Today marks the transit of Venus in front of the sun – it’s an unique occurrence which will not take place again until 2117. The Australian artist, Lynette Wallworth, has created this amazing film for planetariums. She likens the experience to lying down and looking up at stars in the universe – but in this case, it’s as if one’s on the sea bottom, looking up at the vibrant marine life, with the stars replaced by coral.
The environmental message
Key to this work of Art is a strong environmental message: Science must transcend politics. Global communities must work together to conserve our oceans.
- Will short term political goals give way to longer term perspectives?
Interestingly, there is a precedent for this. When the astrologer Edmund Halley was working in the 17th century, countries like France and England put aside their differences in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Halley had predicted that Venus in transit could be used to determine the distance between the earth and the sun when measured from specific locations around the world. Good will made this scientific observation possible.
Global Warming and Coral
Corals are an early warning signal for temperatures rising in the ocean – already in my lifetime, coral gardens have been severely damaged when water temperatures increased by around three degrees C. I witnessed this after the El Niño of 1997/8 . On the Kenyan coast alone some 80% of live corals died off and suffered severe bleaching. East African corals have also been severely effected by dynamite fishing – bottles filled with potassium nitrate (fertilizer) are exploded, killing the fish which float to the surface and are collected by fishermen. It makes a quick buck but the damage to the reef is irrevocable.
However, all around the Indian Ocean overfishing, pollution and tourism are taking their toll. Factory ships hoover shoals of tuna off-shore. Untreated effluent pollutes the water, giving rise to algae blooms. There are miles of empty beaches in northern Kenya littered with old thermos flasks, rubber flip-flops and toothbrushes. Where they came from in such numbers, one can only guess. And the tropical seas are only part of the big picture – what of the polar bears and diminishing ice floes?
Tourism and the coral seas
Snorkelling in coral gardens with a myriad fish is a big magnet for tourists on tropical shores. Glass-bottomed boats regularly motor out to the reef, but the sheer number of visitors can create problems.
Minimise your impact:
- when snorkelling and diving, DO NOT stand on coral – it is a living organism
- do not buy shells or collect them from the beach – many shells like Tiger cowries used to be regularly seen in rock pools – but not any more
- when fishing, practice ‘tag and release’
- eat seafood caught locally
The Blue Gauntlet
Wallworth’s film gives a brief insight into the magnificence of the oceans. She has thrown down the gauntlet: when Venus is next in transit in the 22nd century will coral gardens still be in existence?