Author Archives: Pablo Aguilera Del Castillo

I am a Ph.D student in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. My work explores environmentalism in the Yucatan Peninsula and the generation of knowledge of environmental degradation.
The close-up photograph shows in detail the structure of the thallus, leaves, and air-filled vesicles of the brownish-yellow algae that make it float on the sea while it moves across the Atlantic Ocean. The image shows some of the very same morphological features of the algae discussed by marine biologists when trying to figure out the taxonomy of the algae.

The Sargassum Question

Sitting in her office, I could smell the sharp scent of hydrogen sulfide coming from the beach. She turned to me, paused for a second and proceeded to say with a seriousness in her tone that I hadn’t anticipated: The ecosystem that I have been studying all my life is now disappearing in a matter of weeks. Sargasso was once confined to the limits of the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean. As an ecological system, the Sargasso Sea has no land boundaries and its biological containment relies entirely on a delicate balance of ocean currents. Unlike other ecosystems, it lends itself to an almost poetic reimagination of what an ecosystem is. On the West, the sea bounded by Gulf Stream; on the North, by the North Atlantic Current; on East by the Canary Current; and on the South by the North Equatorial Current. It was first described by Cristopher Columbus in 1492 during his journey to the Americas. Ever since, its origins and movements across the Atlantic Ocean have been a source of debate and wonder. It wasn’t until 1834 that the German botanist Meyen F. J. F. proposed the idea that sargassum was an ecosystem entirely independent of any land, a floating ecosystem. He was also the first person who suggested that sargassum reproduces itself in the middle of the ocean instead of coming from any given territory (Deacon, 1942). (read more...)