Fragile Legacy

Portuguese Man-O'-War, Watercolor illustrations after John White, 1585-1593

Portuguese Man-O’-War, Watercolor illustrations after John White, 1585-1593

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/07/science/blaschka-glass-menagerie-inspires-marine-expedition.html?_r=0

MAUNA LANI REEF, Hawaii — After a long, cold swim in the dark, we spotted it on the night reef with our dive lights: Octopus ornatus, the ornate octopus, a foot-long creature in an amber shade of orange with bright white spots and dashes along all its arms.

It sat stolidly in the light of the camera, 30 feet below the surface, unfazed by the attention. I reached out a finger and it touched me with its suctioned tentacles. When it scuttled in the other direction, I herded it between my cupped hands as it watched me attentively with searching golden eyes.

As if levitating, it smoothly lifted off and tried to jet over my head, but slowly enough that I could catch it gently in midair — like handling a large bird, albeit one with eight sticky tentacles. Holding it at eye level, I looked into its eyes. I felt connected, sort of an octopus whisperer.

Then a tentacle slapped the front of my mask. The octopus crawled up my arm and vanished into the night.

. . . We are on a quest to lure these elusive and delicate invertebrates in front of the camera lens.

Our inspiration springs from an unlikely source: a collection of 570 superbly wrought, anatomically perfect glass sculptures of marine creatures from the 19th century.

These delicate folds and strands of glass make up the Blaschka collection of glass invertebrates at Cornell

. . . Our quest is also to use the Blaschka collection as a time capsule, to take a snapshot of change.
How many of these creatures that were so common 150 years ago can still be found today?

The oceans are changing rapidly, with a 30 percent increase in acidity in the last 200 years, lethally stressful warming in many tropical seas, and significant coastal pollution and overfishing just about everywhere. If ever there was a time to compare the plentiful past with an ocean in jeopardy, that time would be now.


C. Drew Harvell is the associate director for environment at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell, and curator of the Cornell Collection of Blaschka Invertebrate Models.

http://opiniontoday.com/2013/05/06/a-glass-ocean/

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Your posts are always so thought-provoking. I feel like I’m going to learn a lot from you.

    • ! – I love having you out there.
      My cynical nature (heh) dismisses 80% of the response as bloggers seeking reciprocal attention only.
      I treasure my few interested, thoughtful, and thought-provoking readers. Most especially when I genuinely value what THEY contribute to this odd little world.
      I think you’d like several on my list of links, too.

      I’m desperate to find ways of galvanizing people to act against this overwhelming –mostly irrevocable– destruction.

      And – Thank you.

  2. How fabulous to find that you also picked up on this NYT article which I forwarded to a clutch of folks I thought would be enchanted by it. I always feel nature to be the best inspiration.

    • The glass flower collection at Harvard was one of the first secret gardens I stumbled across when I began the blog.
      But a picture of one just looks real rather than artful.
      And it was perfect to be able to tie the sea creatures to the scientific research going on about how far we’ve gone in spoiling the ocean for them over the last century, and the search to see who’s left.


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