Sussex Wildlife Trust is one of the organisations to routinely survey the beaches along the coast of Sussex. Involving volunteers, it makes for a great afternoon of legitimately staring into rockpools.
Looking with a guide and with a clipboard to record things meant that I also saw far more than I would have done alone. The notion of looking, and really looking, as you are taught with drawing exercises, reveals another layer of experience and discovery. It becomes a kind of meditation, a more focused study of surfaces and crevices, where all may not be as it seems on first glance, and any periphery awareness is temporarily suspended.
Fearing I had not moved this blog on, or this project, in my last post, I am reevaluating as I write now. This is an immersion of another kind. It’s another experience, demanding different skills and renewed attention. It is certainly all research, deepening knowledge, understanding and experience of a particular place. Another liminal space, accessible only during certain times in the day as the tide is followed and carefully judged. Weather, daylight and access are all factors in spending time there and means of recording is not always straight forward.
From routine surveys, data collected can track changes in biodiversity, flagging up indicators of water quality and climate change.
To bring the sea inland, a new exhibition of images from this Shoresearch Survey have been installed at Bexhill Station (with thanks to Sussex Wildlife Trust and in partnership with Sussex Community Rail Partnership). This coincides with the consultation period to increase the number of Marine Conservation Zones – of which Beachy Head East, Hastings to Beachy Head, is one. This will offer a greater level of protection to these fragile sites. The consultation for this is soon to close (20th July) and I urge anyone who hasn’t yet done so, to look at the recommended Marine Conservation Zones, of which there are 41 around the country, and the incredible life that’s out there beneath the waves. More information can be found here where you can also add your wave of support.
With thanks to Sam Roberts and Sussex Wildlife Trust for permissions to use their photographs.
One year from starting this blog and I have been nudged into remembering events which led to it. Three years ago I was diving in Spanish waters, swimming with eagle rays and spotting seahorses. Three years ago I found a seahorse in an area not previously known for seahorses. It was named Louise:
At that point I was fitter than I had been in years, healthier too after a long period of post viral fatigue. Emerging once more from a long period of illness these memories make me smile. They make me more than smile, they make me look forward to life and excited about what else might be possible.
This blog began from that diving trip – attempts made to draw under water on a slate while trying to keep balance and buoyancy. Scratchy sketches of things I’m not sure even I can identify all that clearly anymore.
Whatever they are, they are a trace of those dives, hanging around at the end of a transect line counting urchins and bryozoa. They were impetus to beginning to write and think about how I can connect these wonders beneath the waves to something on land. Helen Scales does this beautifully with writing, in her book Eye of the Shoal it feels like the closest I can get to diving while standing on the shore (or lying on my sofa when I’m not able to walk so far). It was a joy to meet Helen and speak with her last week for Wealden Literary Festival (a celebration of place and nature writing) and it – like the Facebook memories – reminds me of who I am when there is sometimes doubt, and of how much I miss it.
I have wondered around all over the place here, I am not sure I have moved this blog or this work forwards, but it has served as a reminder of the importance of water for me, how strongly connected to the sea I am and I continue to wonder how this can relate to my work. I write, and have written about diving and marine life encounters. I take photographs and have been involved in coastal surveys recording intertidal inhabitants. I walk and write about coastal walks. Perhaps my practice is shifting. Perhaps I just need to be near the sea. As my body is shifting, my connection to water remains. Perhaps I just need to be patient, a little longer.
Earlier in the year I had a very lovely email from someone I’ve connected with on Twitter:
“..Your work really resonates with a group that I am working with currently. We are keen to make some performative work. We have been thinking of producing some work held in a public space that perhaps will subvert or agitate some feelings or responses. Perhaps something to do with flows of things: time, tides, sea, erosion, water, rivers etc.
We are a group of six BAHons Fine Art students from UCA, Farnham. We are in our second year. We would be looking at trying to create something by April… ” Rups Cregeen
A series of emails followed that disappeared down spurious rabbit holes, but what resulted (mostly due to deadlines and Rups energy) was a fantastically cold overcast morning splashing around in the sea, and this:
It was a morning that shook me from my hibernation and of being closeted up ‘waiting to get better’. We laughed a lot and got cold and wet, some more than others. I tried to harness as much of the energy from Rups and the group, her dog, her daughter, and the sea, and it kept me going for a little while.
We all really liked the reflections too, the unexpected and the surprises, not all were caught on camera.
Logging in today and I am surprised how much time it has been. I last wrote on the Winter Solstice. This week heralded the Summer Solstice. Half a year has passed. Six months of intermittent visits to the sea, of gradual improvement in fitness and health, so slight it is barely noticeable. This blog has loosely been mapping and tracing a recovery of my health, threaded with connection to the sea. I have been conscious of this blog, waiting. I’ve had thoughts of posting a picture or some words, but they have not seemed substantial or pressing enough. And yet it has snuck up behind me, my recovery. I am doing more things that I want to – that glorious luxury of choice. I can walk to the sea without questioning if I can, or what it will cost. This is worthy of a celebratory post if nothing else. And on Sunday I have the rare and great privilege to talk with Helen Scales – marine biologist, writer, diver, ocean storyteller – at Wealden Literary Festival. In preparation I have been re reading Eye of the Shoal and remembering what it is like to dive, to be held in and by water, the awesome power of the ocean and the wonders that it holds. It is a fine parallel of the surreal world I am currently inhabiting, with one foot in wellness (and the outside world) and one foot out.