No True North

Take a bearing. Confer with some celestial object, then move, and maybe adjust. We know that our movement in some direction will take us North.

No True North, Rennie Meyers, October 2015, Koh Tao, Thailand
No True North, Rennie Meyers, October 2015, Koh Tao, Thailand

What is North, and why (in the West) do we consider North to be true?  How do we decide our course of action, in conservation efforts specifically? In my last week at the New Heaven Restoration and Conservation Program on Koh Tao, we sank a set of underwater structures for coral restoration projects: a set of bottle nurseries, the remarkable sculptural works of Spencer Arnold, and my small rebar structure, “No True North.” 

Coral grows over a bottle nursery, a cheap and easy way to repurpose bottles and get coral out of the silt.
Coral grows over a bottle nursery, a cheap and easy way to repurpose bottles and get coral out of the silt.
The Colony, Spencer Arnold, Chalok Ban Kao
The Colony, Spencer Arnold, Chalok Ban Kao

Honestly it’s a pretty plucky rebar structure I welded together, and nothing technically remarkable. I’m still proud, though, of how the piece incorporates functionality as a restoration project and as a compass within the Chalok Bay Underwater Sculpture Garden. NHRCP has worked on this site for years, and their labor of love shows. Spencer elaborates more on his “Hope/Despair” structures here, and was featured recently on Buzzfeed for his earlier work “The Colony.” Spence and I talked about his work quite a bit, and in retrospect I wish I’d recorded our conversation-debates to transcribe here. Next time, right?

Acropora to the south.
Acropora to the south.

Like any rebar structure, “No True North” is a substrate upon which divers can hitch coral fragments. But the “N” heading also points north, helping divers to navigate a space with multiple restoration structures and sculptures. “No True North” simultaneously serves the divers (emotionally and materially) and the coral fragments they hope to rescue; metaphorically, this applies to a majority of coral conservation efforts. 

It was really satisfying to see people working on the structure. It'll be in the Bay for years to come - I hope I can't recognize it when I come back.
It was really satisfying to see people working on the structure. It’ll be in the Bay for years to come – I hope I can’t recognize it when I come back.
Gabi works on hitching fragments!
Gabi works on hitching fragments,
And Tena with killer buoyancy (miss you!).
Tena too with killer buoyancy,
Lovely Lena at work
and lovely Lena at work

Conservation work, certainly that at NHRCP, subscribes to certain scientific paradigms in the way it establishes baselines and accrues credibility. It also operates under certain moral and ethical priorities, too. One of the biggest questions about living in the Anthropocene is whether or not is shifts senses of responsibility for the survival of other species. These are species subject to geological changes in part caused by human action. Humans also rely on the health of these organisms, like coral, for their own survival. So when we do coral restoration, how much are we thinking of ourselves and how much are we thinking about the coral (its ontology, its biology, its species value, whatever)? We have our own heading, in this case as divers, but is coral just along for the ride?

In 10 years, precluding some bleaching event that will probably happen, these coral fragments might make it difficult for us to see which way is north. 

Okay.

Works for me. 

Love,

Rennie

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2 thoughts on “No True North

  1. Rennie,
    This is powerful and moving work, matched by the elegant prose. Will Spencers faces also get covered by the coral eventually? Interesting. And are those photos of you on Spencer’s pages?

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