Catching a WAVE: What Will It Take to Create a Public for the Ocean?

AuthorIngram, Mrill


The two artists had worked together for years, exploring a mutual fascination with the ocean, creating glass boats of different colors and textures. But their goal to sculpt a wave represented new levels of challenge. First, there was the technological feat of digitally capturing something moving and transparent. Second, they aimed to use their art to catch peoples attention and wake them up to vast changes that loom for the ocean.

"Every second breath you take comes from oceans," says Robinson. "All that phytoplankton is a huge generator of the oxygen you breathe."

"People don't consider the oceans relevance to their lives, especially if they are not on a coast," observes Thielking. So she and Robinson want to create a series of glass columns, each topped with a rendering of an ocean wave and placed in unexpected locations, such as grocery stores or parks. The installations will use light and sound as well as text to describe the art and science behind capturing a wave, and why it matters.

"We want people to think about how the ocean is part of our daily lives and our survival," Thielking says. "We can use the beauty and mystery of the glass to draw people in--to bring the ocean to the people."

Many of us are at least superficially familiar with the vast changes occurring in the ocean. There's the Giant Pacific Garbage Patch that's grown to be more than twice the size of Texas. Climate-change driven increases in ocean temperatures are sending fish swimming toward the poles in search of cooler water, and turbo-charging hurricane seasons. As water warms it melts polar ice and also expands, both of which drive up sea levels. Higher seas flood coastal cities, erode beaches, swamp protective mangroves, and intrude into freshwater aquifers relied on for drinking water. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide has already acidified ocean waters by 30 percent since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, wreaking havoc on coral reefs and even oyster farms. And we know too well the ever-present danger of oil spills in a post-Deepwater Horizon world.

But that's just the tip of the fast-melting iceberg. Other changes are coming on the heels of new maritime industries poised for launch, including massive offshore wind, tidal, and wave energy developments; oil and gas production in "ultra-deep" water; marine biotech prospecting; and seabed mining. A warming planet is causing Arctic ice to retreat, opening up millions of square miles to new activities including shipping, fishing, and the extraction of minerals, oil, and gas.

Any single one of these activities portends huge impacts on the ocean, and while this "blue growth" promises new sources of food, energy, and other resources, it also involves a strong push to privatize the Earth's largest commons. Ocean advocates are scrambling to keep up, and too few of us know what's going on.

The artists want to help change that.

In many ways, the open ocean is another, largely unexplored planet--we have better resolution maps of the...

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