“Our woods on shore do not harbour so many animals as the woody regions of the ocean (…) that if the immense sea-weeds of the Southern Ocean were removed by any cause, the whole Fauna of the seas would be changed” Charles Darwin 1847
Seaweeds and marine algae are flowerless plants, annual and perennial, that live in the oceans and are nourished by substances held in solution in water, transforming its impurities to materials essential to life. Several thousand species varying in size from 1/1000 of an inch in diameter to 1000 feet in length are indexed by colour, from deep purple to brown and red, green and yellow. Pigmentation varies with depth, light exposure, temperature, tides and shorelines creating tints and shades like paint. Fibrous tendrils called ‘holdfasts’ adhere to submerged material, rocks, and shells for stability against winds and waves supporting seaweeds with air vessels floating on the surface, or ribbon fronds that host myriads of animal life in their folds. Others float tether-less, adrift in the Sargasso Sea. Divided laterally into 3 belts- ‘littoral’ resides between the tidemarks and is exposed to sun, air, desiccation, then totally submerged in constant reoccurrence. Reproduction by cell division and spore germination ensures the cycle of life in continuum.
The one hundred minerals and trace elements found in the ocean, and in living tissue of seaweeds are contained in human blood. Edible seaweed and marine algae have more concentrated nutrition than vegetables grown on land and are the most completely mineralized food, high in protein, rich in iodine and micronutrients. Seaweed is a salt substitute, it detoxifies heavy metals, dissolves tumors, lowers cholesterol, reduces water retention, alkalizes the blood, benefits the thyroid and aids in weight loss. Yet seaweed is paradoxical; it can both transforms toxic metals into harmless salts, and absorb and concentrate toxins from polluted areas becoming toxic itself.
Beneath forests of lush kelp and old canopies of large seaweeds, sediments are swept away by fronds lashing back and forth in waves and currents creating a rich kaleidoscope of communities. Turf seaweed and plankton blooms caused by nutrients from sewage outfalls and fertilizer run-off have multiplied, trapping sediment in unstable layers that no longer support firm anchors and keep larger seaweeds in place. Blooms accumulate on the seabed, oxygen levels decrease, thick organic sludge churns above the bottom, cutting light, destructing habitat, limiting diversity and damaging the ecosystem. Monocultures replace fragile coral, sponges and oysters; heaps of rotting seaweed line the beaches emitting toxic gas.
Like the natural historian I do fieldwork on the beach gaining knowledge and experience through patient observation of what nature tosses out. Working at low tide, lunging in the shallows, I gather sea plants for my on-site improvisations. At once bouquet and wreath, life and death, these arrangements invoke their beauty and their fate. Set in a black background like the floral ‘paper mosaicks’ of Mary Delany, the styled bouquets are digitally detached from their habitat, re-presented as ceremonial gifts.
Catherine Beaudette, November 2015