Enduring Collection

The image below, of bottles and some kind of a collection, immediately made me think of marine life. Maybe it’s the small, irregular pieces carefully arrayed beneath each bottle. Maybe it’s the size of the bottles and their tidy alignment, paired against the sandy randomness of their spilled contents.


I thought it might be a collection of sand types, something from the Sand Atlas.

Samples from various beaches, perhaps.


These are forams (Sorites), Cyprus.
Source: Sand Atlas


The round bottles also made me think of sewing and buttons.

Maybe these were shards of buttons that had been found in an archeological dig.


Source: Tyrs/Wikimedia


Or perhaps the image is a tiny environmental art installation of natural materials.


The Darkness, an installation taken from part of a collapsed Sussex cliff.
Artist: Cornelia Parker

But no. The collection turned out to be none of those things, although each jagged piece will outlast almost anything else I had imagined. Each small piece here, even if it hadn’t been retrieved and catalogued, will endure for decades if not centuries.

I was correct about the marine life connection. The pieces had been battered and reduced from their original forms by water. But before they found their way into these lab bottles, each piece found its way into the mouth of a turtle hatchling, and each bottle represents the stomach contents of a hatchling either starved to death on a belly full of plastic, or that died as a result of damage caused by the plastic.

Stomach contents of deceased hatchling and post-hatchling sea turtle patients.
Source: Loggerhead Marinelife Center

Larger turtles can survive some level of plastic ingestion, which includes everything from small debris to entire plastic fishing nets. The hatchings can’t pass the plastic through their systems.

According to Jack Lighton, head of the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida where these samples were collected, “It’s no longer a question of ‘if a sea turtle has ingested marine pollution,” it’s now a question of “how much the turtle has ingested.”

And because it’s not just turtles swallowing our garbage, but all manner of other animals on land and water, it’s something to consider in our ongoing world of packaging, non-reusable items like straws and plastic forks, plastic bags and plastic furniture.


Turtle Chirps, Volcanic Whistles

Anathasius Kircher, a 17th-century German Jesuit priest and scholar, had interests ranging from fossils to hieroglyphics to micro-organisms and volcanoes, was above all a master of expressing wonder at the natural world.

He proposed, among many other things, the idea of a parabolic horn, an amplification system for sound waves. In the illustration below, the sound waves are created by human voices. We do so like to hear ourselves talk. And we like to think we hear everything around us.

Parabolic amplication  by Athanasius Kircher (Musurgia Universalis, Rome 1650)

Parabolic amplification by Athanasius Kircher (Musurgia Universalis, Rome 1650)

But consider all the sounds and songs we can’t hear without the help of other mechanisms, the technological great-grandchildren of Kircher’s giant seashell horns.

The low chirps and meows of sea turtles, which apparently have distinct songs for mating, laying eggs, and for setting off on their first ocean journeys. Turtle hatchlings were recently discovered to use vocalization to improve their odds of survival by migrating together, and they responded to vocalizations of adult females up to hundreds of miles away from their nesting beaches. If they could hear them over human-produced noise pollution, that is.

Here’s an incredible collection of animal sounds, the Macaulay Library, from around the world. I particularly like this haunting recording of a lone common loon.

Plants have been found to communicate with one another via sound frequencies – some even speculate that they use fungi networks in forest floors as sound switchboards.

A water-powered automatic organ by Athanasius Kircher (Musurgia Universalis, Rome 1650)

A water-powered automatic organ by Athanasius Kircher (Musurgia Universalis, Rome 1650)

There’s whistling lightning – not the cracks you might have heard during a storm, but very low frequency radio waves sent out by some (though not all) lighting strikes just before they burst. There’s an entire network devoted to listening for whistlers (listen here), which have also been found to be connected to volcanic eruptions.

And then there’s the music of the spheres – or at least, the sphere upon which we live, Earth. The rings of plasma which form part of the planet’s giant magnetosphere are bursting with radio waves, which produce a sound sometimes called Earth’s “chorus” (listen here).

Why do I mention all this?

Because I was thinking this morning, while listening to the dawn chorus of birds, about the fact that, even if it’s just out of our range, not necessarily intended for us and we can’t always hear it, there’s music all around.

Illustration of Earth's plasma rings. Source: FeelGuide

Illustration of Earth’s plasma rings.
Source: FeelGuide