Oeuvre on the desires and inclinations of Basin Head’s Chondrus crispus
Chapter 1. The Dance
we float, my siblings and I,
adjoined in byssal lace
in buoyant phototropic[iii] dreams, we dream
of our open-watered cousins
slender and sporesexual
in delicate robes of dichotomous branching
while we content ourselves with
broad flat fronds
each season, my cousin
blushes a different colour
red, yellow, green
encrusting and encrusted
to precious rocky substrates
life is different out there
in Basin Head
lagoonlife is “suboptimal”[iv] they say
not salty enough[vi]
yet here I sit, fleshiest bit
rotund even, weighing a wet half kilo
dancing a deep purple tango
with a sweet depressed mollusc
a dulcet name for a “soft unsegmented body”[vii]
cocooned in a “calcareous shell”[viii]
sessile and bedbound
my anchor, my mainstay
she dances in my skirts and clings to me tightly
filtering our waters for a bite-sized snack
//and there are times where my fronds brush up against her protruding syphon, or my
thick purple flesh slips into her unlatched shell//
her statocysts[ix] tell her I’m here
she feels me more than I feel her
and we dance,
bobbing along the Mere sludge bottom.
Chapter 2. The Green Crab
emerald pincers on a thick carapace
for inquisitive probings
she maps diagonally
Basin Head’s estuary
the colon – iser
invading the flesh, the tight space between shell and plant cell
tangled in our fabrications
her nippers clamp open the mussel’s shell
sucking on succulent flesh
on the tender yellow mantle nestled within
delighted and delighting
entwined in this predatory caress
the pair sink and I with them
a triad of corporeal relish
in this knot the crab savours my flesh too[x]
– gelatinous aftertaste –
clunky and gauche, claw caught in mesh
she pulls on threads
unravels the work of the bysall weaver
and with this I am released,
I slip, a glissade
on the evasive edge of where air meets water meets sand
she joined the dance some seventeen springs ago[xii]
and found it so jolly
that she decided to stay
in ten years grew to a seventyfold sum[xiii]
some voracious predator, trapezoidal[xiv]
our symbiosis, my mussel and I
but becoming part of
Chapter 3. Bloom
there have been springs
where the green was
too sage, too verdant
our fronds below the runny veneer
that pulsed towards sunlight as days got longer
no longer felt flickers within
for chlorophyllic bloom obscured all we knew
new tensions of disorientation
(Where shall I creep and meet? To which compass point? Where is MY sustenance?)
ulva, sweet green screen, remove your slender body from mine
eutrophied is this thick water— I choke on sour growth
and excessive nutrient[xvi]
in Basin Head’s estuarine lagoon[xvii].
[i] “Queer Seaweed.” Bruce Herald, vol. 31, no. 3175, 22 June 1900, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/BH19000622.2.6.
[iii] Chamovitz, D.What a Plant Knows: a Field Guide to the Senses of Your Garden – and Beyond. Scientific American Books, 2012, p. 13.
[iv] “Ecological Assessment of Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus) in Basin Head Marine Protected Area.” Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, Science Advisory Report 2008, no. 59, Department of Fisheries and Ocean Canada, Gulf Region (DFO), 2009.
[v] ibid, p.4. According to the DFO, the optimal temperatures for Chondrus crispus growth (10 to 15 degrees celcius) are “exceeded by early July”.
[vi] ibid, pp.3-4. Chondrus crispus can live in salinity levels of 10 to 58ppt, but “growth is significantly reduced below 30 ppt” (3). The salinity of Basin Head varies between 9 and 30 ppt (4).
[vii] “Mollusk.” English Oxford Dictionary.
[ix] Zagata, C. et al. “Mytilus edulis.” Animal Diversity Web, 2008, http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Mytilus_edulis/.
[x] There is evidence of Chondrus crispus found in Carcinus maenas’ insides- proof of “direct herbivory.” “Basin Head Marine Protected Area: 2014 Operational Management Plan.” Basin Head’s Management Series 2016, no.1, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Gulf Region (DFO), 2016, p.11.
[xi] A direct reference to the Singing Sands which make up Basin Head’s geography- “Singing Sands at Basin Head, PEI.” Youtube, uploaded by Melissa Secord, August 9, 2009, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaW2goy2Sbw.
[xii] Carcinus maenas was first found in Basin Head in 1999, according to the DFO. “Basin Head Marine Protected Area: 2014 Operational Management Plan.” Basin Head’s Management Series 2016, no.1, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Gulf Region (DFO), 2016, p.11.
[xiii] ibid, p.11. “Trapping efforts in 2000 netted 600 crabs; and by 2010 the annual number of crabs trapped increased to 42,949.”
[xiv] “European Green Crab.” Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada, 21 Apr. 2016, http://www.inter.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/Maritimes/AIS/European-Green-Crab.
[xv] Chamovitz, D.What a Plant Knows: a Field Guide to the Senses of Your Garden – and Beyond. Scientific American Books, 2012.
[xvi] Note that Basin Head’s Chondrus crispus has been found to have a good bioremediation potential, because of its capacity to absorb high levels of nutrients. See: Corey, P. et al. “Bioremediation potential of Chondrus crispus (Basin Head) and Palmaria palmata: effect of temperature and high nitrate on nutrient removal.” Journal of Applied Phycology, vol. 24, 2012, pp. 441-448. However, eutrophication due to the surrounding agriculture has been found by the DFO to be one of the large contributing sources of this seaweed’s decimation.
[xvii] According to the DFO, estuarine lagoons are particularly sensitive ecosystems “due to the vulnerability of single narrow openings” and the subsequent “lower flushing rates.” “Basin Head Marine Protected Area: 2014 Operational Management Plan.” Basin Head’s Management Series 2016, no.1, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Gulf Region (DFO), 2016, p. 2.
Alix Villanueva is an Edinburgh-based artist, interested in the tensions between the human and the non-human, where we fit and sit, how we tangle and assemble. Her work spans across the fields of installation, drawing and poetics.