Freezing Time, Seaweed, and the Biologic Imaginary

2. The fundamental role of seaweed performs as a habitat and algal plant, producing rich oxygenated environments that provide a unique near coastal ecology, are as difficult to examine in maps as their dynamic role is often lost in the individual images of seaweed we are most familiar to link to marine shores. If seaweed samples are preserved as frozen in time, and removed from their environments, its crucial role is all the more difficult to map within the environment that its abundant coastal presence creates. But the aporia of the diappearance of near-shore kelp forests are all the more difficult to reconcile with how are concept of seaweed seems to be often rooted in a frozen past of isolated specimens and, in the images of naturformen of Ernst Hzeckle, as evidence of an earlier evolutionary time, or of the preservation of submerged time. For the active role of seaweed in coastal environments, if understood by Darwin to be a vital part of the ecological landscape on which coastal species depend, has all too often remained absent from our maps of our shores, even as they undergo dynamic change.

Josie Iselin

How to integrate the imaging of kelp forests within coastal oceans is a problem of inhabiting narrow geographic bands of submarine settlement, and the difficulty of surveying or registering the health and expanse of the coastal forests of kelp and seaweed currently threatened by unprecedented imbalances of coastal ecology. The cartographical aporia of the coastline provide problems with which we will increasingly wrestle as oceans warm.

The near-coastal wonders of kelp forests lie in shallow waters to receive the most possible amount sunlight, and can be seen as well on rocky shorelines where they are washed by waves. As they are largely submerged in cold waters, kelp forests are hard to sense remotely, and their coastal distribution is still best charted by aerial photography: the tools of mapping based on navigation are especially unsuited to tracking kelp, and the point-based nature of GIS, despite its clear precision when it comes to geolocation, seems less suited to the sort of environmental mapping that demands consideration of volume, spread, and rates of growth, or the nourishing of the ecosystem. Their long-standing historical presence on coasts, while long overlooked by much natural science in the nineteenth century, has gained renewed attention not only due its sensitivity as a register of polluted waters, but the decimation of forests whose critical role to the global ecosystem is being rediscovered after the massive loss of coastal seaweed in many near shore environments. The actual wealth of habitat kelp creates is often removed from the value of the megaalgal stalks and leaves measured on sea surfaces, in ways that flatten an appreciation of the rich habitats that kelp creates in coastal oceans

Their nourishing habitat is being all but eradicated, even as the historical role that they played in encouraging human migration, and attracting coastal migrations of pelagics as well as local mammals, has been rediscovered; indeed if the specific value of the shore as a site of farming, feeding, and human development of algal biomass–promoted as an agricultural feed, fertilizer, alternative food supply, and possible solution to global warming, if the shore was long removed from industrial life. The possibility of a fragile nature of kelp forests and coastal seaweed in the Pacific was only appreciated as the threats to warming waters created by El Niño, as the shifting warmth of sea waters–here registered in sea-surface temperatures–seemed to target the Pacific coast–

NASA Earth Observatory maps by Joshua Stevens, using data from Coral Reef Watch

–limiting upwelling in the Pacific basin, and suddenly reduced sea surface chlorophyll levels off the California coast in 2015’s El Niño, dramatically changing levels of oxygen and carbon in the waters that affected seaweed as well as ocean life, with an absence of cooler, nutrient-rich waters arriving into coastal waters.

And as the growing global decline of algae due to warming waters grew, while it is heartening to see the commitment, energy, and crowd-sourced activity in the Climate Strike across the world, as far as Antarctica to Singapore to Berlin to New York to Washington DC,

considerable activity had already occurred offshore, or near-shore, changing global oceans as oxygen-producing nutrient rich kelp forest were in the process of being somewhat systematically mowed down by urchins on much of the near-ocean floor–posing preying and ongoing problems of habitat preservation, not limited to oceans, but starting from them: if the photosynthesis of seaweeds and other algae–phytoplankton, algal plankton and kelp–produce over 70% of the world’s oxygen–300 billion tons annually– and support the oceanic ecosystem.

Average chlorophyll in oceans, 1998-2006, shown in green
Courtesy SeaWiFS Project/NASA GSFC and GeoEye, Inc.

Algal plants provide the base food of all aquatic life, but their hidden nature poses multiple challenges of visibility and aerial or remote registration that makes them difficult to map, sense, or visualize. Indeed, long before the current crisis of the impending loss of kelp forests along the Northern California shore due to the overgrazing of urchins, sedentary detritivores dwelling on the ocean floor, the mapping of seaweed provided sources of difficulty both because of its volume, and the sense that it always lay there. along the shore, in an abundance that regenerated every year; the submerged volume of kelp stalks rooted by holdfasts was especially difficult to map quantifiably or visualize, as it not only moved but its appearance was highly contingent on the ambient light, making a baseline of kelp forests difficult to set.

And the digitized versions of even the most high quality aerial photographs on which we increasingly depend to chart the location, size, and assess the vitality of kelp forests is hampered by their remove–or two-fold remove–as being dependent both on image capture and the digitization of imagery. While implying the best possible overhead photographs, the digitization of images on which kelp surveys depend are of limited sensitivity to assess the very forests that are under increasing attack.

The attempts to chart “zones” of seaweed by aerial kelp surveys is helpful, an indicates the density of kelp presence, here by infrared imagery that lead it to be depicted in dark red, but even California only began annual surveys of kelp as a form of wealth in 2002, and before that had only attempted such surveys in 1989 and 1999, as kelp grew as a commercial harvest in some twenty-eight harvestable “kelp beds,”of which three prohibit harvesting save by leases gained from the Fish and Game Commission.

3. But the sudden decimation of kelp forests, only recently regarded as rich sources of plenty, pose challenges for a deeper historical mapping of coastal kelp forests and the kelp canopy. Images preserved in shapefiles reveal huge declines in the canopy around the Channel Islands (reduced by three quarters in extent), north central coast (stable until 2009, but then reduced by a bit more), and north coast mainland, that has suffered what seems the greatest proportional cataclysmic decline, setting the alarm for better mapping kelp and its threats, and its relation to its environment as a site of food, shelter, and carbon sequestration.

While this provides a graphic picture of regions of abundant kelp forests that is a useful shorthand, is it possible that the sea change of digital mapping, privileging points and relying on digitization of overhead aerial imagery creates insufficient layers–so to speak–to capture questions of the beds’ depth, persistence, and fragility? For if the pointillistic nature of GPS mapping fails us in embodying the consequences of climate change, the presence, volume, and hidden nature of many of the offshore submerged beds of kelp is especially poorly served by pointillistic visualizations, more often designed for inland areas where point-based precision is desired.

2008 Pacific Coast Surveys at San Simeon off San Luis Obispo, CA
California Fish and Wildlife/Aerial Kelp Surveys

Kelp forests most often grow in shallow coastal waters to receive the greatest possible amount of sunlight. As they are largely submerged in cold waters, kelp forests are hard to sense remotely, and their coastal distribution is still best charted by aerial photography: the tools of mapping based on navigation are especially unsuited to tracking kelp forests, and the point-based nature of GIS, despite its clear precision when it comes to geolocation, seems less suited to the sort of environmental mapping that demands consideration of volume, spread, and rates of growth,–from nourishing of the ecosystem to historical baselines. We are in danger of having lost a sense of our connection to seaweed, and an ability to map the crucial role of its vitality and spread.

3. If algal plants are the base food of all aquatic life, their hidden nature poses multiple challenges making them difficult to map, sense remotely, and also to visualize, even before the current crisis of the impending loss of kelp forests along the Northern California shore due to the overgrazing of urchins, sedentary detritivores dwelling on the ocean floor. Attempts to chart “zones” of seaweed, while useful, most of all fail to account for or communicate the huge production of kelp and algae that is so distinctive to the region globally, making it into a site of massive foraging and migration, and indeed a pronounced concentration of chlorophyll in the global oceans, as Benjamin D. Hennig–a geographer who studied coastal ecosystems on the North Seas. His a stunningly disorienting map–a gridded cartogram of organ isms contributing to photosynthetic production, based on the remote sensing of NASA MODIS imagery–reveals the algae-producing oceans that invites us to consider the seas not as flat blue expanse.

Hennig’s gridded cartogram calls our attention to the roles coastal upwellings, algae, and ocean health play in living environments that forces us to think in terms removed from territorial waters. And it shift attention fromthe coast from Alaska to California to the North Sea to Pacific, often discussed less in terms of recent weather changes, from El Niño to global warming, to the disproportional nature of providing food within ocean ecosystems, that invite us to open attention to the seaweed rich regions of the seas where plankton dwell so abundantly offshore.

Benjamin D. Hennig, “Where Algae Grow, from Water: At Atlas

The global dataset that Hennig employed echoes the elegantly seaweed-tinted projection of NASA’s Earth Observatory: its long-term imagery of local and regional chlorophyll levels mirrors the vitality of areas of ocean life Hennig tracks, if their role for ocean-dwelling creatures are less often mapped for the public, who increasingly see coasts in anthropocentric terms: they provide a benchmark for future changes in warming oceans, however, for ocean life. The thin green line of chlorophyll running along the California coast helps us shift briefly from the local to a global to return to a local within what might be the first chapter of a new atlas of photosynthesis or underwater carbon sequestration..

The outsized role of mineral-rich shores in providing oxygenated waters and absorbing CO2 would be clear from this prospective atlas, prime among them the Pacific, and Gulf of Cortez, which waters from the Columbia River long fed, historically,, as other bays and downstream areas of the east coast–

Benjamin D. Hennig, OCEAN CHLOROPHYLL CARTOGRAM from Water: At Atlas
Detail of Coastal Ocean, Ocean Chlorophyll Cartogram

The mapping of relations of rivers to chlorophyll production might help complete the picture of a rich coastal ecosystem of delicate balance. But the quite fluid nature of seaweed–its drift, annual life cycle, or rates of growth–are less able to be mapped, and especially the vulnerability of seaweeds to increased amounts of predators, as the purple urchins who have overgrazed–if not mowed down–coastal kelp forests in many sites of the world, creating a problem of submarine deforestation, critically important in the challenges we face globally in carbon sequestration.

In a story that begins from the decimation of sea stars species along the entire west-coast, as it must, a puzzle was pulled from ecosystems as creatures from giant spined stars to sunflower stars precipitously declined in numbers as they washed ashore, as if melted, from 2013, in changes that Reef Check California tracked helplessly: suddenly absent by 2014 from San Francisco to San Luis Obispo, their still-mysterious decimation along the coast was uniform and cataclysmic consequence of a warming Pacific, and their subtraction led huge areas of the bull kelp forests off the coast to diminish and disappear: at the same time, the numbers of purple urchins who graze the near coast ocean floor ballooned beyond past precedent, growing tenfold in number along marine transects, as the understory of kelp was cut by the spiny urchins, and disappeared, creating barrens in their place, reducing “kelp cover” that were eliminated from many coastal environments.

The considerable volume of seaweeds that once occupied regions close to the shore, linked by sinkers to the ocean floor or rocks on the seashore and islands, is difficult to appreciate or picture. For although the beds of kelp along coastal California were begun to be rigorously mapped by aerial photography from the mid 1990s, when the scale of the catastrophic losses of coastal kelp forests that lie off the coastal forests–or kelp deforestation–was first perceived by remote sensing and appreciated as an economic threat to fishing, seaweed farming, and habitat. But their locations are all but absent from most of our coastal maps. While the urchins played active roles in fragmenting kelp in benthic environments, their population boom an insurmountable obstacle to regenerating barely surviving kelp beds lying in near-shore coastal waters–even in protected marine areas.

As purple urchin populations have expanded sixty-fold along the California coast, with a collapse of sea stars due to an unprecedented wasting syndromethat has yet to be fully explained through its ties to coastal warming or to pollution, the canopy-forming kelp forests in the coastal ocean that long provided a habitat for many species grew: and the loss of bull kelp on the Northern California coast now measured at over 93 percent went far beyond the periodic reductions of giant kelp populations south of Santa Cruz and bull kelp forests that stretched on the Pacific rim south of Alaska. Divers off the coast of Southern and Northern California quite aggressively removed many purple urchins manually, but the labor intensive extraction of spiny creatures cannot keep up with their reproduction, as natural predators, both sea stars and otters, have either diminished or long disappeared.

National Geographic, Help the Kelp

The warming of waters of the coastal ocean during El Niño inversion of coastal upwellings compromised kelp reproduction even in marine sanctuaries: the shifting of kelp forests to urchin barrens witnessed as a result of warming waters long ago in the Aleutian archipelago, and more recently in the once cold waters of northern coastal waters of Japan’s coast, Norway, and coastal Australia and Tasmania shockingly spread to keep reduction workshops as Bull Kelp washed on the sandy coastline, signs of fragmented ecosystems that could take centuries to restore.

NOAA/Nationa Marine Sanctuaries

As kelp forests were granted the status of endangered species by the governments of southern Australia in 2012, an alarm was sounded for their future. Piles of kelp dislodged from ocean floor by urchin over-grazing seemed the latest refugees created by global warming; urchin removal would require a huge manual intensity, challenges recovery efforts, keep restoration, and coastal habitat. And while the growing industrial demand for kelp had led huge quantities of coastal kelp to be taken as if they would be long abundant in Monterrey Bay, as over 4,700 wet tons of kelp were harvested from the Marine Sanctuary, largely to make emulsifiers, 1997-98 El Niño inversions brought warmer temperatures that compromised kelp forests, leading to increasing attention to assessing kelp populations from the clear effect as early as 1982-1983 El Niño on southern California’s seashore kelp blight.

5. The kelp, and of the bull and giant kelp that have begun to wash up along California shores, as if severed from the holdfasts. The bull kelp once secured them on the ocean floor, with stems of up to 20 meters (sixty feet!) thatreproduced by spores that fall nearby, in what might be considered coastal families, has arrived ashore as if a severed canopy, tangled with other seaweed, where what had been an underwater shelter for young fishes and invertebrates, such as sea urchins, sea stars, snails and crabs, and a source of food, long offered a site of spatial orientation for the migratory species of the Pacific as well as those who live by the shore.

Their disappearance and fragmenting mean that that longstanding dense canopies that were the habitat for so many local species are suddenly subtracted in ways that change each setting, undermining a deep ecology of place.

Bull Kelp and Algae Washed Ashore on Northern California Beach

As much as the ecology of delicate offshore places lie Pt. Reyes ad Monterrey are mandated Marine Protected Areas in California, that primarily restrict human activity in them to safeguard their habitat and wildlife–in large part because of the presence of such forests of bull and giant kelp–

Marine Sanctuaries and Protected Areas/NOAA

–the invasion of burgeoning populations of purple urchins who devour stalks and new shoots on the ocean floor in near-coastal regions may be driven by anthropogenic global warming, but has no ability to be regulated.

The tragedy of the degraded kelp forest and its canopy is not visible onshore, and is hidden save from trained observers of coastal life: but the revolution that is occurring in coastal oceans, globally, suggests a hidden form of deforestation with consequences beyond what have been linked to most fears of climate change, denuding the ocean floor of a hugely attractive source of food, habitat, and generator of oxygenated waters that serve as a goal of many pelagics’ migration and the start of a hugely complex food chain.

Purple urchins eating seaweed stalks, Sonoma County/ Jan Freiwald

If algal plants are the base food of all aquatic life, their hidden nature poses multiple challenges making them difficult to map, sense remotely, and also to visualize,–even before the current crisis of the impending loss of kelp forests along the Northern California shore. In part, the volumetric role of seaweeds that occupy regions close to the shore, but linked by sinkers to the ocean floor or rocks on the seashore and islands, makes their continuity difficult to appreciate or picture–if the beds of kelp along coastal California have begun to be rigorously mapped by aerial photography from the mid 1990s, when the scale of the catastrophic losses of coastal kelp forests was perceived: as urchin populations expanded sixty-fold along the California coast, with a collapse of sea stars due to an unprecedented wasting syndromethat has yet to be fully explained through its ties to coastal warming or to pollution, the canopy-forming kelp forests in the coastal ocean that long provided a habitat for many species grew.

Indeed, the sites of urchins are often more simple to map along the ocean floor along transects, rather than seaweed, and the global map of urchin barrens in the global ocean are an undeniable manifestation of globalization, as the occurrence of ocean barrens extends across a global expanse, the result and consequence of planetary global warming, as they creep along the world’s coastal oceans, devouring marine plants and algal stalks, threatening the areas in pink and purple, and leaving barrens in violet areas, according to this global distribtution of kelp in the world’s oceans, synthesizing a record of global range of kelp forests, based on both regions in danger of becoming barrens (dark purple; lavender) and observed areas of kelp growth (dark green), and potential areas (light green). The result shows the broad transformation of coastal oceans in much of the wormer climes, and the extreme susceptibility of coastlines that are encountering increased warming, from the easter and western shores of the United States, the southern Pacific of South America, New eland and Japan, as well as parts of the eastern Mediterranean near Anatolia.

Pink denotes multiple shifts from kelp beds to barrens;
light purple denotes areas supporting kelp;
dark purple areas a shift from kelp beds to barrens,
light green potential kelp;; dark green observed range of kelp
Raffaelli & Hawkins 1996, redrawn from Steneck et al. 2002

The ongoing or impending loss of bull kelp on the Northern California coast now measured at over 93 percent went far beyond the periodic reductions of giant kelp populations south of Santa Cruz and bull kelp forests that stretched on the Pacific rim south of Alaska due to the El Niño warming of once-cold ocean waters.

Seaweed’s presence is hard to map, and kelp is slippery to slip through the lenses of most aerial photography of the coast–and indeed to register in satellite imagery. Although the direct equality of land and marine vegetation seems likely, aquatic vegetation is more easily hidden or concealed by fog, sunlight, cloud-cover, sea foam or the glint of the sun off oceanic surfaces, and the rendering of seaweed that seem mobile and less rooted in fixed space less clearly the record of flowering of kelp plants and the locations of their rootedness in oceanic environments, but also offers deep challenges of cartographic rendering–and of integration within a larger picture of local biomes or ecological environments.

6. The confusion in cartographical symbologies may have something to dow the fraught nature of the analogy–now overly familiar–of the peril of seaweed to the redwoods, themselves disappeared from the shore due to an earlier, and distinct anthropogenic intervention of the clear-cutting of coastal forests in an earlier era, over a signifiant time. The parallel images of loss–based on a sense of the drastic and unrecoverable changes in the kelp forests that have begun to vanish–seem to prepare us for the possibility of loss, as much as have much analytic power, especially given the central role that kept plays within the coastal ecosystem or coastal ocean. Given the considerable problems of image-recognition and data collection in the collecting data on kelp forests’ range, it’s not a surprise that considerably earlier technologies of marine mapping of the Admiralty offer important guideposts for ocean surveys of the health of underwater kelp populations.

To be sure, longstanding recognition of the importance of kelp beds as vital habitats led California Resouces to try to create a baseline in digitized from in 1996, hoping to replace hard-copy maps of kelp beds that date back to 1912: the hope was to establish new digital tools and standards to map zones of kelp resources across the state, creating the challenge of complete coastal coverage of a state whose southern coast is dominated by giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera), giant and bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) cohabit the central coast, and beds of bull kelp stretch across much of northern California, processing kelp data into 87 administrative kelp beds, prompted by a new awareness in the 1990s of the centrality of kelp production to California’s economy and Marine Life Management Actions before the Fish and Game Commission.

During the 1990s, the California Fish and Game Commission helped generate aerial photographs of color transparencies of the kelp canopy were refined, projected onto 1:24,000 scale USGS maps, scanned, extracted and assembled in the only statewide mapping of kelp in existence—ESRI created a California Coastal Kelp Resources Survey (1989) of 84 discrete images across shorelines, intertidal zones, offshore islands, and beaches, despite difficulties in classifying images and interpreting kelp types, and some discrepancies of counting pixels from digitized photographs, even of the highest quality, across a coast stretching 1200 miles. Image recognition was difficult at 400 DPI, in the first aerial photographs of 1989 by ECOSCAN, but grew to 700 DPI ten years later, for JPEGs of better resolution.

The lack of uniform scale and changing techniques of georeferencing and photogrammetry, as tidal changes, made it difficult to generate a uniform baseline on questions such as kelp biomass or density by plotting beds by aerial imagery alone, even as technologies of the mapping of kelp beds were greatly refined during the expansion of ARC mapping tools, and an expansion of the sophistication and local detail of an ecological mapping of coastal habitats that might reveal much about their history. If rising near- coastal temperatures may have contributed to the catastrophic collapse of sea stars in the past years, is there a chance that a threshold has been crossed in the increased density of microplastics in coastal waters, and in areas around the San Francisco Bay?

The waters of Oakland and San Francisco reveal scary concentrations of micro plastics, approaching concentrations of the daunting number of 310,000 pieces per square km, equivalent to twice the highest levels found in Chesapeake Bay and three times the levels of micro plastics that can be found in Lake Erie, by far the most polluted body of water in the Great Lakes, with up to seven trillion pieces of plastic entering SF Bay daily. Although striking concentrations of plastic particulate matter is found in the Arctic–up to 12,000 micro plastic particles in a liter of sea ice!–levels of plastics blown into the arctic atmosphere from eight million tons of plastics entering oceans each year, at times estimated at 12.7 million metric tons, the levels of population-wide ecotoxicology of this influx of plastic particles is not yet clearly known, although laboratory-based studies reveal the ability of nano plastics to enter the bloodstream, cross the blood-brain barrier, and move across the placenta. (People can ingest in their food 52,000 plastic particles a year—counting those ale to be inhaled a total of 121,000.). Yet if the arctic waters may be the greatest site of plastic pollution, little is known about the health impacts of the surprisingly scary density of micro plastics in arctic sea ice, as sub-surface currents move concentrations of microplastics to the poles.


Although the SF Bay waters are more stationary, perhaps, than the large numbers of plastics that arrive in the Arctic oceans, and less movement or outflow occurs to the ocean, the ability of polar fish, blue mussels, and snow crabs as well as deep-sea startfish have been found to ingest microplastics–even in the SF Bay, an astoundingly large six pieces of plastic were found within small fish and sea stars. It is possible that sea stars may have failed to digest or process the microscopic pieces of plastic that outnumber plankton in some parts of the oceans. This might make the contribution of microplastics, as much as the rising near-shore temperatures of the ocean waters, a possible cause of coastal pollution that could have contributed to sea star die-offs from 2013,–when the wasting disease devastated nearshore habitat.

If dense coastal populations define the Bay Area, and have led waste facilities to dump increasing amounts of plastic into the Bay waters, as storm drains, creeks, and street overflow contribute more micros plastics to ocean waters–and the micro plastics from car tires may by far outnumber the plastic beads in cosmetics, toothpastes, or facial creams, and contribute to the South Bay being 330 times more polluted than Lake Huron, according to SFEI’s Rebecca the Bay Area has become so densely criss-crossed by car traffic that rubber tires have introduced so many Microplastics to the region to have perhaps crossed a threshold in the abilities of some aquatic life to process their presence. Tire abrasion along coastal roads have produced –often from brakes as well as emissions or roadways–likely to be blown into waters and estuaries, and were estimated in a German study to contribute to 80-90% of microplastics pollution near roadways. Indeed, the cost of growing coastal emissions near California, already growing exponentially, demand to be integrated with the cost of plastics in offshore areas from highways–even though the most recent interactive data visualization from the New York Times focusses on on-road land-based effects of emissions, not coastal consequences.

 New York Times/On-Road Driving Emissions Map, 1990-2017/ based on Boston University’s Database of Road Transportation Emissions

While we measure carbon footprints in terms of emissions, we may indeed loose site of the considerable role of tire abrasion and car breaks on coastal highways and urban streets play in the pollution of oceans, from breaking, skidding, and just plain driving that we are not likely to observe from the sessility of the car. The rise of recent findings of the outsized role of abrasion in the accelerated content of plastics in marine environments and coastal habitat demands to be mapped, if not considered in the range of factors that together with increased water temperatures could contribute to the rise of wasting disease; the presence of copper, cadmium and zinc in urban intertidal regions from Vancouver BC to South Carolina suggest abundant polymers–polyethylene, polyurethane, polycarbonate and nylon–curtailed marine habitat of coastal countries from China, Turkey and South Africa to the Philippines, North Korea and United States. With the total of plastics entering the seas approaching According to recent estimates, over 8 million tons annually, the presence of microsplastics cannot be ignored.

But if we have concentrated on the contribution of polluted rivers, the significant role of tire abrasion in spreading microplastics may well pass a threshold beyond coastal wastewater plants and solid waste, and increasing the vectors of flux of plastics in marine environments beyond the macro-plastics dumped into the ocean. The dumping of micro plastics from the tires and breaks of cars threatens the shores on which there is the most driving–much as the water of the Great Lakes seems to be a site of increased plastic garbage that has entered the lake system. If the entrance of micropolastic into the Great Lakes can derive from sources as diverse as agricultural runoff, building materials, clothes that abroad,  or stormwater, the numbers of pieces of litter cast off into the lakes are astounding–especially those bordering the largest consumer societies of the United States, as Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, where a large number of plastic refuse was collected in recent months to try to alleviate the dire situation.

Indeed, the surface abundance of plastic refuse in the lakes is striking–

The large figures offer clear evidence of the increasingly irredeemably anthropocene nature of the world. As the plastic has increasingly entered the human food chain, and appears now in what is locally brewed beer, drinking water, and indeed in wildlife, the dangers of build ups of plastic within our bodies needs to be examined as over 10,000 metric tons of plastic now enters the waters of the Great Lakes every year, breaking down and mixing with other particles and sediment, not moving out to sea, but remaining in the lakes, and not only from human waste. Despite the ban in 2015 on microbeads, the amount of plastic we regularly jettison and employ, from coffee cup lids to tires, sends a large stream of microsplastics to the aquatic environment of increasing proportions, estimated at twenty-two million pounds annually, entering the lake system, as we say goodbye to the possibility of micro plastic-free drinking water. If the pounds in the previous visualization are self-reported plastics found on beaches, the echo the tally of the distribution of concentrations of particulate plastics, 2009-14, if they suggest a proactive readiness to respond to the increasing presence of plastics in the southern Great Laikes.

Does the entrance of micro plastics into the Pacific adversely effect the sea stars that have undergone such huge threats of mortality in wasting disease in recent years, or since 2013? The ingestion of plastics with plankton by sea stars; voracious sea stars might be more likely to consume macro-plastics whole, compromising their physiologies; they certainly consume bivalve mollusks like scallops and mussels more likely to have accumulated microplastics as polystyrene beads in their guts of only 2 μm, or barnacles and lungworms who ingested PVC nanoplastics, dangers to their digestive glands–and potentially to cellular membranes.

Melissa Miner/https://MARINe, UCSC

While the spread of wasting syndrome, first spotted on June 27, 2013, the rapid degeneration of sea stars’ bodily systems in three days from the first appearance of signs on its ectoderm seem to arise in stars stranded on shore in intertidal habitat, but was observed from Vancouver and Victoria, to near Portland, below the Hood River, Van Damme, Ft. Bragg, the San Francisco Peninsula near Big Basin, Monterrey, Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands and Palos Verdes, decimating large twenty-four armed sunflower stars (Pycnopodia helianthoides), rainbow stars, giant pink stars, and ochre stars (Pisaster ochraceus) , the first and last keystone species with strong influences on their environments, and feed on sea urchins and barnacles. Indeed, the possibility of a built up of microplastics in the stomaches of barnacles that is extremely difficult or impossible for sea stars to metabolize suggests a potential compunding of the effects of marine warming, which is most often associated with seaweed declines as warmer waters and less upwelling provide fewer nutrients and plankton.

If the mortality of seaweed is in general associated with warm weather events, as mortality has been associated with warm water events, such as the 1982/83 El Niño period, poor water quality directly impact seaweed species like Feather-Boa Kelp, Egregia menziesii, which ranges in kelp beds from Alaska to Mendocino, but whose absence from regions near to wastewater streams that enter the ocean, of municipal or industrial wastewater–outfalls often associated with endocrine disruptors.

7. There is difficulty chartiing the relation among seaweeds that cluster the rocky shore of the peninsulas of California, from their different density, the questions of their submerged status, and the to tides from a photographic database. Kelp bed distribution from Monterrey to Point Reyes National Seashore are hardly defined as “land” or “sea” and slip out of the clear categories maps employ.

A rich humanization of kelp for centuries, not only because of their biological forms, no doubt, but bioactive nature, as anti-viral agents, seems linguistically mapped in scientific names of seaweed genus. A dominant California genus–nereocystis–that includes the bull kelp is Greek for “Mermaid’s bladder” and the deep biomorphic associations of the prevalence of anatomical terms–bladder, the cystoseria, of which there are far over fifty separate species, from the bearded to the prickly to the creeping; or hair, the chaetomorpha, perhaps a projection of femininity of mermaids, or Acetabluaria known as “mermaid’s wine-glasses”–and many taxa of seaweeds that populate ocean shores, both on account of their pronounced brachiation and complex tissues, but their vesicles of CO2-rich air.

Does such familiar nomenclature reveal a sense of recognition that they, like our ancestors, inhabited shores? Beyond algae named after ferns, plants, mosses, lettuces, or fans, the biotic properties of seaweed structures were an extension of the living coastlines. The living shore that seaweeds define led to the evolution of over two hundred taxa of seaweed flora classified on the Peloponnese, a site of the multiplication of phycological checklists classifying and describing marine vegetation from the early nineteenth century in rich biographic regions of the Aegean and Ionian seas and islands, whose nearly 10,000 miles of coast–16,000 km–overflow with taxa, many of similar familiarity, that offered something of a resource for the naming of seaweed typologies in the nineteenth century.

Mediterranean Marine Science

We all too often erase the shore as a site of fragile health, by emphasizing its primary decorative imagery, and by seeing it as passive and benign. The frequent ways we see the shore today, indeed, may be in terms of beaches where lie submarine cables, abstracted from any sense of a living shoreline, but entering a pristine sea of resort towns in Virginia, beside a range of pictorial starfish, gulls, turtles, and sharks whose cartoonish forms reveal our alienation from the oceanic–if idyllically shown below, is stripped of signs of humanity.

The ocean is a medium in which cables are lain on the ocean floor, an environment that has been transformed to a field for a medium of communication and site of information infrastructure, where the existence of starfish, sea turtles, and shellfish which are shown peacefully coexisting with highly pressurized submarine fiber optic cables that seamlessly run under the shoreline to the ocean floor.

Submarine Internet Cable Network/Infinera (detail)

If this didactic “map” nicely brackets the seascape and the technology of submarine internet cables from one another as separate domains, that lie beside one another seamlessly, as if to naturalize the place of the inland Data Center and its routers and expansive data storage from the seashore scene that erases any fault line to a nearby pleasant habitat of pristine blue, the disappearance into the landscape is also insidious, and opaque..

One is reminded of the diptychs by which Trevor Paglen has unmasked the coexistence of the environments of NSA cables and the beaches of Fire Island and Mastic Beach, NY, where transatlantic cables of national security information lie buried beneath a vacation spot into an ocean where they are not seen.


But presence of seaweed in our coastal oceans in California reveals the fragility of our local ecosystems, and the need to look more closely at the overlooked–and seaweeds have occupied a place of the biologically overlooked almost until the nineteenth century. As scientists of seaweed collected new specimens that observed their growth and biological role, the dominant image that many seaweed specimens had was decisively decorative, emphasizing the preservation of the delicate artifice observed in algal forms. The admiration of the structure of kelp “plants” and delicate ramification was almost formal and structural among many evolutionary biologists, as the large brown algae discovered from cold coastal waters grew with the rediscovery of shorelines, but also with biologists’ attention to hidden oceanic environments.

Charles Darwin famously marveled in 1834, arriving in Tierra del Fuego, before abundant kelp forests in the benthic environments during the coastal Survey of South America with considerable prescience–“if in any country a forest was destroyed, I do not believe nearly so many species of animals would perish as would here, from the destruction of the kelp”–marveling at the kelp beds’ abundance, and at the “numbers of living creatures of all Orders whose existence depends on the kelp.” The prescience of Darwin’s intimation of the potentiality mortality brought by kelp’s possible impending collapse on such immense scale chastens us today. The role of the survey barque the Admiralty commissioned the South American Survey of the Hydrographic Office pale in comparison to the popularity of the travelogue that Darwin kept and his official account of the voyage; the popular and often reprinted travelogue of naturalistic observations had an impact far beyond kelp beds, but the hydrographic findings continue admonish in strikingly contemporary ways in a world of warming oceans, as we confront the possibility of a collapse of the ecologies of our coastal oceans.

 Conrad Martens, HMS Beagle at Tierra del Fuego (1833)

The decline of kelp beds in many environments, if in part due to pollution, as the fishes that migrate through the Bosphorus Strait on their way to feed in the nutrient-rich Black Sea, passing through what is a rich benthic environment of corals, crustaceans, jellyfish, and seaweed, even as the fluctuations in seasonal temperatures encourages plankton’s growth. The strait is better known for the survival of Gastropoda and bivalvia adapted to its polluted waters, many of accidentally imported in ballast waters of international shipping and sea transport. Huge blooms of plankton in the Bosphorus have created darker waters in the Strait where seaweed and petroleum once co-mingled peacefully.

The image of the fertile shores in Darwin’s narrative suggested an early voyage of discovery, analogous to that of Levi Strauss, but found meaning written into the forms of coastal life that led to the celebration of the endless abundance by Ernst Haeckle of naturformen, the instructive biomorphic seaweed and jellyfish–and the underwater world, enlisting the graphic arts as an apostle of Darwinism that whose deep geometry of life are almost expressive of a reassuring sense of global order..

8. The end of such waters of abundance that seem witnessed in the once rich waters of the Bosphorus are recently chronicled in the undersea fantasia of the depths of the Bosphorus channel, which has gained new life as a sort of manifesto on global warming, but originally appeared in Orhan Pamuk’s romance with the city’s underground, the Black Book.

Pamuk’s novel spotlights a fictional columnist who romances the past of the city which he sees as able to be envisioned at the bottom of the Straits that lap the sides of its shores, through which course fish, seaweeds, and curious contents long obscured by the flow of waters from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea, some from the many tankers who move silently, sometimes hitting river banks, as they move their contents from Asia to Europe.

The fantasia of the undersea waters and the past that might be ready to emerge from them is encrusted with mollusks and shellfish, but draped with seaweed, as well, as if the rich pasts of Istanbul and Constantinople had migrated below the waters of the Bosphorus as the old city had so quickly modernized, or metastasized to a megacity around the Golden Horn. The underwater world that is revealed by the sinking sea level of the Bosphorus, if caked with seaweed, is a calamity of global warming and climate change tin ‘When Bosphorus Dries Up,” a vision referencing the many cargo ships and tankers that continue to sink in the Straits, with ships of migrants, but when separately repented for the Istanbul Design Biennial as a separate tract, winning broad circulation as a treatise against climate change. Pamuk’s vision of the Bosphorus–might it be titled “The Bosphorus is Sinking?”–described how as the Black Sea warms and the Mediterranean cools, the waters are continuing to “empty into the great caves whose gaping holes lie in wait under the seabed, the same tectonic movements [that] caused Gibraltar, the Dardanells, and he Bosphorus to rise,” as Bosphorus fishermen note boats that run aground where they used to be anchored by chains “as long as a minaret,” prompting them to ask, “‘Isn’t our prime minister at all interested in knowing why?'” During a hot summer, writes the narrator, it’s “not hard to imagine this bog drying up in some parts while remaining muddy in others, like the bed of a humble river that waters a small town in the middle of nowhere,” and perhaps the impending withdrawal of waters will create new neighborhoods on its once muddy floor, as “among toppled wrecks of oil City Line ferries will stretch vast fields of bottle caps and seaweed.”

The very sort of prospective views of old Istanbul seem to animate the fantasia of the Strait without waters, and the melancholy of Istanbul that seems linked to the power of the straits, where light falls on its surface in the haunting urban Atget-like photographs Pamuk has taken so frequently of the Bosphorus that seem to document the city’s relation to the river over time, and recall how French photographers like Charles Marville and Atget tried to capture the transition of the city to modernity–or, closer to home, photographs by the great Armenian-Turkish photographer Ara Güler. The images seem to capture the staring out over the Bosphorus–which is not only done by Istanbullahs, but most all visitors the city–to try to capture or encompass its majestic size as a water body, as if it contained the rich cultural history spanning from Constantine’s Roman Empire through European Crusaders to modern criminals. The catalogue of the undersea world recapitulates mental processes of observing a photograph: Erdağ Göknar reminds us the columnist observed, “Every photograph is not just the image of a frozen moment, but of the past and future too. Because to take photographs is to nurture hope.” Can we evoke a similar relation to the maps of the offshore world?

Orhan Pamuk
Orhan Pamuk
Bosphorus, Christophe Guilmoto

Pamuk imitated the almost recognizable voice of the irrascible Istanbullah columnist Celâl, whose own volubility sought to capture “picturesque” histories excavating urban memories for his readers, in The Black Book. The column surveyed the floor of a dried up Bosphorus in detail, imagining what the recession of the waters reveal as historical palimpsest beneath seaweeds hold ruins of an urban past, covered in the mosses of the sea, from the masts of sunken ships to figures of armed crusaders mounted on skeletal horses, raising spears encrusted with mussel beds, abandoned Cadillacs encrusted with urchins and mollusks, moss-covered Ancient Greek coins and pens: the old admixture of fish, seaweed, and cultures receded, but the modern cataclysm of climate change resurrects lost Istanbul on its seabed. The shallow waters provide dangerous passage for tankers as the narrowest channel of international navigation, whose pollution hasn’t stopped its historical use for swimming, fishing, and sailing, even as construction projects on each site of the narrow Strait polluted its blue waters.

If Celâl’s image of the dried floor of the Bosphorus lacks four horsemen, its apocalyptic view of the emptying of life from a Strait that is suddenly inhabited by the dead souls that form it is a pre-Messaianic apocalypticism borrowed from the Quran and Ibn Khaldun, a truly bleak view that suggests not redemption; it evokes in its bleakness and recycling of the past an image of the end of times woven by the Dajjal, an Islamic version of the Antichrist, portended by a spread of natural disasters to a widespread overthrow of the natural order and destruction of the Islamic community, as a black cloud descends and on the earth, and evil temporarily returns in full force to the world before redemption. The ease of its elision with a narrative of global warming and climate change is apt, if belief in apocalypticism and the end of times has been cultivated and revived by Islamicists from the late 1980s, long before 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, often tried to Said Ayyub’s The Anthichrist (1987), that may have encouraged the rise of apocalyptic fiction in Arabic in the Muslim World and Middle East, that were widely published for a broad readership in Damascus, Kuwait City, Beirut and Cairo.

There is an odd sense in Pamuk’s novel that the article penned by the cantankerous marginal columnist expresses deep nostalgia for an old Istanbul, and a nostalgia of one beset by a guilt of global warming. If Celâl is a bit of an alter-ego for Pamuk, a lover of old newspapers, but the journalist rather than novelist in Pamuk’s lovely novel of urban identity set around 1980, ominously wans in his final column that the Bosphorus will soon dry up. The warning prompts, in truly apocalyptic tones, a dystopian reverie of the history that its nourishing algae rich seabed contains–waters that have seen increased salinity and pollution by heavy metals–concentrations of heavy metals present in the sea lettuce seaweeds (Ulva Lactuca) that are extremely sensitive to the environmental degradation of the shoreline, absorbing dangerously high levels of lead, zinc, cadmium, copper, magnesium, potash, and alkalines, altering the habitat by a pronounced increase of mineralogy.

–and far decreased nutrient concentration than when it held abundantfish migrating to the Black Sea from the  Sea of Marmara.

Celâl indulges in the apocalyptic reverie of “The Bosphorus is Drying Up” to extend the receding waters to transform what was a marine habitat into “a pitch-black bog, glistening with muddy shipwreck baring their shiny teeth like ghosts,” as the recession of waters first revealed “the mossy masts of American transatlantic lines that ran aground” beside the skeletons of early trader visitors, Ligurians and Celts, revealing a muddy wasteland populated by a cornucopia of seamoss-covered sunken stoves, sharp-nosed wrecks of galleons, and soda bottles, long hidden from view, a return of the repressed that Pamuk’s journalist surrogate predicted could only offer a habitat for “armies of rats” bearing epidemic to remaining urban residents the government quarantines behind barbed wire. The writing of the scene, written and set long before Erdoğan was even elected Istanbul’s mayor, taps a huge anxiety about the departure of a submerged past, but has come to circulate online in a second life, as a sort of manifesto against ocean pollution and climate change, boosted by the prestige of the author’s Nobel Prize, as its hectoring moral voice gaining new monitory value, as it has been adopted in climate change literature, where its apocalyptic tones have gained new popularity.

The vitality of the waters where fish once swam to feed in the rich minerals of the Black Sea is transformed to a graveyard that only the Istanbullah is ready to recognize as a history that is their own. The detailed panorama unpacks underwater perspectives on the near-coastal environments of a historical richness that may be intentionally dramatic, but its temporal scope would that while it is a bit ludic, would be useful, if not important, to integrate in our perspectives on the presence of seaweed off our shores: if the final what seems the column of Celâl is a nostalgic look at Istanbul’s past and recent history, the historical span of shorelines would offer a dynamic addition to our maps of coastal environments, if perhaps not necessarily in such darkly apocalyptic tones.

The problems were all to real in Istanbul as the old Bosphorus seemed lost:  Erdoğan himself has proposed in 2011 a projected “Canal Istanbul.” of spectacular proportions, deeper than eighty feet, longer than the manmade waterways of the Suez or Panama canals, the would isolate Istanbul’s historic center as an island,–but bring the benefit of restoring the Bosphorus “the place it was in the old days, a natural wonder” by dramatically curtailing its traffic of oil-tankers and the commercial tankers that have polluted it, which would run the narrow Bosphorus strait.

Erdogan’s own megalomaniac mega-project of modernization rebut the melancholic relation to an older Istanbul, butt fit in public projects of self-aggrandizement that was is familiar. Erdoğan, no friend of environmentalists by any means, had already planned one of the tallest bridges in the world to span the Bosphorus of eight lanes of car traffic, and one of rail, named after the Ottoman Sultan Selim I, who he seemed to style himself as a follower, and inaugurated the monumental Istanbul Airport of Stalinist proportions and scale, or at least the first runways and terminals–a public work he projected to “resemble the vertical towns similar to those imaginary towns which Italo Calvino describes in his unforgettable work Invisible Cities,” adding in ways surprising Calvino the odd compliment of casting his fiction as a set of viable architectural plans and indeed a vision of modernity..

Pamuk’s cranky columnist conveyed a deep sense of nostalgia for the Bosphorus and its fish tragically into which Erdoğan trapped in his reborn Welfare Party. Both Pamuk, Celâl, and Erdoğan echoed a deep nostalgia for the lost life of the estuary that had preceded the warming of ocean waters or climate change; Pamuk best captured the deeply dysphoric climate anxiety and dread that has filled many at the sight of the world’s changing coastal oceans.

What, exactly, would replace the lost kelp forest and its canopy?

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Filed under climate change, climate emergency, data visualization, Global Warming, seaweed

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