Year of the Sea: assessing changes in marine ecosystems through literature, arts and law

Researchers: Ruth Callaway – (PI, Marine Ecology, Swansea University), Amanda Rogers (Human Geography, Swansea University), Dimitra Fimi (English Literature, University of Glasgow previously Cardiff Metropolitan University), Kerry Lewis (Environmental Law, Aberystwyth University) & Sarah Pogoda (German Studies, Bangor University).


Humans transformed the sea long before modern scientific investigations began. They harvested animals and algae for food or medicine, used the sea for shipping or waste disposal, and coastal waters for cultural purposes. This led to destruction of habitats and loss of species, but the long-term changes are difficult to quantify. The aim of this work was to create a multidisciplinary team that derives information about the historical status of the sea and its social and cultural significance by using arts, literature and law.

We, a team of five researchers from biosciences, arts, humanities, law, and geography, organised workshops in Swansea, Aberystwyth and Cardiff to explore public resources of historic information, develop a database, and produce concepts for an exhibition piece. We also visited 9 collections, organisations, and events, and met with 11 experts from different disciplines. As a case study to develop the interdisciplinary thinking and analytical methods we focused on oyster populations in Swansea Bay. A database with 57 documents including paintings, photographs, fiction, poetry, travel writing, folklore, newspapers and historical law was collated. We evaluated the link between changes in the natural environment and the relationship and connectedness of people with the sea, specifically with Swansea Bay.

The project allowed us to understand the magnitude and speed of the decline in the oyster population over the past centuries, but importantly it also highlighted the complex responses of different societal groups to the changes.

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