A BUCKET LIST FOR ARTISTS WORKING IN THE AGE OF ECOLOGICAL COLLAPSE
by Mark Dion and David Brooks
The Top Ten Things Not To Miss Before They Are Gone!
- Mark Dion (MD): A Healthy Coral Reef – I can think of nothing more glorious or conspicuously biologically diverse than a thriving reef—rich in hard and soft corals and all the organisms that depend on it. Corals reefs are desperately in crisis. Most of those surrounding Florida and the Caribbean Islands are so compromised that diving them is a deeply disturbing experience. Too much human-produced nutrients in the seas, destructive fish practices, tourism, climate change, and ocean acidification add up to the future of coral reefs looking pretty grim.
- David Brooks (DB): The Xingu River – Over a decade ago, the Brazilian government proposed to build a hydroelectric dam on the Xingu River in the lower Amazon, called the Belo Monte Dam. It would be the third largest dam in the world, one of the most detrimental to biodiversity worldwide, and nearly wipeout the Xingu people’s food supply. Nonetheless, construction has already broken ground and consequently, the Xingu people of the region have openly declared war on the Brazilian government. The Xingu people’s unrest and protests have sparked a newly organized resistance of indigenous people against such large-scale projects across the whole continent.
- MD: Along with sights and experiences that will likely vanish in the near future, are also tastes. This is particularly true of some of our favorite big ocean fishes. Bluefin tuna and swordfish, while delicious, are seriously endangered by overfishing. I am deeply conflicted in advising to eat them while it’s possible. We really do need some sane global marine management to give the fish stocks a good, long rest.
- DB: The Maldives – This island nation made a big splash during the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit when the former president, Mohamed Nasheed, made the strong case to the leading industrialized nations that the Maldives will become the first nation to go completely underwater within the next 100 years due to anthropogenically induced sea level rise. The Maldives is yet another example of a poorer nation receiving a disproportionate level of consequences to the wealthier nation perpetrators.
- MD: Bats of the Northeast – You have probably noticed—if you live in the Eastern USA—the lack of bats hunting the twilight skies. White-nose syndrome is a mysterious fungal disease first seen a little more than a decade ago. Since then, somewhere near ten million bats have been infected and died, all with the distinctive tuft of white fungal growth around their muzzle. At Mildred’s Lane we used to watch little brown bats pour out of the ancient farmhouse for close to an hour. Now a trickle of a dozen bats a night remind us of the missing winged hordes.
- DB: The Tree Lobster – This ancient gargantuan hand-sized species of stick insect, Dryococelus australis, was presumed extinct since 1920 when a British supply ship ran aground on Lord Howe Island off Australia and a pack of stowaway rats jumped ship, invaded the island, and, within two year’s time consumed every known specimen. Then, in 2001 a lone group of twenty four individual tree lobsters were discovered at night, two hundred fifty feet up on a sharp crag of rock, under a single Melaleuca shrub—isolated at sea. Though its breeding program has had some success, it is still, by far, the rarest insect in the wild.
- MD: The world's tropical rainforests are taking a serious beating. Vast amounts of the most dramatically beautiful and diverse forests on the island of Borneo have been plowed under to make room for colossal plantations of oil palm. I have traveled to many tropical forests, but the Danum Valley Conservation Area is a wonder of the world. While protected, Sabah, Malaysia, has a hard time enforcing conservation laws. Miles of Borneo's amazing rainforests fall to the bulldozer and chainsaw everyday, endangering not only wildlife but also the long-term future of local people.
- DB: The Florida Panther – The Florida Panther (Puma concolor coryi) is an endangered sub-species of the cougar. It is considered a debt species by conservation biologists – meaning its extinction is inevitable but delayed. The primary threat to this species is habitat degradation and loss – due to housing developments – and the ensuing habitat fragmentation by highways bisecting their natural range. As the development of South Florida increases exponentially each year, this territorial mammal, whose males require vast areas for breeding, has thus far lost 95% of its historic range and counting.
- MD: The marvelous forests of Northern California evolved with fire, but after four years of drought and encircled by questionable new development, the area has been scorched and charred by the hottest wildfires ever observed. With tens of thousands of acres incinerated, even the Sierra Nevada's breathlessly beautiful King's Canyon, with some of the world’s oldest trees, barely escaped cremation through a robust rescue effort.
- DB: The McMurdo Dry Valleys – located on the western coast of McMurdo Sound form the largest relatively ice-free area on the Antarctic continent. In stark contrast to most other ecosystems, these ice-free periglacial ecosystems of Antarctica represent a region where life approaches its environmental limits, as they are subject to persistently low temperatures, limited precipitation and intense salt accumulation. In very few places are there environments where minor changes in climate so dramatically affect organisms’ growth and reproduction. Being dominated by microorganisms, the Dry Valleys respond nearly instantaneously to human alterations of climate with deleterious effects.
MARK DION is a visual artist whose work concerns the history of the culture of nature.David Brooks
DAVID BROOKS is a New York-based artist whose work investigates how cultural concerns cannot be divorced from the natural world, as well as the terms that nature is perceived and utilized.