numbers decrease and then steadily climb back to pre-deposit numbers over time.

While the impact on the beach fauna seems to be minimal, the impact on organisms in or near the borrow area might be more negatively affected. The process of dredging for sand can be destructive both to organisms directly in the line of dredging and ecosystems near the dredging area.

There are many different types of dredges, but they all basically scour a chosen area of the ocean bottom, picking up everything on the surface and either depositing it on the top of the boat for transportation into shore or directly pumped onto shore via a piping system.

Hopper Dredge
Cutterhead Dredge


Dredges tear up the seabed and they also kick up sediment that can settle on nearby coral reefs. Coral is extremely delicate and reacts to a variety of changes in the water (including sunscreen). Negligence in dredging can bury coral reefs in sediment, blocking the sun and effectively killing the reef; this type of careless dredging is less common today. However, dredging even near a coral reef can stress the corals and cause them go from slightly swollen to covered in a secreted mucus that could eventually kill entire reefs.

Stress Levels of Coral from Sand Dredging from Fisher et al "Real Time Coral Stress Observations before, during, and after beach nourishment dredge Offshore SE Florida" Oceanography Faculty Proceedings, Presentations, Speeches and Lectures (Nova Southeastern University) 2008.
According to Fisher et. al (2008), careful dredging causes minimal stress on corals. Throughout a single dredging season (2006), corals reached stress level two (exacerbated by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma). After dredging was completed, most corals went back to a stress level of 1 or under.

While Fisher et. al don't draw a lot of conclusions from this research- they merely report their method and findings- it is something to consider that dredging causes stress on coral reef ecosystems,leaving coral weakened and unable to fight viruses, hurricane damage, and a host of other predators or issues. Basically, the harshest effects of dredging on coral can be alleviated by choosing dredging spots and monitoring coral stress levels but the low level stress leaves coral vulnerable to other complications.

Finally, sea turtle nests can be buried when dredged sand is dumped on beaches. Hatchlings can have trouble getting out of the nest if it is buried too deep (and the temperature might also be too cold to actually incubate and hatch correctly). Careful monitoring of sea turtle nests and nourishing beaches in non-nesting season can alleviate these issues. Sea turtle nestings do go down on beaches the season after nourishment projects, but it appears as if they return to normal within a year of nourishment. (Rumbold, Davis, and Perreta "Estimating the Effect of Beach Nourishment on Caretta caretta (loggerhead sea turtle) nesting" Restoration Ecology 2001) However, the biggest threat to beach systems might not be where or how sand is deposited, but what sand is used.

Choosing sand for beach nourishment is a tricky business. There are a lot of variables to consider- location, cost, aesthetics, and ecological impact. Up to date, most borrow areas for beach nourishment have been located relatively near the fill areas. However, as of 2014, Palm Beach, Broward, and Dade counties are out of usable borrow areas. While those counties have been begging their northern neighbors to share (the answer has been a pretty resounding "no") they are also looking to other borrow areas, including an inland source from an ancient ocean near the Everglades and sand dredged from the Bahama Banks.

Most borrow areas are relatively close to the deposit site which cuts down on cost (free sand if it is in your county and you only have to pay for the dredging equipment and man hours). It also commonly means it will be the same color as the original sand- something you wouldn't think is a huge deal but aesthetics are an important part of beach going apparently- just ask the citizens of Coney Island in 1922. The dredging brought up red sand from borrow areas. Locals flipped out- no one wants a red-sanded beach- THE SAND MUST BE WHITE! If you think this is a ridiculous reaction we're on the same page imagine the reaction people would have if they showed up to the white beaches of Pensacola to find them black, brown, or red. No more postcard beaches:( Beyond ease of dredging and consistency in color, dredging close to the original beach also generally assures that the sand is of a similar mineral make up and grain size as the original beach sand. While most people think all sand is interchangeable, it's not.

Grain size is something commonly debated in the beach nourishment community. When it comes to engineers, politicians, and tax payers looking at the financial bottom line, it makes sense to try to dredge and fill with a larger grained sand than that which was originally eroded. Why? Because larger grains are heavier and therefore less likely to be eroded quickly by wind and surf. However, grain size is a fine line to walk (pun alert!)- too heavy and it can crush sea turtle eggs or make it impossible for organisms buried to uncover themselves. In the other direction, if it's too fine grained (something that makes for great beach walking), it becomes too hard packed and organisms can't dig through it. This also hurts sea turtles who struggle to dig nests in tightly packed sand. So, grain size really matters. For more information on this, see Stauble's review of grain size variables in nourishment projects here.

In addition to grain size, mineral make up can also change the ecology of the beach. Probably my favorite article I read for these two blog posts was "The Effect of Beach Nourishment with Aragonite versus Silicate Sand on Beach Temperature and Loggerhead Sea Turtle Nesting Success" by Milton, Schulman, and Lutz (Journal of Coastal Research, 1997). Seriously, it's a great article. It was written because the authors already recognized the issues facing South Florida if they ran out of borrow areas. Milton, Schulman, and Lutz sought to test the impact of using another available sand source, the Bahama Banks, on sea turtle nesting. The major difference between the original sand and the new sand was mineral make up- the new sand was primarily aragonite sand instead of silicate (These two materials are chemically different but I will not try to explain this because I am quite horrid at chemistry- trust me, they are different).  So- similar grain size, different mineral make up.

The study found that there wasn't much difference in hatching success between these two types of sand. In fact, nearly the same amount of turtles hatched and made it out of the nest (there are always some turtles that hatch but aren't strong enough to make it out of the nest so these two variables are actually important to measure separately). This is awesome- no difference between these two sands means that we don't have to worry about ecological impacts of dredging, right? Wrong! Because the authors found something important- turtle nests in aragonite sand were consistently cooler than those in silicate sand.

Sea turtle sex, as is the case with many reptiles, is determined by temperature during a critical window in egg incubation. For an even sex ratio (50:50) in a clutch, the magic temperature is 29.1 C during this period. 1-2 degrees above and the majority will be female and 1-2 degrees below will be mostly male. Anything below 28 C will produce only males. This is a concern because altering sex ratios in endangered species could drastically change the availability of nesting females in this area. I loved the study not just because it was super clear, but because it really brought home something that has been bugging me about all the literature on beach nourishment: it just doesn't ask tougher questions most of the time. A simple, well the crabs came back the next year, seems to be as deep as many of these studies go. And that's a huge problem because this study shows that seemingly innocuous choices have unintended and possibly overlooked consequences.

The gaps in the literature have been clear for a long while. In 1993, Walter G. Nelson called for careful study designs for studying the impact of beach nourishment on ecological communities. In 2005, Charles Petersen and Melanie Bishop found that "A review of 46 beach monitoring studies shows that (a) only 11 percent of the studies controlled for both natural spatial and temporal variation in their analyses (b) 56 percent reached conclusions that were not adequately supported, and (c) 49 percent failed to reach publication standards for citation and synthesis of related work. Monitoring is typically conducted through project promoters, with no peer review, and the permitting agencies exhibit inadequate expertise to review biostatistical designs. Monitoring results are rarely used to scale mitigation to compensate for injured resources. Reform of agency practices is urgently needed as the risk of cumulative impacts grow." (abstract, "Assessing the Environmental Impact of Beach Nourishment" Bioscience 2005)

Much of the issues seems to be that there are a lot of communities involved- local governments, environmental engineers, homeowners, ecologists. Beach nourishment is important for a variety of interests- it should be equally important to question how much it hurts local ecosystems and how we can find a way to nourish without destroying. Right now, we haven't scratched the surface of studying something so vital to all of these communities.





Friday, May 29, 2015

Beach Nourishment: The history of building beaches

Every year, my family heads to Florida around this time of year to remind ourselves what sunshine feels like; we started planning a vacation this year around the first week of April when it still wouldn't stop snowing in Northeastern Pennsylvania. A couple weeks ago, we headed to Cape Canaveral, Florida. While I'm at the beach, I have a tendency to pick up on something I'd like to write about on this blog- usually it's a question I have about something I see and can't explain or would like to know more about. Last year, I wrote about food gentrification and the year before that, sea turtles and the propensity for crazy people in Florida to try to ride endangered species (I'm not even going to touch the new problem with people trying to ride whale sharks. What could possibly be wrong with people?)

This year, as I built sand castles with my 19-month-old, I started to think about the make-up of the beach. I'm from South Florida and went to Florida State University, so I've been on a lot of beaches in the Southeast. As a regular beach goer, you get a chance to understand something about beautiful beaches: they are a construction project not a natural wonder.

This is the first image that pops up on my google search of "beach"

What do I mean by this? It is easy for tourists to take for granted that beaches are a form of "natural" beauty. But if you hang out at the beach long enough, you'll see a set of technologies that don't bring to mind the breezy palm tree filled calendar shots we associate with the shore. Instead, they offer a glimpse of the modern beach as construction site: heavy dredging boats, ugly pipe lines, and unsightly machinery.

I've never seen a beach calendar called "tractors and tans" but it would be a little truer to life.

The practice of building up shorelines, commonly called beach nourishment, is done to replace eroded sand or to widen shorelines. Erosion of the shoreline occurs continuously- either slowly through day-to-day tidal erosion or more quickly due to large storm surges. While erosion is naturally occurring, man made structures can often disrupt the natural buildup of sand on beaches. For instance, in Cape Canaveral, FL, a jetty was lengthened in 1995 above the port entry in order to stop sand from re entering the dredged channel over time. This helped keep the newly dredged channel clear of sand, allowing cruise ships access to the port and making it easier to maintain water depth in that area. While this solved one problem, it created another. Sand usually flows southward in this region along the shoreline; basically, constant erosion of Northern beaches was replacing sand eroded on Southern beaches. However, the jetty blocked that replacement pattern, denying southerly beaches an estimated 156,000 cubic yards of sand a year. There are several reasons why shrinking beaches are a problem.

Sand protects shorelines from storm surge. Giving the ocean more shoreline to "chew" on means less damage to coastal ecosytems and property during major storm surges. In addition, it sustains populations of animals who nest in these areas. Sea turtles, crabs, shore birds: all of these animals require a beach on which to build their nests.* And finally, of course, humans like to live and visit the beach. Some studies have shown that beach nourishment has a positive impact on the tourism economy (Klein and Osleeb, Journal of Coastal Research 2010) and that oceanfront property values could drop between 17- 34% if nourishment programs were decreased or eliminated (McNamara et al PLOS One 2015).

*there's a caveat about sea turtles here and I'll talk about that in my next blog post about environmental questions about the process- dredging isn't always great for wildlife.

The first beach nourishment project was the construction and expansion of the shoreline off of Coney Island and Brighton Beach. At the turn of the twentieth century, salt water bathing and visiting the shore became a popular health cure. The combination of sun and sand was thought to cure a variety of diseases arising from the constriction of humans into dank, dark, and polluted urban spaces. As more and more people flocked to cities like New York and Philadelphia, more diseases arose including rickets, tuberculosis, whooping cough, and pellagra. And all of these illnesses were believed to be cured or at least alleviated by exposure to salt and sun. If you want to know more about this history see "They Can't Help Getting Well Here":Seaside Hospitals for Children in the United States, 1872-1917 by Crnic and Connolly in The Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (2009) or Crnic's dissertation from the University of Pennsylvania (2013) Seeking the Salubrious Sea.

The city of New York developed plans to build a bathing beach and pier at the turn of the twentieth century, but it took almost 20 years to work out the legalities of transferring ownership of the beachfront property from private landowners to the city. It was complicated by the fact that many of these landowners were loath to give up their shore front property because they charged beachgoers to sunbath.  By October 1921 the city of New York passed legislation allowing them to transfer titles for beachfront property in the same manner that property was acquired for public road projects.

The shoreline along these areas was sparse and eroding slowly; high tide reached the base of the buildings built along the water. This meant that an enormous amount of sand needed to be relocated to construct both a bathing beach and a pier.


To secure the beach, 16 groins and jetties were built along the shoreline. This would stop sand from shifting too much. The boardwalk was built 13 feet above traditional high tide. After the boardwalk and support structures were built, the beach fill was brought in. In the image above, you can see the huge amount of sand utilized to create these beaches. In 1923, 1,700,000 Cubic Yards of sand were deposited to create a bathing beach. The new high water mark was extended 330 feet seaward. The sand was pumped from 4 separate borrow areas no more than 3500 feet off the coast. The total cost of the beach improvement was believed to be about $1,900,000 with half of that being spent on the boardwalk. (Dornhelm, R. "The Coney Island Public Beach and Boardwalk Improvement of 1923" Shore and Beach 1995)

As you can see from the image above, improvement of the beach continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century and maintenance continues today. Fill from borrow areas is required every three to four years to maintain the beachfront.

While there has been some theorizing that beach fill would eventually lead to a stable shoreline and negligible loss of sand mass on filled beaches (related to depth of closure- something I'll talk about more in my next blog), most beach nourishment projects require continuous upkeep. Brevard County, Florida where Cape Canaveral resides, has an amazing website detailing the history of their beach nourishment programs (They call it beach restoration). It tells the history of those projects from 1995 to the present day and is pretty cool.

http://www.brevardcounty.us/NaturalResources/Beaches/RestorationProjects 

Most information about beach nourishment projects in the US should be available given that the government subsidizes these projects heavily. Between 65 and 95% of all historical beach nourishment sand volume has been federally subsidized. It was estimated in 1998 that the US Government was spending between 100 and 150 million on beach nourishment (Trembanis et al. "Comparison of Beach Nourishment Along the US Atlantic, Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and New England Shorelines"Coastal Education and Research Foundation 1998)

Seeing the differences in shorelines is pretty amazing so I've included two below- Cocoa Beach (2001 project) and Miami Beach (1981). While many beaches need nourishing, Florida is where most federal money for nourishment goes.


The 1981 nourishment of Miami Beach involved depositing 12 million cubic yards of sand on the shoreline. 
Because of their nourishment projects, South Florida has run out of borrow areas. But that's something for the next blog...


Monday, March 9, 2015

Manual and Scientific Labor in Marine Novels: Everyday Work on the Sea

About six years ago, at the very beginning of my dissertation research, someone suggested to me that I read Moby Dick. Similar to Kamila Shamsie's recent story in the New York Times,  I resisted this suggestion believing that a narrative about men, obsession, and whales had little to do with my research and even less to do with my life. I did try to pick it up, but it wasn't until I downloaded it on the Kindle that I was able to make it all the way through. I think the Kindle tricked my mind into believing the book was shorter than it is. Whatever the reason for my new found ability to make it through, I ended up really liking (and slightly loving) the book. However, I wasn't really convinced that I knew what to do with it. So I sat on the story and felt happy when I saw pop culture references to it (Scully's dog is named Queequeg in the X-Files).



Then, I ran across Margaret Cohen's The Novel and the Sea. Cohen is a literature professor at Stanford University and her specialty is the study of the Novel. The study of the novel is not merely the study of books, but the special narrative form of the novel, a genre characterized by the description of everyday events. Sometimes included under this umbrella is the Romance- a narrative that describes uncommon and marvelous events (Moby Dick is often included in this genre). I'm not a specialist in Novel studies and I'm grossly oversimplifying the field, but I picked up Cohen's book because her argument is this: literary theorists have often noted that the novel is characterized by a lack of labor in the narrative but the marine novel is different. That is, the genre of the novel was developed to be read by a certain class of people for leisure purposes. Rich people read novels. Even though the form of the novel is something that is believable, that doesn't suggest that it was everyday life for everyone. Everyday life for rich people wasn't a life of labor but of leisure. The novel wasn't about labor. But Cohen suggests that this is different in the marine narrative.  In the marine narrative, labor, the very act of knowing and surviving on the sea, takes center stage regardless of the class of the characters presented. In some ways, the suggestion is that you can't write about the sea and write about leisure only- labor is the default way of learning the marine environment.

Cohen uses a lot of examples, including Robinson Crusoe, Moby Dick,  Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Toilers of the Sea (among many others). As I read Cohen's work and her arguments about labor, I admit that I was a bit lost- not because it isn't a great book but because I wanted to actually read the books from which she drew her examples. So I did. I read all of these books in the last couple years and I've been thinking about them in relation to labor. And something interesting happened when I read these books myself- I began to wonder, not just if the marine novel was special because it contained labor, but because of the types of labor they described.



While reading the books, I noticed two types of labor descriptions involved in working on the sea: physical labor or the labor of working on a ship and mental labor or the work required to know the ocean and its inhabitants.

Physical Labor:

The physical labor described in these books is the work required to keep a person alive and a ship afloat for any length of time. In all of these narratives, the reader is not just offered glimpses of what this takes, but is given an in depth lesson on seafaring. In Moby Dick, we are offered images of what it is like to ship out from Massachusetts, to bunk with strange bedfellows and stand watch on deck.Ishmael gives an in-depth portrait of the physical labor required to hunt whales, break them down, and drag them to port. Both Melville and Hugo outline the etiquette of speaking with other ships, and getting information and mail while at sea. Even a romance like Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues identifies boring, everyday requirements of seafaring in the Nautilus- finding food, burying the dead, and surfacing for air.  Hugo's Toilers of the Sea introduces the reader to the inner workings of steam ships, navigating around the Channel Islands, the names and ways of navigation of every reef formation in the area, and a large amount of information on ropes and knots.

In addition to the everyday, the romantic portion of these novels, the uncommon, involves extreme physical labor. In Robinson Crusoe, Crusoe describes the physical labor required in salvaging from wreckage, building a homestead, raising goats and crops, and generally surviving alone on an island for forth years. In Toilers on the Sea, the protagonist Galliat also salvages from a steam boat and each backbreaking step, from building a makeshift forge to sleeping in rock crevices and scavenging for crabs on the rocks is recounted for the reader.

This type of labor seems to be the one on which Cohen focuses. She suggests that this labor is telling because it signifies the way that a form of knowing the sea through physical labor. The authors show their understanding of the marine environment by recounting how amazing their characters are at working on and in the water. All the protagonists are great navigators, they know the water and its peccadilloes because they are experienced workers in that environment. Through physical labor one becomes an expert at marine survival.  When you read these works, you see this form of the narrative and Cohen's work really resonates. But I couldn't help but think of another kind of labor that I saw in these narratives and that was mental labor.



Scientific Labor/Mental Labor:

In one of the most famous chapters of Moby Dick, the reader is introduced to a taxonomy of cetaceans. Really the chapter is just a laundry list of whale names and the reader (at least this reader) is a bit baffled- why include this in a book about hunting a whale? Amidst an adventure narrative, characterized by physical toil, we encounter this seemingly sterile way of knowing the ocean- by naming. In Moby Dick, I might have thought this was indicative more of Melville than the marine novel, but I saw a similar way of knowing in Verne and Hugo. In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, the narrarator spends a large chunk of the chapters describing the species seen from the windows of diving suits or the Nautilus. In lieu of toiling for survival, as the crew is obviously doing everyday, the prisoners on the Nautilus perform another form of labor- that of naming the ocean creatures and observing their habits. Even in the physical act of wearing heavy gear to walk under water, we are granted a lesson on the newest marine technologies:

"It is to use the Rouquayrol apparatus, invented by two of your own countrymen, which I have brought to perfection for my own use, and which will allow you to risk yourself under these new physiological conditions without any organ whatever suffering. It consists of a reservoir of thick iron plates, in which I store the air under a pressure of fifty atmospheres. This reservoir is fixed on the back by means of braces, like a soldier's knapsack. Its upper part forms a box in which the air is kept by means of a bellows, and therefore cannot escape unless at its normal tension. In the Rouquayrol apparatus such as we use, two india rubber pipes leave this box and join a sort of tent which holds the nose and mouth; one is to introduce fresh air, the other to let out the foul, and the tongue closes one or the other according to the wants of the respirator. But I, in encountering great pressures at the bottom of the sea, was obliged to shut my head, like that of a diver in a ball of copper; and it is to this ball of copper that the two pipes, the inspirator and the expirator, open."

"Perfectly, Captain Nemo; but the air that you carry with you must soon be used; when it only contains fifteen per cent. of oxygen it is no longer fit to breathe."

"Right! But I told you, M. Aronnax, that the pumps of the Nautilus allow me to store the air under considerable pressure, and on those conditions the reservoir of the apparatus can furnish breathable air for nine or ten hours."


"I have no further objections to make," I answered. "I will only ask you one thing, Captain--how can you light your road at the bottom of the sea?" "With the Ruhmkorff apparatus, M. Aronnax; one is carried on the back, the other is fastened to the waist. It is composed of a Bunsen pile, which I do not work with bichromate of potash, but with sodium. A wire is introduced which collects the electricity produced, and directs it towards a particularly made lantern. In this lantern is a spiral glass which contains a small quantity of carbonic gas. When the apparatus is at work this gas becomes luminous, giving out a white and continuous light. Thus provided, I can breathe and I can see." "Captain Nemo, to all my objections you make such crushing answers that I dare no longer doubt."


This type of information- the scientific and technological details of marine science are integral to the marine novel narratives.  

I'm pointing this out because these two types of labor (ways of knowing), physical and mental labor, seem intertwined in these narratives. Our protagonists survive because they physically and mentally know the sea. While the inclusion of physical labor may be revolutionary in the sense that it introduces the wealthier reader to the brute physicality required of sea life, the understanding that mariners must have both this physical knowledge and an academic understanding of the environment is equally as interesting. These physical laborers are also thinking beings- they not only know the ocean physically, but they know it and name it and construct the ocean with both physical and mental labor. But what does this mean and what might it tell us about the nature of oceangoing and our image of the ocean?

One of the interesting things about this intertwining, braiding, knotting of ways of knowing to me is that is is possible in all classes of workers on the ocean. While we might be tempted to think of Gilliat (Hugo's unemployed (?) protagonist) as being the ultimate in physical laborers and someone like Professor Pierre Aronnax (Verne's marine biologist) as the ultimate in mental laborers,  the truth is that most of the characters in these novels utilize both ways of knowing the sea.

Gilliat is a perfect example: he performs great acts of physical labor to strip the engines of a wrecked steamer and these acts are described in extreme detail in the novel. Gilliat becomes weathered by the ocean- it strips him of clothing, weight, and water and leaves behind a desiccated husk; he is the closest thing to a merman one might imagine- a reluctant Tritan. But this physical labor is married with a mental labor of knowing the submarine environment. Gilliat describes not just the things he needs to know to physically survive in the moment, but all the things he knows about the sea in general- the seasons, waves, different spaces on a ship, different types of knots and sails. Half the book is a lesson in types of ships (the other half a tirade on Hugo's hatred of Catholicism but that's a different blog post on ways of knowing). In one particular chapter, Gilliat comes across a particularly disturbing creature- a "devil fish". This organism (The Monster) is described first in comparison to other land animals, and then the author goes into detail about how it is shaped, how it hunts, and then finally its scientific categorization.


This definition, which goes on for an entire chapter, intertwines ways of knowing and identifying the organism- folk understandings from mariners and academic understandings from zoologists. But it is done seamlessly so that the reader believes that Gilliat knows these things because he knows the ocean.



These marine narratives make me think of Anne Secord's work on Science in the Pub. Secord's work suggests that not only did a wide variety of classes participate in science, but they did so because it meant something important to their everyday lives. In her study, artisans participated in the scientific practice of finding and naming new botanical species because the practice was meaningful in their culture. Horticulture, herbalism, and floriculture were part of the everyday life of artisans in the English countryside. Far from only being an academic pursuit, the ability to identify, find, and cultivate a variety of botanical species could mean extra money or even health to these individuals. While many individuals cared about this knowledge, scientific naming offered a common ground on which to build commonalities with other people of like mind. The very act of naming and acknowledging formed groups.

As I was reading these marine novels, I kept coming back to Second and thinking about her artisan botanists, sitting in a pub passing specimens around a group and naming. These artisans formed part of the scientific process, but they are unnamed and unacknowledged. That is, their contributions to scientific knowledge isn't particularly well understood. But also, the importance of scientific understandings to their everyday lives is also not well understood. What does the scientific naming of these plants mean to them? Secord explores both of these lines of inquiry and the paper (linked above) is worth a first, second, or third read.

We can apply these ideas to the marine world and just think about it- Yes, the physical labor of being on the water is important, but it appears that the scientific understanding of that environment is equally as important. There have been far more sailors than scientists on the water. Their knowledge of the environment has contributed much to scientific understandings of that vastness; but their scientific understandings might also have contributed to their survival in that environment. Marine novelists seem to recognize this by intertwining the physical and mental into a seamless narrative about the sea.  While it might initially seem as if the scientific language is thrown in to appeal to the possible audience of novels (middle to upper classes), we can also read it through the lens of Secord's work to see that it is an important way of knowing the sea for anyone who works on it. It is part of the everyday life of sailors, this knowing and naming.

This doesn't mean that all mental labor on the ocean is scientific naming- we need not only point to Linnean taxonomy to suggest that scientific work is happening. Gilliat's (Hugo's) knowledge of the Sea Devil is half scientifically informed and half folk epistemology.  And of course, I'm reading the author's knowledge as the character's knowledge. So I'm welcome to suggestions of how wrong this might be.

However, what I'd like to emphasize is that it seems, as I read more in this genre, that knowing the sea requires physical and scientific knowledge. Of course, we can say this about everything in life, but it is important to me that the marine space and novels about it are where this is laid bare for the reader.  And it might be more important to ask why a narrative about this space can do that (since Cohen suggests that this is rare and special).