Inspire future young shoalers by supporting Acid Horizon

Have you heard about Acid Horizon? If you haven’t yet, there’s no time better than now.  Learn how you can help a group of our very own shoalers share an important and visually stunning message about one of the major threats facing our oceans (click here or like it on Facebook). First watch the video below and then read on.

Dr. Erik Cordes (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Dr. Erik Cordes with Alvin in the background (Photo courtesy of Erik Cordes).

Awesome right? Today we’re lucky to present an interview with Temple University Assistant Professor Dr. Erik Cordes, who specializes in the ecology of cold-seep and deep coral communities, about his work examining the impacts of ocean acidification. A Star Island Corporation Board Member, he’s enlisted the help of life-long Star Island friends Kurt Langer and Ivan Hurzeler to film his cruise in the Gulf of Mexico next April-May on the E/V Nautilus and the dives he’ll be making in the well-known deep sea submersible Alvin.

The dives will give him firsthand evidence on how the deep sea corals he studies have been able to better withstand the changing chemistry of the ocean. Now I know it’s hard to think about how ocean acidification might impact our time on Star Island. Dr. Cordes, who traces his love of the ocean to growing up on Star, explains:

Ocean acidification is going to impact everyone’s life in the near future, if it isn’t already. This past year saw the fewest young oysters settling in Washington state in history. In the Gulf of Maine, ocean acidification will result in increases in disease in lobsters. No one wants to see lobster night affected! (Except maybe some waitrae). The problem in the deep sea is that we are just beginning to understand just how connected it is to the surface.

But to get this message out (more from Dr. Cordes on ocean acidification below) and make the full-length film, they need our help raising funds. They’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign which has only 24 days left. (Kickstarter is a way independent artists fund their creative projects by reaching out to their own communities). As part of their campaign, the filmmaker’s shared with us this appeal to the Star Island community for your help:

A film like this has the potential to inspire young people (and future shoalers) to be better stewards of our oceans and the world’s climate. (The Sundance Film Festival agrees, recenty featuring it on their web site.) Just listen to how the film’s producer and Star Island Corporation Member Kurt Langer describes it:

This is a film we are very proud of because it not only informs the public about Ocean Acidification, but tells a riveting story about the perils of deep-sea exploration and what that means for the scientists and their families.  We will be capturing images from the abyss that no one has ever seen before, and at the same time we’ll be painting an intimate portrait of one of our fellow Shoalers.

Clearly the Star Island connection is very important to the filmmakers. Langer adds:

In a very real sense, this film is a product of Star Island.  All three of us (Erik, Ivan and myself) have been going out to Star since we were in kindergarten.  Our love of the ocean and our sense of responsibility for its well-being are values that we learned on Star.  We know that every Shoaler reading this feels the same sense of stewardship, and that’s what makes Star Island such a special community and unique backdrop for portions of our film.

Continue reading


Sustainable Star

Just finished one of our weekly discussions about sustainability and Star Island. It went quite well. I’m always inspired by the hard work it takes to navigate organizations and regulatory agencies to actually create change on the ground. Star Island is in the midst of trying to go off diesel as an energy source and onto a mixed system of solar, propane, and conservation. Most of the skeptics have been won over but the devil is in the details…and the details aren’t finished yet. Jack Farrell has done an impressive job of navigating the issues and keeping the community informed.

I’m presuming that this initiative will be successful and lay a foundation for Star Island’s immediate future but deeper specters haunt my dreams. Sustainability as it is usually applied looks at systems and energy flows (sometimes fiscal flows are used as a proxy) within a specified domain. As we increase this to a broader universe externalities become internal. Star is an island in many ways. It stands apart from many cultural norms and tries to sustain certain values in the modern world. Nonetheless it is a part of the modern world and will be swept along with it. This is not the Isle of Iona where some say Christianity survived the collapse of European civilization. Although perhaps in some ways it is. We who have been touched by this place can carry its message into the world.

The big question is what is the message we bring. I don’t think it’s anything specific. There are threads of learning that run through all the conferences. Lessons that are learned through sharing in community, cooperatively working together to create a shared experience. For a week we live on an island and create magic together. How do we bring that magic home? How do we make it last a year? What is in the secret sauce that we can bring back to our communities? I know there’s something there but wouldn’t want to define the what (I think it’s different for everyone), I’m more interested in the how.

Because in the long run of our children’s or grandchildren’s lives we will probably have to give up this island. If sea levels rise too much, no amount of capital spending will preserve us. To make Star truly sustainable we need to make it portable. I do believe that is the task of the next generation of Shoalers.

Please comment with your own ideas of how we might do this.

Live from a research cruise on the Vessel Nautilus

Hi, this is Erik Cordes, writing live from sea on the Exploration Vessel Nautilus. Come check us out online here:


My early time on Star Island, from the age of 8, greatly influenced my future career choice of marine biology. I spent most of my time below the high tide line lifting up algae to look for crabs, searching tide pools for sticklebacks, and turning over periwinkle shells to check for hermit crabs. Any treasures that were discovered made their way to Rutledge Marine lab, where I quickly became friends with the naturalist that summer. Once I graduated from conferee to Pelican, and high school to college, it only took a few years to become the naturalist myself. Through graduate school, I often returned to Star and made my way into the marine lab to see how things were going. I eventually volunteered for the Rutledge Marine Lab committee as I became a conferee once more. Now I have the pleasure of sharing the marine lab with my children, watching their interests begin to mirror my own.

In my off-Island life, I am a Professor of Biology at Temple University, and I am currently the Chief Scientist on a research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico. I am leading this cruise as part of a large research consortium called ECOGIG, which is focused on determining the fate and effects of the oil and gas released during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. On this cruise, we will be visiting a number of sites where we have found impacted deep-sea coral communities on the sea floor. When we return to these sites, we will be checking up on corals that we have marked to see if they are recovering from the damage of the spill, or if their health is continuing to decline. We will collect some of the deep-water corals for ship-board experiments on their physiology and the effects of oil exposure. We will also be taking water and sediment samples with our remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and alongside another ship, the RV Endeavor, to look at the impact of natural oil seeps on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico.


The most exciting thing about this cruise is that you can all follow along with us live! We will be on board the Exploration Vessel Nautilus using the ROV Hercules, and every minute of our time on the seafloor will be broadcast live on their website:  There will also be daily logs, interviews with the scientists and educators onboard, and all sorts of other exciting content. Please tune in and say hi when you can!