They Are Talking about the World is Hot : Paintings about a Local Fishing Community's Relationship with a Dying Coral Reef, Thailand
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The artist writes “Today, oceans and coral reefs are in crisis. In a study released in Feb. 2011, researchers announced that if current trends continue all coral reefs could be destroyed by 2050. For my SIP, I traveled to Lipe Island in the Adang Archipelago, Thailand, to study coral reef decline. My project was unique in that I intended to portray what I found through art, which I believe can speak to environmental issues in a moving and engaging way. On Lipe, I spent my days exploring, photographing, diving, and interviewing people from all walks of life about Lipe’s environmental problems. This SIP is about the relationship between the local Chow Lay fishing community and the region’s damaged reefs. When I arrived on Lipe Island, I discovered that weeks earlier the region’s coral reefs had bleached. Corals are particularly threatened by climate change because warm waters stress corals causing expulsion of the photosynthetic algae that live within their cells. Since algae give reefs their bright colors this leaves coral’s white skeletons exposed. Unfortunately, without the algae, corals cannot properly feed, grow or reproduce, and they often die. Bleaching from heat stress, however, was not the reef’s only problem. Pollution, sedimentation, and physical damage from rapid tourist development played a role in the reef’s decline. Although the region was national park, industrialized fishing boats were a daily sight. The reef is not only a biological asset, but has cultural and economic value. In particular, the “Chow Lay” (meaning “Ocean People”) are a group of seminomadic fishing people of the archipelago. For the Chow Lay the reef is a source of food, livelihood and cultural heritage. Thus, reef decline has huge implications for Chow Lay way of life. However, Chow Lay fishing and resource extraction has contributed to reef decline, particularly through removal of almost all large reef fish. These images explore the Chow Lay relationship with the ocean, as I saw it through my research. This relationship represents a complex intersection between human needs and environmental decline. Painting allowed me to creatively combine images, alter images with my color choices, and add symbolic elements to the pieces. I hope to convey a sense of connection between the Chow Lay people and the reef, while hinting at the tension between extraction and dependency. For instance, the Chow Lay figures depicted extracting reef resources are altered to echo the bleaching and decay apparent in the coral reef environment around them. The breakdown of the figures symbolizes damage done to Chow Lay culture, health, life-style, and economy through the deterioration of the reef ecosystem they traditionally rely upon.”
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