The reasons behind this latest electrified underwater sculpture installation The Fight for the Last of Life, deployed by Conservation Diver, Coral Aid and the NHRCP in Ao Leuk Bay on the 28th of August 2019 (Koh Tao, Thailand) are manifold. The most fundamental and perhaps arguably it’s most important purpose, is to serve as a biologically engineered habitat for coral. What could be better than underwater sculpture? An electrified underwater sculpture of course! Thanks to the low impressed current running through its metal bars it has been turned into an electrified artificial reef, all made possible by wunderkid Robert Svenster, a colleague and collaborator that has tirelessly sought to enhance our efforts in restoring coral reef ecosystems through his incredible expertise.
The work I’ve been privileged enough to do with Bob in our many collaborations has been a beacon of light that has helped me through some gut-wrenching moments in our fight against the onslaught of stressors that reefs across the globe are facing, and in many ways, it has helped me come to terms with my own naivety.
Is Hope Enough?
Hope, while we cling on to it like Rose clung onto that spacious door for two at the end of the Titanic, isn’t the only solution to the many problems we face. Hope, while a wonderful tool to keep us from erring towards nihilism is not alone enough to save our species. It is the actions of those out there in the field fighting for our future, living and breathing the lives that so many of us perceive as fiscally irresponsible or childishly idealistic (even though there are shreds of truth to that). It’s one thing to tout the values of a conservationist, but to truly live it is the only real way of saving ourselves from the perils we as a species have wrought on this planet…the only planet capable of providing for us.
This is not a sermon I’m disseminating from the apocalyptic pulpit of catastrophism to plunge all of you into a pessimistic malaise; it is a call to arms. In the Global Climate Strike that’s being driven by the soberingly mature, and refreshingly direct words of Greta Thunberg:
“Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” she said. “Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.”
“If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”
“I know you are trying but just not hard enough. Sorry.”
It is often the youngest of us that can see the most clearly. Her emphatic words are rapidly becoming some of the strongest political statements that are challenging and chastizing nations across the globe that have utterly failed to galvanize the change that we all so desperately need.
The time for mincing our words and kowtowing to the greatest perpetuators of these problems is over. Hope can only be effective when balanced in equal measure with realism and action.
At present, the reality of the future of our planet is worrying for those who don’t know much about it as many are FINALLY coming to terms with Climate Change acceptance, but it is absolutely terrifying for those of us that understand the gravity of what the wealth of modern scientific literature is pointing towards.
The inspiration for this electrified underwater sculpture’s concept came to me three years ago from one of the people that means the most to me in this world. Chad Scott changed the course of my life since I first met him back in 2014, and I could’ve never predicted the gravity that that meeting would have and how drastically it would alter the path that I was on. There remains no one more inspiring and worthy of praise in all my years of work and travel. When Chad was diagnosed with Leukemia 3 years ago, tears streamed from my eyes and I couldn’t process the karmic injustice that he’d been dealt.
I’d only come to Koh Tao in the first place to work underneath him, and to be an asset in any way that I could to bolster his efforts towards his dream that would become my own. On the terrible day of his diagnosis, I became possessed – wholly focused on creating a tribute to his decade long struggle to make the world a more positive place, despite the many different hurdles he had to overcome along the way – the obvious life-threatening health setbacks he endured, but even beyond that the many people who ignorantly tried to take credit and outright steal the work that he’d poured hours of hard work into, without so much as acknowledging what they were doing, hiding behind the pretense of “it being all for him”.
I made a rough and slightly embarrassing sketch of him reaching up towards the surface, as the hands of those seeking to hold him back and take advantage of his efforts for their own personal gain…a feature that’s become all too commonplace in the field of Environmentalism.
The Concept behind the Electrified Underwater Sculpture
To blend my artistic concepts with the science of coral restoration, improving the overall health and recovery of reef ecosystems has been a life-long dream, one that would’ve never been possible had I not stumbled into one of the most inspiring groups of marine biologists and enthusiasts that spurred on my every effort. As my time on Koh Tao comes to an end, I wanted to create an electrified underwater sculpture that would be emblematic of a cautionary tale.
Raise You Cup
The center piece of the electrified underwater sculpture, the figure holding up the chalice, will be growing a coral fragment within it, a desperate attempt of reef restorationists across the globe fighting for the hope that these rapidly disappearing ecosystems survive. The sculpture’s face and hands are decaying, a reflection of the labor and self-sacrifice that people take on when they live for a higher calling – a goal beyond themselves which each of us who chooses this path pays for in their own ways. Ecologists across the globe are modern martyrs, living on whatever pittance they’re fortunate and resourceful enough to scrounge together to keep themselves afloat, clinging to the hope that there are enough like-minded people out there so that we might collectively be able to make some kind of a difference against the insurmountable odds.
The cup in the hands of the central sculpture will have a coral fragment found dying in the sands planted on it, giving that colony a second chance at life where it would’ve been buried in the sands and died without the intervention. The faceless masked sculptures and hands reaching out for the cup is referencing a trope amongst many coral scientists, who’ve often quipped that we’ll be studying the very last coral colony, trying to unearth more of their beautiful secrets, while entire reef ecosystems around them are collapsing. And because of the paltry funding and lack of general public interest, our efforts to save these crucial creatures will be lost and so too will all the beauties and services they provide us unless something changes soon.
The Faceless Shills
The intention behind the masked faces reaching out for the coral cup is a criticism of the many faceless profiteers and marketers out there looking to capitalizes on the green movement as a form of green washing, taking credit for the herculean efforts of obscure, sincere biologists doing the work they do out of sheer love, bastardizing their work in an attempt to profit off of it through a game of increasingly disheartening virtue signaling.
In life, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting people who genuinely care about selflessly giving themselves to a calling so much greater than themselves and they’re the ones I’ll remember – my inspirations. I’ve also had the misfortune of meeting their foils, people who pay lip service to these concepts, but are blind to their own egos and moral bankruptcy. I hope I never lose the ability to differentiate between the two – those who are sincere and those who are blinded to their own narcissism.
Enough of the Bullshit
Echoing Greta Thunberg’s addressal at the most recent Climate Conference, the ones in true positions of power need to understand the gravity of our collective situation and either be held accountable for their indifference, or find a way of empowering more positive action. Applauding the moral integrity of those that are fighting for a better future means nothing if you don’t stand for those values yourself, and it’s these corporate and political shills that are challenging even the most optimistic of environmentalists among us to question the sincerity and integrity of the green initiatives that many companies now claim to purport. It is amongst one of the greatest hypocrisies that you can find in this modern, increasingly dystopian world that we find ourselves living in and we should be angry. It’s our responsibility to be angry.
If you’d like see more projects like this one and help us continue to train the next generation of conservation divers, please click this link and donate: https://conservationdiver.com/divers-in-action/donate-to-the-ocean/
Every little bit helps.
A Thank You to all who made this Electrified Underwater Sculpture possible
It’s of the utmost importance that I acknowledge the contributions of Chad Scott for always encouraging me to create, and for never doubting me when I often feel paralyzed by my own insecurity.
Bob for always encouraging and inspiring me to push the envelope and beating my at minigolf, and helping me bring all of our electrified underwater sculptures to life.
The incredible Elouise Haskin for supporting me through all my emotional ups and downs and never wavering the face of my chaotic process without whom I would’ve never found the confidence to do this project in the first place.
George Bevan for being an incredible friend to me and finding a way of supporting many Conservation Diver projects that would’ve never been possible without him and his tireless efforts to keep this incredible non-for-profit moving forward, and to Apple for their generous donations that George was able to win from them through his pitch about the work that our CD team can do.
Rahul and Pau who’ve always been so encouraging of my work despite the fact that they’re both better artists in their own right and true hermanos to me.
Kirsty Magson for having seen me through some incredibly challenging, emotional years with all of the hardships we’ve been through together which have bonded us together for life.
Alexandra Wilson, for joining me in the welding of the base frame for this project and her emotional support in trying times.
Andreas Fiskeseth, Huw Penson and Francesco Nano Martini for helping me capture some of the creation and deployment of this sculpture that means a great deal to me.
Chris Shepherd for your friendship support and advocacy for our work at every step of the way. There are so many more to thank like all those that came up to my bungalow and helped me drag all that steal down to the beach for that day of deployment.
And last but not least (and most importantly) my family, who’ve come to realize that the work I’ve been pursuing, despite how fiscally irresponsible it is, is what I love and makes me happy, which is ultimately what they wanted for me despite how far it’s taken me away from them. None of this would be possible without any of you.