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Report from the Littoral Zone

September 16, 2018

Few of us wish to venture inside mangroves with good reason.

Mangroves are perceived as dark smelly places full of mosquitos. Nothing is solid. Tidal waters cover mud flats booby-trapped with spikey aerial roots. Twisting ghostly trees full of snakes and spiders bend to a deafening roar of a million cicadas. As a result mangroves remain mysterious and little understood by the public.

Artist and academic, Dr Kurt Brereton, grew up in this littoral zone caught between land and sea. As a teenager in 1970s his first drawings, photographs and paintings explored the wetlands and sand dunes of the far north coast of NSW. Since recently moving to Currarong, Kurt has refocused his attention on our local coastal habitat in a major new exhibition at the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum & Gallery.

Indigenous peoples have always valued the mangroves as finely balanced life sustaining food baskets. Europeans, by contrast, have been busy erasing these precious ecosystems in favour of golf courses, industrial complexes and housing estates.

Now the latest scientific research tell us that mangroves are complex vital organs of environmental health and survival. They act like huge livers and kidneys filtering pollutants. The forests of tangled roots serve as nurseries protecting young fish, crabs and prawns. During cyclones and tsunamis, it is the mangroves that hold back the devastating impact of storm surges. Recent studies also reveal that mangroves are giant blue carbon storage sinks.

Green carbon is stored in trees for up to a hundred years. Blue carbon from ancient plant and algae matter is trapped and stored in the ground for thousands of years. Mangroves store carbon 40 times faster than trees can. Destroying mangroves speeds up global warming and sea rise rates. Our future may depend on the survival of wetlands just as much as tropical rain forests.

Kurt Brereton says he wants gallery visitors to gain a sense of being inside the mangroves. He has constructed an installation that projects both the wonders of weird plants and bizarre creatures and the loss of endangered local shore birds. One wall text asks why “it seems that we only take notice of rare species just as they begin to disappear before our eyes.”

Kurt Brereton, Entering the Mangroves, 122 x 168cm. oil on canvas, 2018
Kurt Brereton, Entering the Mangroves, 122 x 168cm. oil on canvas, 2018

This exhibition employs a rich dynamic combination of media including video, sculpture, painting and embroidery to stitch us into Brereton’s vision of the Shoalhaven coast.

Report From the Littoral Zone opens at 1pm, Saturday 8th September – all are welcome. The exhibitin ends November 25th. 

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