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Change and Survival



Muynak, Uzbekistan. The tide went out, and stayed out (photo courtesy BBC).



    The ships in the photo are derelict. Abandoned, though not at sea. Rather, it is the other way round: the sea has abandoned the ships. The context they were built to work within has evaporated. They are no longer suited to their circumstances and have been superseded by a cow.

    However, maybe they are being used for other purposes, such as shelter, storage, or even wildlife habitat. Perhaps they have been stripped of usable fittings and function as sources of scrap metal. They may have other uses as well. Certainly, for the BBC, they have been turned into evocative symbols of environmental ruin, a picture of desolation. And surely someone, somewhere, is using images like these as part of an appeal for regeneration funds.

    But what does the photo tell us about dereliction? Several things. Firstly, it tells us about changes of circumstance. It tells us that where there was once water (the Aral Sea), and a fishing industry, there is now scrub, and a cow, which may be part of an agricultural industry. Secondly, it tells us that the demise of one set opportunities has provided space for a different set of opportunities. Where there was once a complex system of water, aquatic life and human communities organised around them, there is now a complex system of dry land, sparse vegetation, a grazing animal and a human community organised around them. Thirdly, it tells us that the remnants of former circumstances are not wholly wasted. Whether or not the ships are used as material for shelter, as habitat, or scavenged for parts, they are useful in telling certain stories. There‚Äôs the story of environmental change, which contains stories of how the water disappeared and the effects that has. There are stories of economic and social change, as livelihoods and industries disappeared. There are political stories about powerful regimes diverting water, and other, not so powerful regimes trying to bring the water back. And there are stories of survival, of adaptation, by those who remain. In this regard, the photo shows what survives, and to a certain extent, how it survives.