Seasynthesis: Reef Identities

A project by Xandra van der Eijk for the Embassy of the North Sea

With thousands of ship- and plane wrecks, oil- and gas platforms and windmills covering the North Sea floor and serving as substrates, new underwater communities have formed and continue to form. Each community can exist due to its particular place in the sea and the conditions it is subjected to. In the vastness of murky water, colonized by humans, territories are lost, won, and expanded on. The structures itself are time capsules that describe the process of colonization through its historical shipwrecks, its lost ammunition, its fishing gear, its abandoned wells, and drilling platforms. Yet unseen to the human eye life unfolds. Living spaces are built, birth is given, food is sought, sex is had, arguments are fought over and won, and death one day announces itself. The human colony is so reclaimed by countless species; big and small. Each community is an ecosystem unique in its composition and has its own identity.

The many artificial substrates in the North Sea are biodiversity hotspots, cold water artificial reefs that surely play an immense role in the bigger ecosystem of this continental shelf — however, they are barely researched nor protected. The war underwater takes place every day: shipwrecks are plundered for their copper, daily casualties are made through reckless fishery on and around the reefs,  and — on a much different timescale, the reef and sea decompose the structures, putting an immediate deadline of about one hundred years on a reef. They are temporal, ephemeral, and alien, offer a sense of hope, and demonstrate resilience. How can we give a voice to the reefs of the North Sea?

In collaboration with NIOZ, IMARES, and Duik de Noordzee Schoon, Xandra van der Eijk made hydrophone recordings near two reefs; an oyster bank near the Brouwersdam in Zeeland, and the wreck of the Ara, a steamship that was sunk by a mine in 1942, located north of Schiermonnikoog.

Seasynthesis: Reef Identities at voices of the north sea

Xandra van der Eijk presented her research in the exhibition Voices of the North Sea, 21 – 25 November in NEMO’s De Studio during the manifestation Welcome to the Parliament of ThingsOn display she put, among other things, a series of otoliths and surfaced objects from the MSC Zoë. This cargo ship lost many containers in the Wadden Sea, beginning of 2019. It is estimated that there is still about 800,000 kg of waste on the seabed.

Special thanks to: NIOZ, Wageningen Marine Research, Stichting Duik de Noordzee Schoon, Klaudie Bartelink, Dr. M.F. Leopold & Dutch Maritime Productions

Photo’s: Casper van der Linden & Nichon Glerum