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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
Works for me.