slack, the moment before the drop, when the sea lies still, entranced
low, the plunge, as the ocean lifts her veil, beckoning beneath
rising, the rushing surge of surf and foam through unmarked inlets
high, waters' dominance over land, barriers wash away
and beyond, the eerie silence of a tide that never falls.
Archive for: November, 2010
slack, the moment before the drop, when the sea lies still, entranced
The following is a short setting description I wrote as a back-drop for a longer science fiction story I'm working on based on imagining what the ocean would look like in the future if all fisheries collapse and we continue to find new and novel solutions to the world's problems.
Marshallberg Harbor isn’t the same since the Great Fisheries Collapse of 2031. The ships, some nearly 100 years old, still go out once or twice a week to catch what few shrimp remain. The fishermen, remnants of the last generation that lived off the sea, scrape out a living selling novelty ‘wild-caught earth seafood’ to adventurous tourists that fly in to experience life in the golden age of fishing. The old space port, as run down as the fish house it replaced, once exported seafood by the ton. A Marshallberg shrimp could have been on a restaurant table in Singapore 15 minutes after reaching the dock. Nothing has left Carteret County for over 30 years. The Poisson Moon changed all of that.
No one else really fishes any more, not even recreationally. There just aren’t fish to be caught. The few fishermen left will last only as long as their rusty vessels. The skills no longer exist to repair a wooden hull or fixed a 20th century diesel. We thought that with the Poisson Moon the pressure on the world’s fish stocks would vanish, that the ocean would recover from centuries of abuse. With the Moon sating the demand for volume, a second golden age of fishing could begin, but the Moon had unintended consequences. Now the only large creatures that thrive in our oceans are jellies.
Marine Science has become simpler, at least. With the Poisson Moon regulating the tides – low tides at 0600 and 1800, high tides at 0000 and 1200 – most coastal organisms have adapted to a consistent rhythm. We don’t have to worry about the confounding variables associated with studying what few intertidal animals remain. There are no more wild variations in tidal amplitude, like the now Desert of Fundy used to have, nor secret tide pools that emerge on odd cycles to trap un-expecting creatures. With two moons providing lunar cues and no predators to speak of, the great nighttime migration of bioluminescent jellies to the surface is the most magnificent event on the planet.
The Poisson Moon is always full, always brilliant. There is no such thing as night anymore, just a prolonged twilight that lasts exactly 12.2 hours. The creatures that once cued to a monthly cycle are now gone. Many years ago we wondered what effect the Moon would have on sea turtles and other nesting marine life. Would the hatchlings be able to find the horizon or would they wander around in circles, blinded by the Moon? The question was moot, since no sea-turtle returned to its nesting beach after we built the Poisson Moon.
The benefits to the human race are undeniable. A new massive satellite, in perfectly controlled orbit, evens out the tides, calms the wildest storms, even gives the Gulf Stream an extra push, making England’s climate just a little pleasanter. Shipping food to the few remaining Pacific islands that lack the resources for a basic space pad is now safe and reliable. There are no sudden storms to drive a ship off course or delay its arrival. The great oil derricks of the deep sea are unconcerned with hurricanes or rouge waves. Our oil supply, like our food supply, is safe, cheap, and reliable. The Poisson Moon is so massive that it even counteracts some of the less desirable aspects of the Earth’s tectonic forces. By delicately manipulating the Moon’s orbit and gravitational field, the massive continental plates are gently calmed. It’s been 18 years since we’ve detected even the tiniest tremor, still longer since the last volcanic eruption.
The biggest changes are within the Moon itself. Physicists, geneticists, and aquaculture experts, all working together to produce the perfect fish – as big as a Bluefin tuna, able to convert phytoplankton into enormous biomass, fast growing and even faster reproducing, and, most importantly, able to thrive in the zero-gravity environment of the Poisson Moon, the largest fish tank ever built. Powered by the sun, with more volume than any earthly ocean, it feeds the world a never-ending supply of fish. From within this unfathomably massive sphere, 800 billion tons of fish are harvested every year. As per international agreement, these fish are delivered, proportional to population, to every nation in the world. The Moon’s monolithic presence in the sky is a reassuring reminder that we will never go hungry again.
Of course there had to be trade-offs, but what could ever be more valuable than the peace and security that the Poisson Moon provides? The world’s fisheries were dead or dying. The whales had gone, the sharks had gone, the billfish were extinct. There’s nothing left but scuttle-crabs, plastivorous trash fish, and jellies, miles and miles of jellies. What good is an ocean of jellies? Sea-level rise, one of the greatest concerns of the 21st century, is now just a footnote in history. The water to fill the Moon had to come from somewhere. Our beaches are calm now, mellowed by the Moon. The ocean is at peace. Sailors no longer fear rough waves or inconsistent winds. Coastal nations, now much larger, no longer face risk of tsunami. As the Earth’s tectonic plates settle into their permanent positions, the last hydrothermal vents will shut down forever. Our planet is, at last, still.
It’s funny, the ancient mariner Jacques Yves Cousteau once opined that “people protect what they love”. The ocean has died and here we stand, beneath a Poisson Moon, sacrificing everything to protect our seafood.
It's just a little spit of bay
a few fathoms from my house
populated by derelicts
rotting on their moorings.
Or the channel that runs between
our dock and Carrot Island
where we take students to watch whelks
at low tide, by moonlight.
The beach by Ironsteamer Pier
where children dig for sand crabs
while I sit watching the tide fall
in the August sun.
It's the braying banker horses
where Diamond City once stood
now lost to the enduring dunes
a legend, forgotten.
And it's the old menhaden plant
abandoned on its island
as skiffs and leisure boats steam by
empty and unaware.
It's the fish house at the end of Front Street
the old piling we used to climb
shrimp boats, waiting for their captains
marshes, mud flats, sand.
It's a thousand tiny oceans
empty, waiting to be filled.
a shared history
time moving backwards
both alike in character
no private alleles
demes across divides
deep divergence times
modeling gene flow
legacy of dispersal
migration laid bare
Hello and welcome to Hardtack and Sardines!
This blog is my experiment in science poetry, creative writing, and photography. As a student of marine biology and science blogger, I've found that many of the things that inspire me about science cannot be expressed through conventional science writing. I needed an outlet to embrace "the poetry of reality", thus, Hardtack and Sardines was born.
Why hardtack and sardines? In 1903, President Teddy Roosevelt went on an extended camping trip through the Yosemite wilderness with naturalist John Muir. The outcome of this trip was the creation of the national park system and the birth of the environmental movement. Both Muir and Roosevelt were accomplished naturalists, with contributions to ecology, botany, and geology, yet they are remember most not for their science, but for the ways they inspired people - either through writing or policy. During this trip, Roosevelt ate nothing but hardtack and sardines.
Who am I? I'm a graduate student at the Duke University Marine Lab studying population genetics and connectivity among populations of deep-sea hydrothermal vent-endemic organisms in the western Pacific. You may recognize me from my other blogging adventure, Southern Fried Science, where I write about marine biology and policy, and occasionally wax poetic about the great American novel - Moby Dick.
So welcome to my adventure and I hope you'll stick around.