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The Found City

Environmental and cultural shifts: sustaining life on planet earth

Leila Youssefi, Shenzi Udell, Mosquitolamb 

Oceanside, California - July 2022


The Found City is a research-based mural evaluating environmental concerns in situ. The 70ft. long painted fence depicts marine plants and animals endemic to Oceanside, California in a distant but realistic future. Local species transform and bimorph to account for current climate-induced shifts. Although dream-like in its depiction, this prospective scenario is apprized by marine biologists’ and environmentalists' research of Southern California coastal waters. In The Found City, real-world meets fantasy in effect to raise awareness on the current state of our oceans, as well as informed & imaginable resolutions. 

The Red Tide

The Found City hones in on one of So-Cal’s most destructive yet dazzling dilemmas - harmful algal blooms (HABs), or more colloquially known as “the red tide.” Most know the red tide for its intense color - deep red during the day, and bright teal bioluminescence at night. This phenomenon is caused by increased microscopic algae (Karenia brevis) due to rising sea temperatures & salinity. This algae produces harmful substances, such as domoic acid and neurotoxins (brevetoxins) that can disorient and kill animals, and are even harmful to humans. 


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Marine Fauna 

The increased amount of HABs in the Pacific creates an environment which lacks sufficient oxygen (anaerobic). In The Found City, symbiotic relationships between nudibranchs and filter feeders detoxify the water and filter the algae. Through a process called aposematism, these “nudi-filters” take on the red color of the algae as a warning. With this adaptation, marine mammals can avoid domoic acid poisoning from filter feeders that have accumulated too many toxins. 

Similarly, the Garibaldi (California’s state fish) has a diet of algae, sponges, and small animals which contribute to its bright color. This show of aposematism indicates a bad taste to the predators and also helps to de-proliferate domoic acid down the chain of predators. Garibaldi are endemic to California. 

Manta Ray 
Manta Ray’s are a prehistoric species that haven’t altered much over the years. They adapt well, but do not change because their prehistoric structure is already stable enough. The California Manta Ray population is growing currently due to decreasing predators. 


Whale Shark 
As sea temperatures rise from global warming, marine biologists have documented sea animals migrating to waters that are more similar to their original habitat. Whale sharks are distributed in tropical and warm temperate seas. Similar to the Humboldt Squid that are migrating further north as waters warm, Whale Sharks now make an appearance in the Found City -  a beautiful sight induced by the mishandling of our ecosystem.


Sea Lion
Sea Lions are often the first animals to show effects of the red tide, indicating that they’ll have a harder time adapting to the increased warming of our oceans. Endangered species and animals such as these are in need of more assistance until equilibrium can be reached. The Found City visualizes sea lions being released from fictitious “care centers”, after years of consciously repairing and modifying the depleted habitat. 


Marine fowl, such as Double Breasted Cormorants, are also subject to the red tide’s poisonous domoic acid. These Cormorants bimorph with the Humboldt squid for their acid-neutralizing attributes. With 1-2 year life spans, the Humboldt Squid are some of the most adaptable in the ocean, making them the perfect subject for quick transformation.

Human-Nature Symbiosis

In the Found City, man-made hydrothermal vents help to bring stability to the ocean’s atmosphere. Like vents found deep on the ocean floor, where evolutionists believe life originates from, these vents reoxygenate and pump out beneficial nutrients to enrich healthy marine communities. Bacteria like the red algae feed off of the oxygen and nutrients from the man made vents. In turn, sea animals that typically perish in anaerobic environments are now sustained by the reoxygenated water. Vents are zones where colder, intensely oxygen-rich water gives way to reef building algae and coral. 

Living Dock
The blanket of filter feeders represented in the Found City takes inspiration from an exciting experiment by marine biologists in Florida. “They” created “living docks” smothered with filter feeding creatures, such as barnacles, clams and tubeworms, to strain K. Brevis from the water. Although their experiment failed due to red tides killing the filter feeders before they could establish large numbers, we still see a lot of benefit in this suggested solution. In our representation of a streamlined eco-centric future, the entire sea floor is covered with filter feeders for a reliable cleansing of Ocean Side’s waters.

Care Centers
Animals go in and animals come out 

The nighttime counterpart to the red tide is its bioluminescence caused by phytoplankton (dinoflagellates). These brightly lit phytoplankton live in the algal blooms and are carried by the current; feeding on its nutrients. In the Found City, the cycle continues and animals gather to feed off of the plankton. They collect in the center of the scene, forming a glowing orb. 

Universe Source
This glowing orb is a universal source of being; a light radiating out of us and onto us. The circular movement of the animals around the light emphasizes the stages of adaptation - now facilitated by humans. As we branch off into man-made cycles through necessity, a more cohesive human-nature symbiosis is born. The universal light at our center is what we are, and what we search for - the collective subconscious that holds the key to our future. 

The beginning of life is documented in the deepest parts of our ocean, which visually emulates outer space. Since the beginning of our existence, humans have searched for the meaning of life in both spaces. It is no wonder that to sustain and understand our cherished planet and beings, we must return to the source of it all. The Found City, at its core, is a flag of hope for the future. In order to get there, however, we must adapt. Animals adapting, as they always have, is a signifier of the circle of life. Returning symbiotic relationships not only between marine species but between humans, nature, and technology, even in a potentially post-apocalyptic world could be the key to sustaining life and harmony on planet earth. 

Garibaldi, Manta Ray, Sea Lion, Whale Shark, Nudibranch, Filter Feeder (Kellet’s Whelk, Dorids), Humboldt Squid, Double-Breasted Cormorant


  • Who's Cleaning the Bay? - UC Irvine

  • Large blooms of toxic algae in Monterey Bay are affecting marine animals - UC Santa Cruz

  • Cormorants - SDSU 

  • Wildlife experts fear seabird deaths as red tide washes up near Newport Pier - Los Angeles Times

  • Kellet's Whelk Enhanced Status Report - CA Department of Fish & Wildlife

  • Benefits of symbiont-containing sponge to Archidoris montereyensis (Cooper, 1862) and recovery of nudibranch feeding scars by Halichondria panicea (Pallas, 1766) - Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology

  • Food spectrum of Sacoglossa compared to functional retention

  • San Diego’s endemic plants: New species and living fossils

  • Recovery of Endangered and Threatened Species | NOAA Fisheries

  • The Marine Mammal Center | Guadalupe Fur Seal

  • Brown Pelicans Plagued by Mysterious Condition in Santa Barbara and Ventura

  • What are California Marine Invasive Species?

  • Southern California Marine Life - Underwater Photography Guide 

  • Local Marine Life - Everyday California 


Photos by Birdman (Bryan Mier), Shenzi Udell, Leila Youssefi

Music by NOZU

Animation by Shenzi Udell


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