My family’s favorite games is bananagrams. For the woefully uninitiated, this game is similar to scrabble insofar as there are lettered tiles that players use to spell out words. But, in bananagrams, there is no board, no triple-letter-score, no set framework upon which words must be spelled out. Each player uses their own tiles to create a personalized assemblage of interconnecting words which, as more letters are drawn, can be reconfigured in any number of possible ways. The game is customizable, modular at every scale. You can move whole pieces of your grid to another, more convenient location. A single letter can shift to open up more space in a desired spot. You can deconstruct the whole thing and start over with your amassed tiles. The key is that you must remain open to change; be willing to assess the tiles you have before deciding how they all best fit together. It is about zooming in and out as the game requires and recognizing that the entire configuration can change at the pull of a letter. Which is cool, but how does it relate to aquaculture? Why am I sharing my family’s obsession with this board game? Because I’ve noticed that my Watson year is functioning a lot like a large, year-long game of bananagrams. This year/my project are modular on a variety of scales, from regions of the world, to distinct countries, to distinct local environments, etc. And as I have new experiences, developing new perspectives and understanding of aquaculture, I continually rearrange the “modules” of my year to best understand what I’ve collected.
As my time in New Zealand comes (way too quickly) to an end, I can’t help but reflect on how I’ve currently configured my Watson year. What structures I’ve used to anchor the past three months; Where I’ve seen the assemblage I brought with from Thailand begin to shift. When I arrived in New Zealand, I hoped to spend my time between salmon, mussel, and oyster farming. These being the three, dominant species farmed in the country, it made sense to try and get a feel for all three of them; to understand their connective and distinctive relationships. In the expectedly unexpected spirit of the Watson, my time in New Zealand began to take on a distinct salmon flavor. I worked on a salmon farm in the Canterbury region for almost half of my time in the country, visited salmon farms on Stewart Island, and my experiences primarily revolved around salmon farming.
I planned to spend my last few weeks in New Zealand near the Marlborough Sounds, arguably the epicenter of aquaculture in the country with over 60% of all New Zealand salmon and mussels originating from the waters of the sounds. The main pull to the region was the potential to visit one more salmon farm, the largest and arguably most technologically advanced. It felt like the logical next step in my largely salmonid experiences here.
In the expectedly unexpected spirit of the Watson, my arrival in the Marlborough Sounds heralded a new direction for my project. As soon as I arrived in the sounds, my contacts at New Zealand King Salmon told me it would be impossible to visit their farms. With that door closed, I cobbled together a distinctly salmon-free itinerary. I was able to arrange a visit to Greenshell mussel farms, a mussel processing plant, speak with a coastal scientist, and join a local government official on two site visits. Although not what I’d planned, I had the chance to observe mussel aquaculture from start to finish and to have multiple discussions about aquaculture within the context of local government. The biggest impression of my time came from understanding the Marlborough Sounds as multi-use space. I had a chance to see how farmers, home-owners, government officials, and scientists perceived and approached the challenge of marine farming in the region. I had a chance to step away from the technical aspects of fish farming and think about more abstract relationships between different groups, water space, land use, and historical context. Suffice to say that this unexpected turn did not leave me bereft of ideas to process.
The Watson Foundation often talks about “leaving yourself open to possibility”. As someone naturally inclined to plan everything down to the smallest detail, it took me quite a few stumbles to realize that this did not actually mean “plan nothing and hope for something to come your way”. As in bananagrams, I still have to make plans, process information, give myself a direction to grow and develop. And, as in banangrams, I have to be willing to depart from carefully crafted plans when I don’t “draw the right letters” and new experiences throw my current assemblage of ideas into disarray. There are still ways that I can connect all my experiences together, although they may require significant reworking of my thoughts. These past 3 weeks, and the past 7 months more generally, have been a constant discourse between my project and I. About what I’m willing to rethink; when guiding principles become better organized along the periphery and tangential thoughts become central tenets. It is almost guaranteed that Chile will throw everything into dizzying disarray once again. But at seven months in, I’ve come to expect and welcome the madness of this journey. The Watson year, like a long-game of bananagrams, has been the most challenging, most rewarding, and most exciting when I find myself reconfiguring everything.
I’m currently sitting on a wealth of photos, notes, and interview recordings that I am trying my best to compile into forms that do them justice. I photo-documented the full process of Greenshell mussel aquaculture on instagram, so please take a look here for some more technical, in-depth commentary on the process as I work my way through my notes. So, for now I’ll leave you with these thoughts, apromise of more to come (hopefully sooner rather than later), and a photo of the breathtaking Marlborough Sounds