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Istanbuls Fish Story

Have you ever seen all those fisherman hanging over the Galata kopru, and at every sahil around Istanbul – What do you see them catching? Answer, basically bait. Little sardine like fish. About 30 years ago, those very same fishing spots produced bigger fish, in greater variety, and there was plenty. That big fish you get on your plate at a seafood restaurant today, it’s from somewhere else. Chances are, that breed disappeared from Istanbul’s waters years ago. Why?

Fishermen-Galata-Bridge

There has been a problem brewing off Turkey’s coasts for some time now. Some fisherman use an illegal method of fishing known as bottom trawling, it’s illegal because it completely destroys the marine ecosystem, almost instantly. The short explanation of trawling is this : a boat (or multiple boats) drags a net along the sea bed capturing everything in it’s path, the net is weighed down with heavy metal beams which effectively sweep the sea floor clean. The equipment used exerts several tons of force on the sea floor. The fisherman catch the species of fish they are after, along with a LOT of marine life which will end up as garbage tossed back into the sea (which can include families of dolphin and sea turtles). An estimated 177 tons of by-catch (including 77 different species) were discarded each year, according to a three year study in Australia (*). That’s the basic story, but here is the important part… The trawling nets destroy sea grasses, and kill the natural reef. The reef, with it’s many nooks and crannies are at the core of the marine food chain, it is the source of all nourishment for a fairly wide area. Reef promotes growth of sea plants, grass can take root near a reef because the reef is a natural brake against strong currents. Sea plants promote communities of microorganisms and other little floaty things, which opportunistic young and small fish feed on. The reef also offers shelter to these little critters, hiding from larger mouths. As you can see, it is a food chain. When you convert a reef into an underwater desert, it all disappears. No grass, microorganisms and shelter means no young fish, which in turn means no big fish, which in turn means a failing fishery, which in turn once again means more aggressive illegal trawling is practiced.

reeflarge

What to do? It sounds strange, but we can turn to plastics, along with some high tech tools, and art. This is a unique case in which plastics can HELP the environment. By using a new cutting edge type of fabrication known as 3D printing, one can print in a type of plastic that is safe for marine life and lasts almost forever. Ok, that covers the first two items, how can art possibly play a part?

Tech artist Alpay Kasal is designing a series of modular 3d printed “reefdomes”, to be placed on the ocean floor off the coast of Turkey in areas where the natural reef has been destroyed. After a period of exploration, Alpay has identified the types of marine life that have suffered because of the loss of their habitat and started experimenting with designs appropriate for these small breeds of fish, young octopus, and other life that rely on the little hiding places lining the ocean floor of a reef. The government has previously experimented with artificial reef systems in the most effected areas, the black sea at the north of Turkey, and off the coast of Izmir to the west. 15 years ago, cement blocks, along with some old trolley cars, were dropped into the ocean with positive effects. The plan is to make use of 3d printing as both an artist and activist by borrowing from the world of high tech manufacturing to create an artificial reef system that address different considerations than the government’s first attempts. By considering the physical structure, the design will be better at enabling a re-population of the coast (based on academic studies and patents for such systems). A lattice structure of ABS will work much faster at promoting an ecosystem than cement blocks alone. Additionally, the lattice structure allows water currents to flow through and over, whereas cement blocks disrupt natural wave patterns, the effect of which is unknown. Sea grasses / kelp are central to a reef based ecosystem, the lattice structure will especially be an enabler for plant growth in a way that cement blocks do not. Function and art can meet in a place not often seen by most.

Sidebar : In my own experience, i’ve observed that Turkey’s coastline, just beneath sea level, can be quite craggy in some areas, but the majority of the sea bed are short spans of smooth bottom separated by rocky outcroppings. The craggy outcroppings are teeming with life. I have known the joy of bringing bread to these little reef cities while swimming around the coast of Bodrum. Entertained by the feeding frenzy. Trawling, the act of dragging a heavy framed net along the sea bed, effectively sweeps the floor smooth, leaving behind an underwater desert for many miles in all directions. If these were forest, we’d call it it clear-cutting. Young marine life have no place to hide from predators, no place to feed safely, so they don’t exist where they once did. Sea grasses, uprooted. Without the smaller members of the food chain present, larger marine life travel elsewhere in search of a healthy ecosystem to take part in. All said, a reef is a bed of health for coastal waters. It’s about time we started taking more steps towards replenishing our waters.

* : reference at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trawling#Environmental_damage

artificial reef showing some promise

artificial reef showing some promise

a successful work in progress

a successful work in progress

cinder block apartment complex

cinder block apartment complex

New York subway cars used as artificial reef in Maryland

New York subway cars used as artificial reef in Maryland

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