Ocean Currents

Of Blues Riffs and Blue Reefs


Today’s guest blog comes from Ocean Conservancy board member, Dr. Stephen Palumbi. 

In May of 2016 Natural History New Zealand filmmakers, Stanford University researchers, and a traveling electric violinist stepped onto the radioactive shores of Bikini Atoll. Almost exactly 70 years after Operation Crossroads detonated atom bomb Gilda over ships moored in the lagoon, the crew was there to explore the long term fallout of 23 atomic tests in the remote Marshall Islands atoll. Shown in this month’s PBS special ‘Big Pacific’, Professor Steve Palumbi spearheaded the effort to sample marine life from various islands and reefs that lined underwater atomic craters, to reveal how marine life had recovered from the nuclear testing. Genetic tests by graduate student Elora Lopez will delve into the damage that radiation has caused in the past for long lived corals. Even crabs were sampled—especially coconut crabs that eat virtually nothing but coconuts that still soak up deadly radiation from contaminated ground water.   

But there was a different voice on the expedition: explorer, singer songwriter, and electric violinist Razz tied the United States musical heritage into the historical significance of Bikini by bringing the classic song Cross Road Blues to the site of Operation Crossroads. The iconic Robert Johnson blues tune speaks of a deal with the devil made at the crossroads for fame and fortune. Her live performance footage in one of the most inaccessible locations in the world highlights the cost of making cross road deals that seem worth it – but only at the time. Palumbi’s research seeks to understand the hidden costs still lurking in the surviving ecosystem’s DNA—Razz’ music video, with her haunting electric virtuosity, smoky vocals and lightening blues riffs, pulls up the human cost of our decisions. 

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