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WRITING THE OCEANDark Mountain Project

Dark Mountain Project
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As the world’s oceans, lands, humans and more-than-humans struggle to adapt to – or even survive – climactic breakdown, many of us feel powerless to stem the tide of destruction, to fix the damage, to find solutions for living and thriving on a planet that is bearing the brunt of our appetite for her resources.

Fifteen years ago, the Dark Mountain manifesto was published. At the time it was described as ‘a flag raised so that we can find one another, a point of departure, rather than a party line. An invitation to a larger conversation that continues to take us down unexpected paths.’ These paths are still being walked, and shaped by our readers and contributors. Over the years, in our biannual journals and online, Dark Mountain has published art and writing from every continent on the globe – from land protectors, activists, farmers, and myriad artists and writers whose journeys have led their work onto our pages. The manifesto was not only an invitation to join the conversation, but a call for makers of all kinds:

‘We believe that artists – which is to us the most welcoming of words, taking under its wing writers of all kinds, painters, musicians, sculptors, poets, designers, creators, makers of things, dreamers of dreams – have a responsibility to begin the process of decoupling. We believe that, in the age of ecocide, the last taboo must be broken – and that only artists can do it.’

Our 26th anthology – Dark Ocean – will take the ocean as its theme. We are welcoming submissions from across the ‘seven seas’ of the ancient and modern world, from the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, Antarctic, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, from the North to the South China seas, the Black and the Red Seas. The oceans of deep time and the imagination.

We are also seeking, in this time of increasing marine disruption, where best to place our attention in the briny vastness most of us only encounter at its fraying edges. Looking to the horizon, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed by a tsunami of facts: climate breakdown and ocean acidification have resulted in the bleaching of 90% of the world’s coral reefs, the disappearance of 90% of large fish from our voracious human appetite, the poisoning of mangroves by shrimp farms, the destruction of sea beds for shellfish; these planetary mutations have led to jellyfish blooms, algae blooms, seabird populations crashing in the Hebrides, whales washing up in their hundreds in New Zealand, mutilated sharks, diseased wild salmon, and the presence of plastic in every sea, in our own bodies. We are caught in this predatory civilisation, like turtles in a dragnet

In many ways it is the responses of activists at sea that perhaps best define the modern ecological pushback against industrial extractivism. Since Greenpeace first intervened in the relentless whaling of the 1970’s, plucky small vessels have defied the goliath trawlers, oil rigs and nuclear testing sites, from the Aleutian Islands to Antarctica. Some of the interventions are physically daunting and dramatic, garnering attention across the world, other actions smaller, more local. It is hard to forget the shocking images of oil-slicked seabirds – victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the volunteers who spent days trying, often in vain, to clean these birds.


Grebe Victim of San Francisco Oil Spill, 1971 by Ilka Hartman (from Dark Mountain: Issue 20 –ABYSS) © Ilka Hartmann 2019


Running parallel to the narrative of destruction however is another story. Initiatives spanning the restored coral reefs of Tutuila in American Samoa to the replanting of seagrass meadows along UK coastlines, to federally protected marine sanctuaries in the San Francisco estuary and eelgrass meadows in Virginia to the Windara Reef in South Australia – these have shown us that the act of imagining what a healthy ocean and shoreline could look like is as important as documenting its depredation.

In many cases what is being striven for is space and time for the life of the ocean to restore itself, a process that can happen more quickly in the sea than on land. To allow this in ourselves requires a letting go of control and an imaginal encounter with the wild unknown. To see in our mind’s eye the seagrass meadows connected with the kelp forests, leading to the mussel beds and oyster reefs and be able to envision the myriad lifeforms growing and thriving in these habitats. It is not enough to witness the destruction; we need also to be alive to the stories of regeneration.

What if our stories began again here, by and in the sea? What if they took us to a state of being where we can hold the dark ocean as well as the light that plays on its surface, where we can weather the tsunami and still love the elements that give us life. Maybe what the world needs is not more facts, but people with their salty bodies and souls intact, their eyes and imaginations wide open.

How might we regain an elemental kinship with the salty biome that sustains life on Earth? How might we create with and for the sea, in dialogue and exchange? What can we give in return?


Since 2009, Dark Mountain has been a home for ‘uncivilised’ writing and artwork that faces the reality of the planet’s unravelling, and that tries to chart new paths through the changing map before us.


Call to action: send in your submission to Dark Mountain’s October edition Dark Ocean by Monday 13 May. Your entry can be non-fiction, fiction, artwork, poetry, photo essays, portraits, interviews, recipes, testimonies – as well as contributions that might not fit any of those categories. Read the Manifesto for an idea of the uncivilised writing and art we might be seeking, and for details on what and how to submit, please read our submissions guidelines and fill in the online form.