Play in regeneration

Human-fostered ecosystem and biological regeneration is vital and rewarding work. All over the world, people come together to create joy by nourishing the ecosystems around them – planting trees, fertilising the soil from fire, seaweed or compost. They’re even re-introducing lost species and allowing them to regenerate ecosystems to suit their needs. The work of nourishing the more-than-human world, when successful, is almost always seen as beneficial for physical and mental health. It is also extremely slow work, often taking years of precise and careful effort. Creative storytelling is a powerful tool in making the hard, slow work of caring for ecosystems a fun and magical experience.

This video has given me so much joy in lockdown.

The third zine for my imaginary menagerie series is inspired by the rewilding work done by Operation Crayweed who secure reproductive crayweed beds in areas that were once large underwater forests, but are now barrens. Crayweeds, when secured in complex and sturdy mesh, regrow and reproduce – which in turn provides habitat for all sorts of fish. There are a lot of stories which the primarily purpose is for science communication about this project. I want to create a story that stays true to the basic approach that the scientists are taking, but to use magic realist creatures that spark wonder not only about the research, but about the process of restoration itself.

Kelp Wallabies are an imaginary marsupial beaver (Thylocastor) who – much like the beaver – create complex underwater structures in the shallows of the Sydney coastline. Just like operation crayweed  they take reproductive strands and secure them in their structures. Kelp wallabies intentionally nourish the crayweed forests to feast on the fish who arrive to shelter in the weed.

This is an approach to imagining rewilding in a magic realist way, where the story is (mostly) ecologically consistent. It is aimed to create curiosity, where the drawer and the reader can get excited about Kelp Wallabies as an idea, and then realise that the ecological role that the Kelp Wallabies play is one that they can actively engage with. Play becomes one of the ways in which people can help Operation Crayweed. Science communication is important, but it is a very narrow reflection of the way that stories can engage with rewilding.

This goes back to one of my key predictions when I started the Imaginary Menagerie series, reflecting on my lived experience of PTSD treatments as away to engage with healing an extinction crisis. Science communication is a very important aspect of the diagnosis and treatment process of PTSD. It was always made clear to me what was going on in my brain and nervous system when I was experiencing different symptoms and approaches to treatment, whether it was cognitive behavioural, pharmaceutical, or psychosomatic treatments. However, the process of science communication was not the treatment itself. Much of the treatment worked on mindfulness (mind-body connection), visualisation and imagination. The skills I use to self-soothe now are usually some combination of these three things. The creative arts has a lot more to offer the extinction crisis than just science communication.

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