Chapter in  A Lexicon for an Anthropocene Unseen. Edited by Anand Pandian and Cymene Howe. Punctum Books.

From the publisher’s webpage:


“The idea of the Anthropocene often generates an overwhelming sense of abjection or apathy. It occupies the imagination as a set of circumstances that counterpose individual human actors against ungraspable scales and impossible odds. There is much at stake in how we understand the implications of this planetary imagination, and how to plot paths from this present to other less troubling futures. With Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon, the editors aim at a resource helpful for this task: a catalog of ways to pluralize and radicalize our picture of the Anthropocene, to make it speak more effectively to a wider range of contemporary human societies and circumstances. Organized as a lexicon for troubled times, each entry in this book recognizes the gravity of the global forecasts that invest the present with its widespread air of crisis, urgency, and apocalyptic possibility. Each also finds value in smaller scales of analysis, capturing the magnitude of an epoch in the unique resonances afforded by a single word.”


From time to time, the fishers’ catch would be covered in purple slime. Dead jellyfish stung as we sorted and cleaned the fish for the market. It rendered all but the largest fish inedible. Jellyfish blooms, the sudden, dense aggregation of a massive number of jellyfish, are not uncommon in so-called dead zones such as the polluted waters off the shores of Mumbai. They take up the dissolved oxygen and put a strain on the small scale fishing industry. Blooms are regarded as signs of a changing climate and as harbingers of the possibly “gelatinous future” (Attrill, Wright, and Edwards 2007) of the Earth’s oceans.

Jellyfish blooms are not new phenomena; we have empirical records of them reaching back to the 1870s, but it is difficult to pinpoint their specific causes and even harder to demonstrate that they are the direct result of a changing climate. Some scientists speculate that blooms may be part of a larger “oscillation” in jellyfish populations (Condon et al. 2013). However, environmental factors such as water temperature and salinity are thought to serve as triggers for blooms, and changes caused by human activities such as overfishing and chemical pollution have been correlated with massive jellyfish aggregations (Purcell, Uye, and Lo 2007). What allows jellyfish to survive is their weed-like hardiness and their ability to self-replicate in massive numbers. They die down when conditions are unfavorable, only to explode when they are right (Gershwin 2013). These blooms are abrupt and unpredictable: imagine waking up one morning and finding your leather shoes covered in fungus, born of spores you didn’t even know were there, or waking up to a riot of flowers in springtime. Bloom is the operative word here, because it signifies the suddenness and the profusion that characterize such events. Bloom captures the dramatic leap between the singular and the many.