ecology

Repurpose the Street: Mission Greenbelt & Related Projects

By Amber Hasselbring In her first solo exhibition at SF Arts Commission Gallery in 2007, Hasselbring launched the Mission Greenbelt project, an ongoing public artwork inspired by the city’s Sidewalk Landscaping Permit, made available in 2006. The permit process allows residents to replace portions of sidewalk concrete with gardens. The Mission Greenbelt project’s goal was to build contiguous habitat gardens in SF’s Mission District, connecting Dolores Park (19th & Dolores) to Franklin Square Park (16th & Bryant). The interactive SFAC Gallery exhibition featured mixed media artworks (see image: mission greenbelt puzzle), bilingual sidewalk landscaping permit applications, a temporary CA native garden, as well as events including a campaign kick-off celebration, workshops, public school visits, plant sales and tours of the proposed Mission Greenbelt route.

Over the past five years, the Mission Greenbelt project has partnered with others to build gardens in SF sidewalks, backyards, park edges and parking spaces (see image: park(ing) day 2008) throughout the Mission, SOMA, Central Market, Bernal Heights and Noe Valley neighborhoods. These Mission Greenbelt gardens, with plentiful pollen and nectar resources, provide forage and habitat for pollinators and songbirds. The Mission Greenbelt project also fosters participation, from garden design, building and maintenance, to public enjoyment and the creation of new artwork in the form of signage, temporary graffiti, outdoor music, dance and performance.

In a Mission Greenbelt-related project, Seeding Lower 24th St., Hasselbring sowed wildflower seeds in tree basins along this busy commercial corridor. For the project, Hasselbring solicited businesses along Lower 24th St. to contribute five to 20 dollars to purchase soil and seed. Then, with borrowed tools and help from volunteers, she amended existing soil and planted hand-collected CA native wildflower seeds. The following spring, Hasselbring photographed the results, which numbered very few wildflower starts (see image collage: seeding lower 24th st.).

In fall 2010, Hasselbring partnered with Michael Zheng’s LiVE WORK art space to install an outdoor bee habitat garden. Hasselbring designed the garden with aggregations of flowering plants, with bloom times from April through October to attract an assortment of wild bees (see image: bumblebee gathering pollen). The garden also incorporated patches of bare soil in full sun to anticipate the arrival of ground nesting bumblebees Apidae or sweat bees Halictidae. For more information on building your own urban bee garden, visit http://nature.berkeley.edu/urbanbeegardens/.

Most recently, Hasselbring participated in projects along SF’s Market Street corridor in partnership with the SF Arts Commission, Studio for Urban Projects, and SPUR (SF Planning + Urban Research Association). During the flight of the western tiger swallowtail butterfly Papilio rutulus, Hasselbring designed a street-level billboard illustrating the butterfly’s life cycle and relationship to the London Plane trees Platanus × acerifolia (see image: swallowtails and sycamores). These trees, when planted along both sides of Market St. after the completion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit tunnel system, produced an annual flush of large yellow and black butterflies from early July through late October. Hasselbring then worked with Lisa Lee Benjamin, Bay Natives Nursery, Natures Acres Nursery, Moose Curtis, Tim Armstrong and volunteers to Reclaim Market St. at Civic Center. This work, entitled Thin Green Line, began in the fountain where leaf and flower patterns emerged out of the algae, continued as a narrow sod lawn surrounded by CA native plants, and marched out to Market St. with moss packed into cracks in the brickwork (see image collage: reclaim market street: thin green line).

And there’s more to come:

• This spring, if you’re in SF, please join Hasselbring for a bike tour of private Pacific chorus frog Pseudacris regilla ponds followed by a frog pond building workshop (April 15, 2012). For more information, visit http://golden-gate-nature-fest.posterous.com/.

• Hasselbring and Lisa Lee Benjamin are working as lead artists with a team on a project that will fill the SFMOMA windows along Minna and Natoma Streets at 3rd St. with an insect habitat. This work called Urban Hedgerow will be installed from January – July 2013. For more information and updates, visit http://www.urbanhedgerow.com/ and http://www.art-ecology.com/.

Click on the image to advance to the one. Point the mouse at the bottom of the image to see additional controls.

[aslideshow play=false playframe=false width=640 height=450 nextclick=true controls_hide=true]

[/aslideshow]

Contributor’s biography

Amber Hasselbring is a San Francisco-based artist making work about ecological relationships. Her work samples surrounding ecosystems to design public art, sidewalk gardens, backyards, and open spaces to establish contiguous habitat for pollinators and songbirds. Since moving to SF in 2005, Hasselbring has produced collaborative, project-based works that involve participation by invited and circumstantial audiences. The goal of her work is to incite curiosity in urban dwellers by helping them discover the natural world just outside their doorstep.

Coral Reefs in Crisis: Finding Nemo May Become a lot Tougher

By Tara Haelle If your food sources vanished tomorrow, how long would it take you to starve to death?

What if your diet until this sudden starvation already lacked the nutrients to keep your bones strong and healthy? What if you were already suffering from the flu, or a more serious disease? It's impossible to say definitively how long your starving, weakened, diseased body would hold out, but death would be knocking.

Such is the state of our coral reefs today. The triple threat of coral bleaching (which causes starvation), higher prevalence of disease and more acid in the ocean (inhibiting corals' skeletal growth) calls into question how long our reefs can continue to survive. Or, at least how long they’ll look as we envision them in our Jacques Cousteau-inspired imaginations: gorgeous orange and yellow fans waving beside barrels of purple and bowls of blue, with Nemo and friends darting throughout the nooks and crannies that house the crustaceans we order at Red Lobster.

We must remember the brooding fact that this ecosystem’s decline contributes to ours as well—unless we act. The public needs better media reporting and guidance to address the problem; we lack both at the moment, but both can be remedied.

Thousands of miles of coral reefs are starving; many will recover, but in their weakened state, they’ll become more susceptible to the diseases proliferating as sea surface temperatures rise. Since coral is, literally, the bedrock of marine ecosystems, this situation signals trouble for oceanic life and people.

Coral reef degradation is the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Not because reefs themselves will vanish one day but because the ways global warming, pollution and habitat destruction are affecting the reefs forewarn of the changes that will eventually reach our backyards—literally. Yet the complexity of these problems makes it a struggle for scientists to pinpoint what will happen first, when, where and how. It's like playing Whack-a-Mole on a football field littered with land mines.

"As you remove certain portions of the coral reef environment, the rippling effect starts occurring and before long some species, whether we like them on our dinner table or in our aquarium, will start disappearing," said Billy Causey, Southeast Regional Director of NOAA Office of Marine Sanctuaries. "In 50 years, we're going to be in serious trouble if we don't make some changes. We're going to see losses in coastal and marine environments, perhaps, even failures in fisheries stocks and so on."

Those losses translate into economic casualties as well. Ross Hill, a marine biologist at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, quoted one study that puts the number of people worldwide directly or indirectly relying on coral reefs at 500 million. That's half a billion people who could lose their livelihoods. While dying coral reefs might feel remote in the dead of a Minnesota winter, the worldwide financial collapse of 2007 painfully revealed how interconnected the economies of our world now are. The ripple effects of an economic crisis in a nation like Fiji—surrounded by coral reefs—matter to us in the U.S.

"You don't want the millions of people who live in low-lying areas of the tropics to end up as ecological refugees as the coral reefs die and the income from tourism and their food disappears," said Judy Lang, the Scientific Coordinator of the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment Project.

Yet potentially irrevocable changes in coral reefs could lead to these consequences if we don't address the causes of coral bleaching, disease and ocean acidification. With the situation so dire, why isn't the message getting across? And what can we, many of us far from a coastline much less a reef, do about it?

The first answer is twofold: one, the media does a poor job of explaining what's really going on and what to do about it; two, it's hard to motivate people about issues so seemingly remote, in both miles and years. Reporters must clearly explain what's causing the degradation of our coral reefs and why it matters.

Let's start with causes: 99 percent of marine and climate scientists agree the number one cause of all three attacks on coral reefs is climate change from increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But as Ray Hayes, a member of the Global Coral Reef Alliance Executive Board and Professor Emeritus of Howard University College of Medicine, points out, "To look at elevated temperature as a sole causative agent [of bleaching] would be a mistake." Additional stresses on coral include land-based sources of pollution, habitat loss and overfishing.

Meanwhile, the ocean has been absorbing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and converting it into carbonic acid, weakening the ability of corals, crustaceans and mollusks to build their skeletons and shells. The cumulative effect on the reef resembles our own bodies' reaction to excessive stress: "The corals are overly stressed and diseases start breaking out," Causey explained. Indeed, diseases have proliferated in the past forty years, according to Lang.

"Bleaching," so named because the coral turns bright white, occurs when stressed coral expels the food-producing algae that contribute to its vibrant colors. Increased water temperature can trigger bleaching: coral-algae symbiosis flourishes in 78 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit; even a few degrees higher can spark a bleaching event. Sustained bleaching is essentially starvation, during which coral halts all inessential biological processes, including reproduction and skeleton-building, to conserve energy. Too often, bleached coral dies, and within hours brown, green and red algae grow over its skeleton, potentially preventing coral re-growth and, irrevocably, altering the reef environment.

"Coral reefs are nurseries for a number of economically significant seafood sources, such as lobsters and crabs and shrimp," Hayes said. "All those organisms we think of as being nutritionally supportive to a human population could be at risk as the reefs change."

In 1998, during the worst worldwide bleaching event on record, sixteen percent of the world's shallow-water reefs died. During another bad bleaching event in 2005, 80 percent of Caribbean coral bleached and as much as 40 percent died in the eastern Caribbean. According to Tom Goreau, president of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, 2010 was the hottest year in history—and one of the worst coral bleaching years ever. Goreau said he watched almost all the corals in Thailand die over the course of a few weeks.

Again, where are the screaming headlines to wake people up?

First, it's hard to personalize something like bleaching that’s only visible underwater at certain times of the year. Ocean acidification, Causey points out, presents a tougher hurdle: "We're not going to see ocean chemistry changes; we're just going to see the results after it's almost too late."

Kris Wilson, an environmental journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said reporters must "transcend the journalism of proximity," a major factor in what gets reported. "A journalist has to take something abstract and bring it to a level to feel it's a part of their readers' lives," he said.

For example, telling readers about drugs like Ziconotide—a cone shell product recently approved as a non-addictive painkiller and used to treat Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy—emphasizes the value of oceanic ecosystems. "A whole heap of medicines come out of animals that live on reefs," said Hill.

Yet, said Lang, we exacerbate the hazards reefs face with our high-energy consumption and with waste ranging from pharmaceuticals and fertilizers to household products and caffeine.

Another flaw in coral reef reportage arises from fundamental differences between scientific thinking and journalistic storytelling. The scientific method requires scientists to accept uncertainty in much of what they do; even gravity is still a theory.

"Science is long-term, incremental, always evolving," Wilson said. "Scientists are very cautious about their findings." But reporters and readers often want certainty and immediacy—rarely compatible with an issue like climate change. "We have to become comfortable with a certain level of uncertainty and still be willing to act," Wilson said.

According to Causey, this culture clash even affects how scientists talk to reporters. "It makes them reluctant sometimes because they think it's going to taint their scientific credentials if they go beyond what is or is not certain," he said. "We can't remain in stalemate because people are afraid of speaking beyond what they're certain of."

Most regrettably, however, reporters often leave readers feeling powerless: artificial he-said-she-said stories belie scientific consensus on the issue, or reporters sound doomsday trumpets without informing readers how to take action.

A reliance on "objectivity" over "balance" can distort how readers understand an issue. "Objectivity," the classic "he-said-and-she-disagreed" model Wilson describes, only presents two opposing points of view on a topic. "Balance" puts those views in context, quantifying and qualifying the voices on both sides.

Wilson adds that context is essential. "If a person is an outlier," he said, "you're obligated to tell readers the weight of his opinions." Wilson points out that prominent global warming skeptic Patrick Michaels receives funding from Western Fuels Association—this doesn't invalidate his opinions but it's essential to disclose.

"The more information people have, the more they realize these stories impact them, the more they'll hopefully become involved," he said. "Good environmental reporting has the potential to improve public policy and get people to understand their role in the environment and that they can really make a difference."

Of course, people must want to make a difference. "Most people are very myopic," Hayes said. "They see what's right in front of them and respond to the immediate situation and not to something that might be in the distance or somebody else's problem as they see it."

But time for them to notice is running out.

"What's happening to coral reefs is a preview of what's going to happen on a much larger scale," said Causey. "People need to recognize that although this may be happening in the tropics right now, it's not long before it's going to happen here. The coral reefs are symptomatic of the bigger climate change problems."

Hill adds that we must understand our place in the world. "We need to realize that humans are part of the global ecosystem, not above it and not immune to the effects we have on it," he said. He quoted Jacques Cousteau: "For most of history, man has had to fight nature to survive; in this century he is beginning to realize that, in order to survive, he must protect it."

Contributor’s Biography Tara Haelle is a photojournalism graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin and a high school journalism teacher at Texas Virtual Academy. A freelance writer and photographer in over two dozen publications, she primarily reports on health and environmental issues. As an avid scuba diver, she has a special place in her heart for sharks and coral reefs.

Exodus

Moving to Atlanta from Detroit in 2006, I was immediately struck by the pace of growth in the area. I knew I had to make work that addressed this issue, but I also wanted to avoid rehashing the architectural imagery of new home construction that often defines urban sprawl. Instead, the images in this series were created using motion sensor cameras placed in two cities lying approximately 20 miles northeast of Atlanta: Suwanee, which has seen its population nearly double from 8,725 to 15,355 in the last ten years (1) and Buford, now home to the largest shopping mall in Georgia and the 14th largest in the United States. It is an area very much on the frontlines of urban sprawl in America (2). Recently, I have focused the work on a 44-acre property in Suwanee that has been put up for sale. I was in shock when the property first went up for sale because I knew it to be a dense ecosystem of Georgia wildlife and also one of the last sizable chunks of land in the area. After receiving permission from the owner, I started placing two to three cameras in the forest at a time to document the animals living there before the property sells. The placement of the cameras was entirely intuitive. While I originally paid great attention to tracks in the forest, hoping to get quicker results, I now place the cameras randomly, paying more attention to the aesthetics of the scene. I often feel as though I am setting the stage for an event that I will not be present to see.

The cameras themselves are essentially camouflaged, waterproof casings with a motion sensor and a 35mm instamatic film camera inside. The images they produce, although sharp, are distinct from more advanced systems used by wildlife photographers to capture rare and endangered animals. This difference is important because, aside from liking the snapshot quality of the images they produce, I am also employing the same tools that hunters use to survey areas for game. Like the hunter, the camera functions as an intruder in the forest. The flash illuminates the night, revealing the creatures we know are there but rarely see. In this way, the photographs allow the viewer to form a relationship with the animals with which we share our own backyards and give an identity to the real victims of urban sprawl.

 

(1) "City of Suwanee Facts & Figures," accessed June 10, 2011, http://www.suwanee.com/economicdevelopment.factsfigures.php

(2) FAO, More people than ever are victims of hunger, 2009, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Press Release, June 2009.

Contributor's Biography

Matthew Moore received an MFA degree in 2009 from Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia where he was awarded the Ernest G. Welch Graduate Photography Award in 2007 and the Chandler Award in 2006. He received a BFA degree in 2000 from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan. After completing his BFA Matthew moved to the Czech Republic for two years. Since that time, he has returned there frequently to exhibit work and lecture, most recently at Prague College and Univerzita J. E. Purkyne. In 2002, Matthew became a regular contributor to Hour Detroit Magazine, and his 2004 documentary "A Tale of Two Cities" won a silver medal for Best Photo Essay from the City and Regional Magazine Association. Other editorial clients include Detroit Home Magazine, XXL and Mass Appeal. In addition to his editorial work, Matthew has also taught photography at several institutions and universities including Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn, Michigan and Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. He currently lives in Baltimore where he is an instructor of photography and coordinator of the photography program at Anne Arundel Community College. For more of his work, please visit http://www.moorephotographs.com