Mapping the Remote

Millions of years ago, a shark shed a tooth that sank to the seafloor of the ancient ocean. Over millennia, sediment and minerals blanketed the tooth, feeding the slow growth of a few millimeters over the span of eons.

With time, these formations carpeted the seafloor, evolving into microhabitats that sheltered a variety of deep-sea creatures. Sponges stretched their porous bodies around these rocky nodes, sifting nutrients from the passing currents. Octopuses glided toward these rocky nodes, their arms exploring the knobbly surfaces for hidden prey.  These rock-like formations became small islands of life in the depths of the ocean, beyond the reach of the sun’s rays.
When humans began to navigate the sea, the unseen world beneath was collectively imagined. Creatures of imagination served as symbols of intrinsic connection and heritage of humans and the sea, and with its allure and threat, hybrid creatures of land and sea, traced back to the elemental origins of all life.

Mysteries and creatures of the abyss were gradually abandoned as humans became less reliant on direct experience and physical proximity for knowing the sea. Parts of the abyss, previously unreachable, were now 'seen' through the practice of sounding - dropping lead lines to fathom its depths.
The first voyages of oceanic exploration revealed life in the Pacific's depths, dispelling prior beliefs of its barrenness. The explorers dredged the seafloor, unearthing ancient shark teeth hidden beneath sedimentary layers. What they called 'nodules' were brought to the surface.  It took almost a century for their significance for the human world to be fully realized. Each nodule, encrusted with layers of manganese, iron, and other trace metals.

As the mapping, diving and categorizing of the waters ensued, humanity’s tactile connection with oceans began to fade. Through the language of science and law oceans were fragmented and abstracted into quantifiable units. The tools of navigation and cartography supplanted the ocean's mysteries with new gridded maps and borders depicting boundless bodies of water as vacant expanses. These maps, reflective of the intention of domination, rendered the ocean as a mere backdrop for human actions and as a resource awaiting exploitation. The aquatic origins of human life were forgotten amid the colonization and commodification of the natural world.
The seabed of the Pacific, where the explorer ship unveiled an abundance of nodules, a century later emerged as the biggest frontier of extraction. The only untouched part of the planet seemed to await the advent of technology for its exploitation. The governance of the vast seabed, covering more than half of the planet, was handled by a few. In the depth of the ocean they drew a new island with fictitious borders indicating claims of different nations.

Knowledge of the ocean, though expanded by science, remained largely incomplete. Nevertheless, the rush to harvest the ocean's riches has far outpaced human understanding of it. Exploitation of the largest habitat was enabled by the premise of saving nature with ‘batteries in a rock’ as introduced by those eager to exploit.

After Ocean

When alien noises invaded the depths, the ocean grew into a desolate place. The voices of cetaceans, once resonating through the expansive underwater realm, fell silent, leaving them adrift in an unfamiliar solitude. Food became hard to find. The sound of the storm was drowned out by the perpetual noise. The loss of their acoustic landscape disrupted the intimate bonds with one another. They struggled to share stories and to find one another. It was only when their lost bodies were washed to the surface, they were together again facing the end. The ones that survived, came to know they had to abandon their aquatic existence.

Their bodies began remembering the land. Little by little. The ties to terrestrial life had long since faded, but survival sparked a remembrance. They delved into the past to recall stories of their ancestors who once roamed the land before returning to the ocean. Bodies start to shrink in size and fins, intended for subtle navigation and balance, began to lengthen and reshape. Becoming more wing-like in their form and soon in their function too.

The thrumming vibrations estranged the octopus too. They had been inhabitants of the abyss, living slow-paced lives, their days spent gently tracing the paths of the seafloor.  But the once placid waters had become turbid and filled with sediment, obscuring their paths. They sought the stalks of dead sponges, where they would attach their eggs, protecting them for years as they slowly matured in the frigid waters. With nodules all gone, stalks had become scarce. Mothers bore their eggs aimlessly, unable to find a place to settle.

As the cetaceans, the surviving ones looked to rise to the surface. Their tentacles began to transform, adapting to a yet unknown purpose. Their skin toughened, readying itself to abandon water. As they breached the water's surface, sacs filled with air. Marking a strange sensation of survival and evolution.
The rebirth had long started, unfolding slowly through a sequence of subtle changes. Each change moving towards survival, of surrender and acceptance.

And in the water life continued to change, as they were leaving and some perished, new forms began to  evolve, yet unclear if they were creatures of the ocean or echoes of humanity venturing into the abyss.