Aarhus University Seal

Invasive species in and beyond the Atlantic Ocean (Heather Swanson)

My subproject in BLUE focuses on the ecological effects of increasing ocean industrialization. In a time when air transport is coming under increasing critique (due to CO2 emissions), ocean shipping and marine travel are increasingly presented as eco-friendly options. Yet the ecological impacts of marine transport are far from benign. I study how global shipping causes new species introductions by tracing the organisms that hitch-hike on the hulls and in the ballast water of ships that pass through the Atlantic Ocean. Ship-borne species transfers are not new: scientists first observed a bloom of Asian phytoplankton in the North Sea in 1903. But with the exponentially elevated shipping levels driven by the transnational economic configurations since the late 20th century, such challenges have been greatly amplified. Using multi-sited, more-than-human research methods in combination with research on trade and political economy, I track growing concern in the Atlantic region about aquatic invasive species. At present, I am collaborating with artist Sonia Levy to explore how global trade and ecological change intersect within England’s canals and ports, as well as within the Venetian Lagoon. In addition to academic publications, we are also developing artistic works, including Creatures of the Lines, with the support of arts organizations, such as Radar Loughborough and TBA21. Overall, this water-centered research builds on my previous experience in the study of multispecies assemblages in Japanese fisheries.