Alive Alive O! Part 2

Oct 15, 2023 | Blog


Mud is really the lungs of the river
– Jason Ingham, inshore fisherman on the Exe

Marine Larvae are attracted to sounds when they are looking for habitat – sound travels really well under water, it’s the best available cue. There is research that show that blue mussels do hear and respond to sounds – Sophie Nedelec

Intimate and empowering, nurturing hope for our marine environment – Alive Alive O! participant

In Summer 2023 we further developed our work with the blue mussels of the Exe. In Summer 2022 we had held an open event at The Lookout in Lympstone (an ex-mussel processing site) where people were invited to discuss connections with the sea and learn about mussels, their history, culture and biology and importance to the Exe working with Sophie Nedelec, a marine accoustician and Emma Welton, composer. We learned and performed a song composed by Emma and recorded the song underwater with people on the shore and others in the water. (you can find out more about this event here)

This year there were three gatherings in Lympstone, Dawlish Warren and Exmouth to learn more, to record sound underwater and co-create a blue mussel ceremony with members of the local community.

The first workshop in Lympstone included contributions by local shellfish aquaculturist, Martin Syvret and local inshore fisher and shellfish farmer, Jason Ingham. Jason and Martin peppered their expert local knowledge with enriching stories about the history of mussel farming on the Exe and its role in community life.Here are some of their words:

Jason: Every day I put my hand in the water and remember that my grandfather and my father were in this water and other people who were before.

Jason: It’s a important food source ,and one that’s completely natural you don’t have to feed it. It just occurs if you make the right environment for it. Sadly the environment in the last years hasn’t been very good on the river. There was along here (in Lympstone) a big bed of mussels which was left over from families bringing them up and tending their patch and what happen was an algal bloom killed off the mussels and there is hardly a mussel left in this part of the river.

Jason: In the old days you would have taken the mussel spat from the bottom of the river, brought it back up here, let them grow, birds feed on it, other things predate like crabs and fish.

Martin: Mussels are gregarious – it’s a feature of the biology of most of these shellfish species they seek other shellfish of the same species. if somebody else has settled here and growing it’s got to be a good place to grow yourself – they seek out their own kind. Now, when they spawn (male and female) they fertilise the eggs, released in the water, then those larvae float around for 2-3 weeks or up to a month hunting out a suitable site to settle. Initial phase float around attach to filamentous algae and other bits and pieces until they are just enough big enough not to get sucked up by other mussels, this initial planktonic stage floating around. Then they form a bigger larvae with a sucking sensory foot using their foot to taste the substrate. They taste here, there and everywhere, float around for a while doing this and as time goes on they get less and less picky coz they know time is running out and the foot will go down and they will anchor there more or less almost permanently and they have the byssus thread that they put out. Without other mussels as a settlement cue they are less aware of what a good environment is. Without the mussels there isn’t the cue for other mussels to form…

What do we want to say to the mussels?
Martin: We want to work with them and integrate their lives with our lives.

The second event in Dawlish was attended by people from Exeter and members of a local wild swimming group and a sea shanty singing group.  During the gatherings Anne-Marie spoke about the importance of ceremonies and rituals in marking changing seasonal patterns and natural rhythms in particular locations. She explained that developing new ceremonies in nature can establish stronger bonds and more sensitive understanding and awareness between people and the multi-species communities with which we live and work.

Sophie Nedelec talked about underwater sound and the science behind the project and shared sound recordings of fish and invertebrate including farting herrings (!) and a local Salmon recorded with a hydromoth (small underwater sound recorder). Sarah Owen (vocalist) led vocal warm ups and activities in sounding the voice in different way in relation to the sea and setting. Emma Welton worked with participants to develop lyrics, melodies and calls integrating words from Martin and Jason into the song.

The final performance was held in Exmouth at Pirate’s Cove. Anne-Marie, Sarah, Sophie and Emma talked people through the sounds, song, water drumming and some simple choreography and participants added their ideas and then we performed together in the sandy waters of the cove. A member of Deaf Academy staff attended the final event and provided some signing for the song lyrics. We employed an accessibility consultant from the Thallasophile Project to ensure there was consideration of accessibility to d/Deaf and blind participants and to create accessible captioning for the film.
Full film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pz7lai2m86A

Big thanks to Sophie, Emma, Sarah, Jason, Martin, the film crew, Jo Salter, our funders, University of Exeter and of course the mussels.

Some comments on the events:

You have created a very welcoming and inclusive space! Eleanor Goodall, Natural England

Loved the fish singing , more fishy choruses please – participant

The song and ritual were moving – the drumming and shouting felt a bit more likely to scare sea creatures  off to me , but what do I know ….  more about mussels than I did, that’s for sure – participant

Loved the way all the information came through amid the nature connection and zaniness – Carol Jay

Turning out to the sea and singing/calling the mussels seemed somehow powerful and fragile and sad. I felt they were there, just waiting, trying to understand us. I could visualise them in their millions under the water – Naomi Hart.

Llistening to the fishers at Lympstone was a real highlight. From them I got a much better understanding of how and where mussels live, and what is needed in order for them to be re-established in the Exe Estuary. The fishers also gave a glimpse us of their deep emotional connection with the sea that was quite moving – Gareth

Very freeing to sing openly to the sea!

Energised, hopeful, funny – come on spat!

 

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