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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Ocean & The Desert

There are some surprising similarities for photographers who shoot in these disparate environments

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Brittle stars flock to reefs where they can find food to sustain their simple structures. Ecosystems in challenging places are built upon an intricate pyramid of simple organisms that support ever more complex life.
The coral and fish life have returned. Background radiation is less than what you’d receive from a single transcontinental flight across the U.S. In a few more “blinks” of time, she will have reduced the Cesium-137 half-life contamination currently concentrated in the plant life to insignificant levels. The concrete rubble and rusting steel will be deconstructed to sand and ferrous compounds as the fabulous ships in the lagoon become part of the seabed. There has been little in the way of human habitation since the tests, and undoubtedly this has contributed significantly to the ongoing recovery.

While the desert is no stranger to nuclear fission, it’s more likely to suffer from extraction, dumping and plain old abuse. Desert environs typically take much more time to heal their wounds. Weathering is slow, and turnover can take enormous amounts of time. Tank tracks from General Patton’s 1st Armored Corp training (1942) still can be seen southeast of Palm Springs, Calif., in the Coachella Valley. Discarded cans and other detritus can be found in virtually every arroyo. Some of this rubble has even crossed over from trash to collector’s items by virtue of its age and condition.

Located in the 25,000-square-mile Mojave Desert are hundreds of abandoned mines. Some barely scrape the surface, while others bore their way thousands of feet through the desert floor. Virtually everything you could think of removing from the ground has been attempted. Gold, silver, copper, jade, bauxite, iron and opal, to name but a few, have been scratched out of the surrounding rock. The telltale talus mounds and scattered bits of corrugated steel usually mark the spot. Many of the derelict mines are now home to a multitude of animals and have become focus points for weekend camping jaunts. Most off-road trails are merely access roads to some forgotten grubstake.

ocean & desert
Ocotillo cacti seen from below bear a striking resemblance to a kelp forest seen from the same perspective.
Even here in the slower timescale of the desert, nature slowly absorbs man’s efforts. Rock slides and cave-ins begin to fill the holes. Buildings and other structures collapse (sometimes with unwanted help), and the construction materials begin their journey toward rust and decomposition. The time interval is very long, but in terms of earth time, it barely registers on her clock. Even so, with each passing year, some of the access roads become impassable without help from individuals who try to repair the disorder. Animals like bats, snakes and small mammals occupy areas where men once toiled. And we, as visitors, stand gazing at what’s left of the long-ago abandoned projects, wondering what it must have been like to move all that solid rock in such remote, hostile conditions. In a few more blinks of an eye, nature will have mostly erased the evidence of our being here, too.

Despite our arrogance as a species, we won’t be able to destroy the Earth. We can and have been making a real mess of things that could potentially make it a very sad place to live, but Mother Earth will continue on. In what form, who knows? But the final destiny is largely up to us. We don’t need a plethora of draconian directives to live in harmony on this planet; we just need to think about our actions a little more carefully—kind of like what most of us were told sometime around kindergarten.

Cacti are plants that have evolved to become very successful at thriving in extremely arid and poor soil conditions. They come in all shapes and sizes occupying, high, arid mountain ecosystems down to hot valley floors below sea level. They’re relatively new to the biosphere as virtually all cacti live in the Americas and probably have existed “only” for the last 40 million years or so.
Joseph C. Dovala shoots conceptual, scientific, marine/underwater images. He has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. He’s a contributing editor to Dive Training Magazine.


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