The focus of my penultimate experience was to study, observe, analyze, and discuss the effects and possible remedies for coral decimation—using the Florida Keys as an archetype for global environmental issues. While coral decimation is a worldwide phenomenon, with modern coral environments at about 1/10 of their original quantity, Key Largo is one of the few locations where work is being done to limit this destruction, and even reverse its effects. Coral decimation has numerous culprits: the rising of Earth’s oceanic temperatures, decrease in oceanic pH levels, pollution, and human destruction of the reefs. In the Florida Keys, the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF) is one of the few organizations that is licensed to collect, handle, and “replant” living coral species. Because the two most important coral species in the Florida Keys, elkhorn and staghorn coral, are on the endangered species list, special licensing and certification are required to work with these animals. The CRF works to collect the broken pieces of coral that are found across the reefs of the Florida Keys, genetically analyze these organisms, grow or “farm” them to increase their size, and then plant them to a specified area. Coral can reproduce both sexually and asexually, so the CRF takes advantage of the latter method. Although proliferation through asexual reproduction is quick and easy to accomplish, it does not provide for genetic diversity of the coral population, which makes the organisms susceptible to disease. The CRF works to, not only, replant the coral, but to do so in a responsible and efficient manner.
For my experience, I decided to use the 2015 UC SCUBA Club trip to Key Largo, FL to observe this coral decimation and recovery. Although I had gone on this trip in the two previous years, and had planned the trip in 2014, I thought it would be beneficial and refreshing to attend the 2015 trip with a new mindset and focus on coral destruction. Between March 14th and 21st, I took part in 10 dives in the Florida Keys reefs. During these dives, I was able to see firsthand, the effects of coral decimation. While I had been SCUBA Diving for almost 10 years, and was used to seeing dead coral, it was not until I went on this trip, with the specific purpose of paying attention to the problem, that I noticed the true extent of it. Because coral leaves a calcium carbonate exoskeleton upon its death, the “graveyards” of deceased coral can be seen, long time after their demise. I was astonished, and horrified, with the sheer acreage of deceased coral and reduction of live coral heads from their previous sizes. It was everywhere! For two of the dives, I was given the unique opportunity to take part in the efforts of the CRF, working to grow and replant the coral fragments. This was an awesome experience, and was sort of an antithesis to seeing the depressing, dead coral, because it showed me that there are ways to overcome this environmental problem. On the first dive with the CRF, I visited on of their “coral nurseries,” where they hang the broken fragments of coral on “trees” so that they can grow to an adequate size for replanting. While here, we labeled, hung, and cleaned the coral on the appropriate “trees” so that the coral could be properly grown and tracked. As I mentioned previously, because of the problem of lacking genetic diversity, the CRF makes it their effort to track the genotypes of their coral specimens. Thus, each tree was made of a specific genotype, and had to be labeled appropriately. When finished with this work, the CRF personnel selected specimens of coral, from the tree that had grown enough to be replanted. Gathering these specimens, we returned to the boat for the second dive. With the coral prepared for planting, the CRF diver selected a site for the coral to be attached. Because this coral is rigid, and requires a rigid surface on which to grow, it was important to select a location that was stable and conducive to the corals’ success. With the site selected, we took hammers and cleared away the algae and competing fauna in order to provide a site for the new coral head. We used a play dough-like cement to attach the coral to the cleared site, before firmly securing the coral to the surface. The coral was now emplaced and ready to grow and proliferate! Although I was only able to take part in these two dives with the CRF, the effects of their work were seen on just about every dive I went on. At numerous site, I was able to see some of the new coral heads that were planted by them (I could tell because I could still distinguish the cement that held them to their surface). I thought this was a really awesome experience because it showed me what my work, and the combined work of the CRF, might one day become—a replenished coral reef ecosystem.
Although I have been diving for much of my life, my experience in Key Largo was unlike any experience I had before. In diving, we tend to look for the fun stuff to see—we look for the puffer fish, sharks, starfish, etc. In this experience, however, I found myself focusing less on what I saw, but on what I didn’t see--reefs and wildlife where they should be plentiful. I focused more of the ugly side of our world’s marine ecosystem than I had before. I saw rubble of bleached, disintegrating reefs that seemed to stretch on for acres and broken pieces of coral lying helplessly in the sand, waiting to be buried. Despite this negativity, I was also able to see ways that we can ameliorate the negative impact we have on coral decimation. Aside from the active replanting of coral, the CRF discussed several ways that the everyday person, even from Ohio, can have a positive impact on their environment. These include limiting electricity and water use, recycling, purchasing fish from responsible sources, and limiting harmful fertilizer runoff. While we have all been told, numerous times, about how we need to start behaving more responsible towards our planet, this necessity took on a much more urgent context to me, after seeing the effects, firsthand. I find myself giving more thought to my actions and how those actions make an impact on the world. While I may think of myself as being from “the Midwest,” this experience made me realize that this title is nominal at best. We are all citizens of Earth, foremost, and our actions permeate through the “borders” of where we call home. If I throw garbage into the Ohio River, what is stopping that trash from traveling down the Mississippi, into the Gulf of Mexico, and into the reef ecosystem? Indeed, this mindset that the consequences of our actions can be confined to our locale is, in my opinion, one of the more dangerous notions. What made this experience so powerful for me was, not only, seeing the negativity, but seeing ways that this negativity can be overcome—namely through a collective action of responsibility.
Healthy vs. Decimated Coral
In this section, I include two photos from my experience that illustrate the effects of coral decimation. While these two photos are of two different areas, this disparity, in terms of coral fauna, can be seen across the Florida Keys ecosystems. There were instances where, on my right side there would be a bountiful and lively reef, while on the other would be a desolate, blighted landscape.
This coral is healthy, vibrant, and colorful. It grows in all three dimensions to provide cavernous areas for other animals and symbionts to flourish. The success of the coral, in turn, promotes a healthy array of biodiverse creatures that create a sustainable reef ecosystem.
This coral is dead, bleached, disintegrated, and collapsed. All that remains of this once impressive reef head can be seen in the rubble of calcium carbonate skeletons in the sand. The three-dimensional structure of the coral is gone, and with it the biodiversity of the reef ecosystem. Rather than fish and other organisms, only algae can grow and thrive in this environment.
Coral Restoration Foundation: Coral "Trees"
As I discussed, one of the ways that the CRF works to proliferate coral in the Florida Keys is by growing it on tree-like structures. Although coral reef does not have photosynthetic qualities, in and of itself, it is able to receive energy through symbiotic, photosynthetic algae that live within it. By hanging these coral fragments on "trees," the CRF personnel can get the coral closer to the surface (and the sun), keep them further from competing algae, and prevent them from being buried in the sand. Additionally, such a vertical structure provides more "bang-for-your-buck," by allowing the coral to be stacked and grown vertically, as well as horizontally.
This is my group and I on our way to our first "night
dive." While it may seem counterintuitive, darkness is actually one of the
best times to see and experience coral (with a flashlight, of course!). Because coral is a primarily nocturnal
organism, it becomes much more colorful and vibrant at night. Shining a light on the coral at night reveals the cnidocytes (stinging
cells) that the coral uses to hunt for food. While it can be eerie to dive in darkness, there are some
organisms that are seen more often, or even exclusively, at night—such as squid,
octopus, and eels.
Honors Experience #5 -Arts & The Depression
my final Honors experience, I decided to take the course “Arts & The
Depression” taught by Professor Teslow of the McMicken College of Arts &
Sciences. I was initially attracted to this class because it, not only,
fulfilled the requirement of my last Honors experience, but also counted as a
history elective (of which I needed one more for my History degree).
Additionally, although I have had some background on the Great Depression, I
had little to no knowledge of the era from an art-history perspective. Thus,
this course was beneficial to me for numerous reasons, and I decided to enroll.
The focus of the course was on
understanding the true experiences of
the individuals that lived during the Great Depression, through an analysis and
understanding of the various forms of art that were popular during the time
period. Although one might think that an economic recession or depression would
lead to a diminishing of the arts, in this instance, the opposite was true. The
1920s-1930s was a time of artistic vigor in American society, centering on the
trials of the contemporary experience. Whether focused on problems of the Dust
Bowl, post-reconstruction society, racism, economic disaster, or world-war, the
art of this era was truly unique, and, perhaps for the first time in history,
distinctly “American.” The purpose of this class was to, not only, understand
themes that were unique to the Great Depression, but to analyze motifs that
resonate through economic and social upheavals in general—for example, our
with an analysis of photography’s emergence as an “art-form” during this time
period, we studied to works of Dorthea Lane and the other photographers that
were employed by the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Realizing the crucial
nature of the time period, and the importance of documenting the experience for
future generations, the government employed over a dozen professional
photographers to travel the country and capture what life was like for those
living in the Dust Bowl and Depression. What resulted were some of the most
iconic photographs ever taken (such as Lane’s “Migrant Mother”). While these
photographs are often praised as true depictions of struggle, resilience, and
strength, as we discussed, they have often been criticized for being “staged”
or altered for increased dramatic effect. While the photographs do contain bias (which is inherent to
all works of art), they do capture, visually, what it was like to live and survive in the 1920-1930s American Dust
of such visual depictions of American struggle, we read, reflected upon, and
discussed the controversial work Let Us
Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee. In his complicated and multifaceted
work, Agee challenges the traditional mold of American literature in an attempt
to depict the true life of tenant
farmers in the American South during the depression. Using a style of
literature, similar to an “ekphrasis,” Agee uses words to create an image
within the mind of his readers, and goes into excruciating detail to capture
even the most minor facets of his subjects. Although his work is often praised
for its blunt and real-life depiction of his subjects, many criticize his work
for being overly sexual or invasive of the privacy of his subjects.
we studied murals of the Great Depression, paying specific attention to works in
the Cincinnati Union Terminal—such as those by Winold Reiss. By shear quantity,
murals were the most common genre of art, funded by government projects, during
this time. Thousands of artists were contracted to create murals for public structures,
including post offices and courthouses. These works, in addition to depicting
the life and character of their locale, also reflected and represented a
larger, American form of art. The works in Cincinnati Union Terminal, which
depict both the nature of life in the city, and characterize the experience of
being an American, serve as an excellent example of this concept, and were one
of the focuses of the class.
class finalized with an analysis of “film” as an emerging art form during the
Great Depression. Working as a form of “escapism” from the contemporary
struggles, propaganda for the government, and expression of American
exceptionalism, this time period is often viewed as the height of American
cinema. We focused on works, such as “Grapes of Wrath,” Shirley Temple’s “Just
Around the Corner,” and “The Wizard of Oz,” and discussed them in the context
of these aforementioned themes.
this class worked to analyze the themes and experiences of the Great Depression
of the 1920s-1930s, it also played specific attention to the similarities and
differences between that historical moment and the modern day. To analyze this
relationship, we completed a “photo essay” of modern Cincinnati. Similar to how
Dorthea Lane and the other photographers, employed by the FSA, traveled the
country to document the nature of The Depression, we were given the opportunity
to travel about Cincinnati and photograph people, places, and things that
depict the modern struggles of poverty, racism, and injustice. I think this was
my favorite aspect of the course, because it, not only, was a unique experience
to take photos (something I don’t do very often), but it illustrated the
omnipresent and lasting effects of economic drought on the people and places of
society. In our modern society, it can be too easy to forget, or ignore, the effects of poverty on the
people and places—especially in an urban setting. We can get so wrapped up in
our daily struggles that we forget how relatively trivial those “struggles”
really are. As this class illustrates, “art” was as much a tool during the
Great Depression as it can be today. Art, regardless of the genre, is centered
on allowing us a vantage point into the experiences of its subjects. In this
sense, “art” is one of the few tools that allow us to “transcend” the borders
of economic, racial, and social divisions. This new-founded understanding of
art, as both a medium of historical expression and tool for social change, is what
I gained from this experience.
Photo Essay: "Keep it Beautiful"
These are two photos that I took for my photo essay assignment. On the left image, I captured a photograph of the “Keep It Beautiful” mural that can be seen upon entering Northside from Ludlow Ave. The image to the right is a photo of the sewage canal that collects the “combined sewage overflow” from Cincinnati’s storm drains. What I found profound, and what I discussed in my essay, was that these two photos were taken about 100 feet from one another. I found the juxtaposition of keeping Northside beautiful and the sewage system (being so close to one another) both ironic and representative of some of the struggles that modern Cincinnati faces.
Photo Essay: "Constant Reminders"
In this photo, titled “Constant Reminders” I captured an image of a homeless man who was huddled next to an overpass in order to guard himself from the blistering wind on a cold February day. What I found profound in this image was the juxtaposition between this man, who was clearly impoverished and struggling to get by, and the “capitalism” and “wealth” depicted behind him (with the Wendy’s sign). It seemed to me that this man could have been shielding himself, not only from the cold and wind, but other reminders of his poverty, plastered on the billboard. This photo, for me, seems to capture the economic and social disparity in our modern society—a concept that was equally present during the Great Depression.
Excerpt From Essay on "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"
In this selection I discuss the argument about how James Agee’s work Let Us Now Praise Famous Men should be read and understood—as a piece of literature, historical documentary, or something else, entirely. In his work, Agee describes his experience living with tenant farmers in the American South during the Dust Bowl. The work, in addition to being viewed as a “classic” of American literature, is also highly controversial because of the style, realism, and, often times, arrogance employed by the author. Although Agee describes, in rigorous detail, the lifestyle and environment of his subject, he also spends a great deal of time writing about himself and his own thoughts and desires. Given this, I made the following argument regarding his work:
“As I have discussed, for numerous reasons, I do not think highly of Agee’s work when viewed in the context of historical documentary. This being said, I also do not believe that Agee’s work should be read as a historical documentary—or that Agee intended it to be interpreted in this way. His work is, rather, a unique form of literature, and should be read and understood as such. Agee’s text is one of a kind because it challenges the rigidity of the “genres” of art. Through a verbose ‘ekphrasis’ of his experience with the tenant farmers, Agee works to create a visual scenario within the mind of his readers. While other, contemporary works took pictures and used this as a basis for description, as with Dorthea Lane’s photographs or even Walker Evan’s contribution to the book, Agee reversed this process. Giving the reader an extensive background and description of what he saw and experienced, in an effort to create this image within the “mind’s eye.” Thus, Agee’s work is also an ‘experiment’ in art.”