The case of Atafona

Atafona is a Brazilian town of 6,000 people, 200 miles up the coast from the famed beaches of Rio’s Copacabana and Ipanema.

“The sea devoured [Atafona’s] historic lighthouse, bars, nightclubs, markets, a four-story hotel, a gas station for boats, a school, sumptuous summer mansions, two churches, and an island where 300 hundred fisher families lived. The Ilha da Convivência (Island of Coexistence), as it was known, was 650 feet from shore. Nenéu was born there in 1974, when islanders, fearing an ocean already on the rise, began moving from Convivência to the continent. Today, the only thing left is a narrow land strip with sad ruins. In all, researchers estimate that the erosion has created over 2,000 environmental refugees here since about 1960.”

“There is in Atafona, especially among the old residents, a mixture of mysticism, religion, and science. For them, the ocean is a living being, and the coastal erosion a punishment for errors committed by man, such as having built the old church on the shore with its back facing the ocean,” says civil engineer Gilberto Pessanha Ribeiro, coordinator of the Coastal Dynamics Observatory at the Federal University of São Paulo, which has been researching Atafona for 18 years.”

“The fisherman Nenéu spent $3,000 on the rocks that he hopes will save his house, though he knows that the solution is ephemeral.  “The sea isn’t wrong; it wants what belongs to him back,” says Nenéu. “It will swallow everything, but I’ll resist.”

source: National Geographic

Fastest eroding beaches of the world

This is a list of the beaches with the largest annual land erosion. Four of the top seven spots are in the USA alone, another one in Peru and two in Northern Europe.

The Ocean people fight back

My favorite idea from the DC Aquaman movie (2018) is merely a small detail. When the Aquarians start to fight back against us, the people above sea level, one of their first maneuvers is throwing the human garbage back on land. That includes of course submarines. Here are two images from the news-flash-section of the movie:

Alexander’s submarine dive

The Alexander Romance is an account of the life and exploits of Alexander the Great. Although constructed around a historical core, the romance is largely fictional. It was widely copied and translated, accruing various legends and fantastical elements at different stages. The original version was composed in Ancient Greek some time before 338 CE, when a Latin translation was made, although the exact date is unknown. (from Wikipedia)

One of those tales is about a deep sea dive Alexander undertook:
” In the Problemata, a text contentiously credited to Aristotle, the philosopher tells how his student Alexander the Great descends to the depths of the sea in “a very fine barrel made entirely of white glass”, as a later poet would put it. The reasons for this descent differ across time. For some, it was to scout submarine defenses surrounding the city of Tyre during its siege. Others depict the Macedonian king met with a cruel vision of the great chain of being, stating, upon resurfacing, that “the world is damned and lost. The large and powerful fish devour the small fry”. 

In one particularly elaborate version, Alexander submerges with companions — a dog, cat, and cock — entrusting his life to a mistress who holds the cord used to retrieve the bathysphere. However, during his dive, she is seduced by a lover and persuaded to elope, dropping the chains that anchor Alexander and his animal companions to their boat. Through a gruesome utility, the pets help him survive: the cock keeps track of time in the lightless fathoms, the cat serves as a rebreather to purify the vessel’s atmosphere, and the poor hound’s body becomes a kind of airbag, propelling Alexander back to the sea’s surface.” (from Public Domain Review)

Miniature from a manuscript of Rudolf von Ems’ Weltchronik in Versen (World Chronicle in Verse), ca. 1370

When the story was told to me by Tobias Bulang, he explained that to medieval believe, the ocean does not keep dead bodies inside. Thus Alexander’s diving bell would rise back to the surface because the ocean emited the animal’s corpse. The fact that drowned corpses tend to float on the surface of the water instead of sinking to the ground gives plausible cause for this believe. Still I would be interested to understand, what people then believed to be the cause for this.

The image of Alexandre the Great below the sea became quite popular in the visual arts of the 14. and the following centuries. You can see many more creative and vivid illustrations here.

Thanks to Tobias Bulang for the lead.

Pekalongan, Indonesia

In the 46 sqkm city of Pekalongan, there are dozens of neighbourhoods under threat of becoming one with the sea, with saltwater encroaching inland for up to 1.5km. At the heart of the problem is Pekalongan’s overreliance on groundwater, which is not only extracted for domestic use but also to irrigate fish farms and rice fields.

The over-extraction of groundwater has caused the city to sink at a rate of between 10cm to 15cm per year. In some areas, the land subsidence has been as severe as 26cm per year.

Meanwhile, climate change has brought more extreme rainfall, stronger winds, higher waves and rising sea levels. Scientists have warned that if nothing is done to stop the widespread land subsidence and encroachment of the sea, the entire city could be underwater by 2036.


Thanks to IVAA for the lead!

letting the souls float home

Tōrō nagashi ( 灯籠流し or  灯篭流し) is a Japanese ritual usually performed as part of the Festival of the Dead – O-bon (お盆) or Bon – in summer but also in connection to various other important events. In the ceremony people set lit paper lanterns afloat on a river or on the ocean, simbolizing the souls of the deceased returning to the afterlife. According to traditional Japanese believe, all life comes from the water. The ritual is however not unique to Japan, it is also performed in various forms in China, Korea and Hawaii.

In Richard L. Parry’s book “Ghosts of the Tsunami” one of the interviewees makes a connection between the ritual and the destruction of the town Naburi during the tsunami in 2011:

“An old fisherman named Yuichiro Kamiyama had moored his boat and gone about the houses, chivvying the villagers up the steep hill. From there, they watched the water withdrawing from the harbour, and returning unstoppably to overwhelm first the sea wall, then the road and then the alleys dividing the wooden houses, until it lifted them up and spun them around on its frothing surface. The water rose and rose through the pines on the hillside towards the spot where the dumbfounded villagers were watching. A few feet below where they crouched, it slowed and withdrew.

The sight reminded Kamiyama of the summer Festival of the Dead, when illuminated paper lanterns are set adrift on the tide to guide the spirits back across to the far world. ‘The houses receded all together, along with the sea,’ he said. “They were all in a row, like the festival lanterns, floating out over the sea wall. And the electricity poles too, with the wires between them. Those wires are strong — they didn’t break. They were all taken back intact into the sea. Perhaps I shouldn’t say so, but it was beautiful.’”

from: Parry, Ghosts of the Tsunami. (2017), pp 109

see also this post.

Marine life in the city streets

As extrem weather events in coastal areas intensify and multiply, marine life comes closer to the city. Among the social media posts during hurricane Ian in September/October 2022 posts about marine mammals like sharks or orca whales in the streets were very popular. This seems to be a new theme in flooding stories. And it might be a foreshadowing of an altered relationship between city and ocean due to climate change. City people might have to get used to living in much closer contact with marine population and thus rethink their relationship on ethical and political levels.

This is an image of a shark in a street in Fort Myers (FL).
For a plausibility check of this tweet see:

Also Miami Beach (FL) had it’s cohabitation moment go viral online one year before. In 2019 a resident posted pictures of an octopus swimming through a parking garage.

The Miami Herald quotes University of Miami associate biology professor Kathleen Sullivan Sealey: “She said Miami Beach residents ought to get used to seeing strange new creatures making sporadic appearances as rising sea levels push ocean waters deeper and more frequently onto land, along with some of the creatures that live in them.”

Hurricane Ian 2022

These are a couple of news images from Florida, USA. Of course – I don’t own rights on any of these images. Click on the image to be directed to the original source online.

The Pine Island Road in Matlacha, Florida. October 1, 2022. RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP
Fort Myers Beach, Fla., on Sept. 29, 2022.Wilfredo Lee / AP
Fort Myers Beach, Fla., on Sept. 30, 2022. Ricardo Arduengo/AFP
Photo courtesy: © Getty Images/Win McNamee/Staff

Naples, Fl

I found this image on facebook. It’s from the twitter account of @bothcoasts and was posted on October 1st 2022. It was taken in Naples, Florida, USA.
Thanks to Princess Brown-Burkert for the lead.

Ghosts of the tsunami

In his beautifully written account of the 2011 tsunami in Tohoku, northern Japan, and it’s aftermath, Richard L. Parry also describes the role of the cult of ancestory in grievance for those who died in the tsunami. Vacant home addresses for example play a recurring role in how people were dealing with grief and loss. Perry’s account gives an example of societies using old customs and believe systems in sometimes unexpected ways to help them deal with current loss.

The following excpert is from pages 99 – 102 of the 2017 edition of “Ghosts of the Tsunami” by R.L. Parry:

“Haltingly, apologetically, then with increasing fluency, the survivors spoke of the terror of the wave, the pain of bereavement and their fears for the future. They also talked about encounters with the supernatural.

They described sightings of ghostly strangers, friends and neighbours, and dead loved ones. They reported hauntings at home, at work, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns. The experiences ranged from eerie dreams and feelings of vague unease to cases of outright possession.

A young man complained of pressure on his chest at night, as if some creature was straddling him as he slept. A teenage girl spoke of a fearful figure who squatted in her house. A middle-aged man hated to go out in the rain, because of the eyes of the dead, which stared out at him from puddles.

A civil servant in Soma visited a devastated stretch of coast and saw a solitary woman in a scarlet dress far from the nearest road or house, with no means of transport in sight. When he looked for her again, she had disappeared.

A fire station in Tagajo received calls to places where all the houses had been destroyed by the tsunami. The crews went out to the ruins anyway, prayed for the spirits of those who had died— and the ghostly calls ceased.

A taxi in the city of Sendai picked up a sad-faced man who asked to be taken to an address that no long existed. Halfway through the journey, the driver looked into his mirror to see that the rear seat was empty. He drove on anyway, stopped in front of the levelled foundations of a destroyed house and politely opened the door to allow the invisible passenger out at his former home.

At a refugee community in Onagawa, an old neighbour would appear in the living rooms of the temporary houses and sit down for a cup of tea with their startled occupants. No one had the heart to tell her that she was dead; the cushion on which she had sat was wet with seawater.

Such stories came from all over the devastated area. Priests — Christian and Shinto, as well as Buddhist – found themselves called on repeatedly to quell unhappy spirits. A Buddhist monk wrote an article in a learned journal about ‘the ghost problem’, and academics at Tohoku University began to catalogue the stories. In Kyoto, the matter was debated at a scholarly symposium.

“Religious people all argue about whether these are really the spirits of the dead,’ [priest] Kaneta told me. ‘I don’t get into it, because what matters is that people are seeing them, and in these circumstances, after this disaster, it is perfectly natural. So many died, and all at once. At home, at work, at school – the wave came in and they were gone. The dead had no time to prepare themselves. The people left behind had no time to say goodbye. Those who lost their families, and those who died – they have strong feelings of attachment. The dead are attached to the living, and those who have lost them are attached to the dead. It’s inevitable that there are ghosts.’

He said: ‘So many people are having these experiences. It’s impossible to identify who and where they all are. But there are countless such people, and their number is going to increase. And all we do is treat the symptoms.’

When opinion polls put the question ‘How religious are you?’, Japanese rank among the most ungodly people in the world. It took a catastrophe for me to understand how misleading this selfassessment is. It is true that the organised religions, Buddhism and Shinto, have little influence on private or national life, But over the centuries both have been pressed into the service of the true faith of Japan: the cult of the ancestors.

I knew about the household altars, or butsudan, which are still seen in most homes and on which the memorial tablets of dead ancestors — the ihai — are displayed. The butsudan are cabinets of lacquer and gilt, with openwork carvings of flowers and trees; the ihai are upright tablets of black lacquered wood, vertically inscribed in gold. Offerings of flowers, incense, food, fruit and drinks are placed before them; at the summer Festival of the Dead, families light lanterns to welcome home the ancestral spirits. I had taken these picturesque practices to be matters of symbolism and custom, attended to in the same way that people in the West will participate in a Christian funeral without any literal belief in the words of the service. But in Japan spiritual beliefs are regarded less as expressions of faith than as simple common sense, so lightly and casually worn that it is easy to miss them altogether. ‘The dead are not as dead there as they are in our own society,’ wrote the religious scholar Herman Ooms. “It has always made perfect sense in Japan as far back as history goes to treat the dead as more alive than we do… even to the extent that death becomes a variant, not a negation of life.’

At the heart of ancestor worship is a contract. The food, drink, prayers and rituals offered by their descendants gratify the dead, who in turn bestow good fortune on the living. Families vary in how seriously they take these ceremonies, but even for the unobservant, the dead play a continuing part in domestic life. For much of the time, their status is something like that of beloved, deaf and slightly batty old folk who cannot expect to be at the centre of the family, but who are made to feel included on important occasions. Young people who have passed important entrance examinations, got a job or made a good marriage kneel before the butsudan to report their success. Victory or defeat in an important legal case, for example, is shared with the ancestors in the same way.

When grief is raw, the presence of the deceased is overwhelming. In households that had lost children in the tsunami, it became routine, after half an hour of tea and chat, to be asked if I would like to ‘meet’ the dead sons and daughters. I would be led to a shrine covered with framed photographs, with toys, favourite drinks and snacks, letters, drawings and school exercise books.

One mother commissioned carefully photoshopped portraits of her children, showing them as they would have been had they lived – a boy who died in primary school smiling proudly in high-school uniform, an eighteen-year-old girl as she should have looked in kimono at her coming-of-age ceremony. Another decked the altar with make-up and acrylic fingernails that her daughter would have worn if she had lived to become a teenager. Here, every morning, they began the day by talking to their dead children, weeping love and apology, as unselfconsciously as if they were speaking over a long-distance telephone line.”