Ocean Tunnel is a 200-ft-long walking tunnel designed for installation at Burning Man in August 2018. In this structure, participants walk beneath a painted canvas and among hanging sculptures that create an underwater experience of the open ocean. The artwork reflects changing ocean conditions: a pure blue ocean filled with schools of big fish transitions to a green, gelatinous soup. Participants push through a thick curtain of suspended jellyfish at the end. Just outside is an atrium filled with lounge areas, information, and open canvas space on which participants are invited to draw and write their reactions and ideas.
**Architectural Drawings courtesy of Derek Lange.
- cause a tangible and impactful experience of mankind’s effect on the ocean,
- inform and spark conversations about altering the predictable future, and
- provide a platform for sharing reactions, thoughts, and ideas with a worldwide community.
Ocean Tunnel is intended not only to communicate that climate change and unsustainable fishing practices are dire problems for people everywhere, but also to generate a sense of hope in the face of a challenge. Every year Burning Man inspires thousands of humans with a feeling that anything is possible with community backing. Ocean Tunnel is intended to generate that feeling around the issue of climate change, leaving participants who communicate through the piece and with one another feeling connected, engaged, and empowered to collectively cause a brighter future.
We don’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors —
We borrow it from our children.Native American Proverb
Since prehistoric times, mankind has utilized ocean resources for transportation, for mineral resources, and for food. Its vastness and constancy led men to believe that the ocean’s bounty was limitless. However, as Earth’s human population has ballooned and naval technology has developed immensely, our ocean resources are becoming increasingly stressed.
Ocean Tunnel’s artwork portrays how these stresses play out in pelagic (open ocean) ecosystems. Because of over-fishing, the number and size of pelagic fish species like tuna and marlin have steadily decreased. As the biggest animals are removed from the population, the number of eggs and juveniles decrease even more drastically because those large animals produce the most offspring.
The effects of climate change are also noticeable and increasingly dire. Greenhouse gas emissions lead to several major effects that impact ocean ecosystems. First, the ocean takes up 90% of the heat retained by Earth’s atmosphere. The warming causes fish populations to migrate to find colder water at higher latitudes. Second, higher temperatures mean that less oxygen is able to dissolve in the water. This means that fast-moving fish (like tuna) who have a high demand for oxygen must reduce in size in order to survive. Finally, higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere lead to a more acidic ocean. This acidity can prevent critters from forming the calcified shells that protect them from predators. It also affects how fish and seafood mature and whether they survive until adulthood.
The following pages provide more detailed information about how climate change and fishing practices impact our oceans.