Ocean Conversation with



The conversation takes place at the Marine Station of the Flemish Marine Institute in the port of Ostend. It is a warm and sunny day so we sit on a bench outside the large warehouses. The conversation is accompanied by the loud noise of drilling, which happens a few meters away from us. I only notice the noise after we start speaking – I have no memory of it being there before. But maybe I did not consciously perceive this.

M.M. What’s your relationship to the ocean?

A.C.I have always lived on the coast. In a town to the west of Ostend
→ So I always considered the sea as something trivial – it was never something special. There was nothing attractive about it → I had no desire to swim continuously in it or anything like that.

Then I started studying biology → initially without a plan or any particular expectations (I had no specific interest in marine species). There I had the opportunity to work on/with fish.
And I took it. During the studies → my relationship to the sea became more complicated. I discovered that the sea is a more complex space than I initially thought it to be.

My first experiences being at the sea made me realize that I become
seasick just by looking at the waves.
There is a practical difficulty inherent in inhabiting the ocean.

The sea is a human-unfriendly place.
It is hostile and an uncomfortable place to be
You need a tool that enables you to be there; if there were no boats you could not access it.

During my studies, my interest + fascination for the sea grew. For me, the ocean is still a sea → I am always in proximity to the coast. I have never been on a ship that distanced itself more than a day’s sail away from land.

When you’re far out in the ocean you experience the weather, the isolation
if I could get the opportunity to do such a trip, I would do it.

→ Saying this, I think that the comfort of sailing in ships has changed enormously.
→ Now, it is a nice experience to be at sea. Seafaring, therefore, lost a bit of the mystique surrounding it, it’s not what it used to be in the past. It’s not much of a thing any more to sail on the ocean. There are cruise ships now, offering ocean crossing as an experience.

M.M.When you say you had the possibility to study fish, what did you mean? Did someone offer you a study position?

A.C.No. I just meant for my master’s thesis → I could choose marine biology from the list of possible subjects.

M.M.When you say that it is now easy to travel at sea, I think this only applies to certain rather privileged kinds of traveling. I think being at sea as a refugee for example is still a life threatening exper-

A.C.Yes, of course. What I meant was referring to the average passenger on commercial or other
kinds of ships. I think nowadays there is less romance around ocean travel than used to be the case. Of course, crossing the ocean on a ship is still a very unique thing. Most cruise ships do not cross oceans but remain in the vicinity of the continents/islands. However, a travel across the ocean today is far less risky and adventurous than many years ago. GPS, seaworthiness of ships or sailing boats, accommodation onboard, radar, meteorology, radiocommunication – even internet at sea with satellites makes the journey a luxury compared to the sailing age or the age of the old steamers who had none of the modern navigation instruments/technologies.

M.M.You mentioned your relationship to the sea becoming more complex. How did you experience this complexity? What do you mean with complexity here?

A.C.I mean it mainly in relation to practical things: when you’re on a small boat or a ship, for example, you start realizing that it moves continuously.Things that on land one could do easily are more difficult to do on water.

→ You have to take the weather into account continuously, for example.
→The Currents
→ There is something that inhibits you – you cannot act as you would on land. Every simple movement is more tiring.

Also, in my case, I am subject to seasickness. So I really have to watch out what I eat when I’m at sea

→ I should eat no apples
and no oranges.

But then, with experience, you start knowing how to deal with this situation.
When you’re tired, for example → it’s easier to get seasick than when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Your whole being is heavily influenced by this space or element.
- You need training in order to be able to function and to work there. Especially in case of emergencies at sea, training is needed in order to increase chances of survival. Rescue is not so fast or as easy as on land.

People sometimes ask us to put something on the bottom of the sea, for example.
They have no idea how difficult this is. The practical difficulties apply mainly to activities we need to perform for scientists. Towing instruments, installing laboratory equipment onboard, access to buoys at sea with a small boat, placing and recovering moorings, taking whatever sample of bottom, water, fauna. You cannot just do those things; there are currents, animals, there is the buoyancy of the water that you have to fight.

There are so many things that limit what you can do. We still experiment with those limits of what you can do in and to the ocean. We throw down cages, for example → and things grow on them.

M.M.What things?

A.C. Shrimp-like animals and mussels mainly.

M.M.What primarily makes up your job?

A.C.Enormous curiosity. → I think this is the driving force for each scientist.
Each question
that you pose presents you with 10 new questions.

→ There is enormous curiosity that drives you as a scientist.
→ Also, the desire to use this knowledge for the greater good.
For example, if you research what shrimps should eat.
→ Now, this might not look like valuable information but rather as something insignificant.
Yet it is very important politically because you can then inform the state about this so that they
can make sure that those feeding conditions are met.

Scientific research is like adding small pieces in a very big puzzle.
→ It is extremely important therefore, to share the knowledge that you produce.

M.M.Is there an element of the ocean that you find particularly relevant? Would you say it is this
hostility that you mentioned before, towards the human body?

A.C.Well, I think it is its Infinity → The possibility for a completely undisturbed view. This is something that many people would say, I think.
– I have a curiosity for what is over the horizon.

If you look at the sea, your view is unspoiled. This ‘sea or ocean panorama’ is to me. the only one that gives rise to a sense of infinity, adventure and expectation. The sea suggests the chance to explore → I see the horizon as something that you can never reach but you would like to get at anyway. This is linked to a certain fear of the unknown.

Sometimes I think about the great explorations – Who did this kind of thing?
They must have been either courageous or foolish: maybe there is a thin line between the two. Many people think this – that the sea is linked with the urge to find new things + get away from it all. With the urge to see every place on earth.

M.M.Do you travel a lot?

A.C.Yes, when I can; time-wise + moneywise.