The Found City
Environmental and cultural shifts: sustaining life on planet earth
Oceanside, California - July 2022
The Found City is a research-based mural investigating environmental concerns through an idealistic lens. The 70’ painted fence depicts marine plants and animals endemic to Oceanside, California in a distant but realistic future. Local species bimorph with others to survive current climate-induced shifts, and deep sea energy is harnessed into fictitious “care centers” to repair the depleted ecosystem. Although dream-like in its depiction, this prospective scenario is grounded in marine biologists’ and environmentalists' examination of Southern California coastal waters. In the Found City, real-world meets fantasy to raise awareness on the current state of our oceans, as well as informed & imaginable solutions.
The Issue - HABs
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.
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 endemic 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.
Manta Rays are a prehistoric species that haven’t altered much over the years. This stability helps the rays adapt easily without changing structure. The California Manta Ray population is growing currently due to decreasing predators.
As sea temperatures rise, marine biologists have documented sea animals migrating to waters that are more similar in temperature to their original habitat. Whale sharks are distributed in tropical, 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 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.
In the Found City, man-made hydrothermal vents help to bring stability to the ocean’s atmosphere. Like natural vents found deep on the ocean floor (where evolutionists believe life originates from), these synthetic vents reoxygenate and pump out beneficial nutrients to enrich healthy marine communities. Bacteria like the red algae feed off the oxygen and nutrients flowing from these sources. 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.
The blanket of filter feeders represented in the Found City takes inspiration from an exciting experiment by marine biologists in Florida. Mote Marine Laboratory scientists ran a research project, covering “living docks” with filter feeding creatures, such as barnacles, clams and tubeworms, to strain Karenia 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 (turned red through aposematism) for a reliable cleansing of Oceanside’s waters.
Man-made “care centers” are zones which give attention to flora, fauna and habitat in critical states. Through careful reparation, animals which have been poisoned by toxic bacteria or disabled by anaerobic, warm waters are slowly rehabilitated. Those which have undergone this process leave the care centers with marks of “universe source” energy, harnessed from the deep sea hydrothermal vents.
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; a feeding frenzy of nutrients forming a glowing orb.
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. This understanding by an enlightened human race, is shared through the scripture of light, a language and pattern making up all of existence.
Since the beginning of existence, humans have searched for the meaning of life in the stars. Through research, we now know that the beginning of life is actually documented in the deepest parts of our ocean. It’s curious that these depths visually emulate outer space. We have always looked for what we are outside of ourselves, meanwhile the stars point exactly to where we come from, right here on our blue planet. 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 in marine ecosystems but between humans, nature, and technology, 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
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
Photos by Birdman (Bryan Mier), Shenzi Udell, Leila Youssefi
Music by NOZU
Animation by Shenzi Udell