The celebrity nature presenters have gone now. The camera lenses, machines and technologies, and the producers, have all departed. In the aftermath of overfilled overflow car parks (this is a good thing by the way) I walk into the RSPB Arne reserve for the first time without binoculars, and with a strong sense that something that is vitally important to all of the wildlife has been neglected and left unseen one again. The reserve is wonderful, a place where people seek to draw nature closer to them by using binoculars and spotting scopes but the limitations of these devices only allows the user to observe a small part of the life and diversity that actually exists here. Yes, the Dartford Warblers, Spoonbills, Sika Deer, the various trees, reptiles, spiders, and insects are incredible, but they are all macroscopic, and thus represent only a fraction of nature at the reserve. I carry lenses too, but mine, belong to a portable microscope. I’m looking for a kind of wildlife too, but of a type that is usually ignored because of our macroscopic bias, yet which underpins all else living here. I imagine that If I were to wave a wand that would, instantly and, magically, removed all of the microbiological life at Arne, that the reserve would rapidly become barren and devoid of all life.
I only spend a few hours at Arne but in this short amount of time my portable my microscope begins to reveal a normally invisible world, that in terms of wonder, diversity and activity, at least matches all of the life that we can usually see.
I first set my microscope up in the salty marsh close to the sea and sampled just a few micro litres of water from a briney pool.
Below is a series of videos that I took of a few micro litres of water in the pool at 400-times magnification. The elegant microorganisms that can be seen here are called diatoms and they represent major group of algae. A unique feature of diatom cells is that they are enclosed within a cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule, and so they seem to move like glass spaceships that are exploring invisible worlds. Diatoms are also a major group of Phytoplankton and thus make up the base of several important aquatic food webs. In a balanced ecosystem, they provide food for a wide range of sea creatures.
My next microscopic stop off was at a small pond next to a boardwalk. Again, I observed a just a few micro litres of the pond water but this time using 100-times magnification.
Below are two videos that I took of a few micro litres of water in the pool at 100-times magnification.
Again, the microscope reveals microscopic life. To reveal the extent of the activity of this usually invisible life in just a few micro litres of natural water, I’ve developed a novel process that rather than just recording micro-videos in real-time, records instead the paths taken by microscopic creatures under the microscope (see the images below). The images generated, result from the accumulation of the activity tracks of these usually invisible life forms and reveal the hugely complicated dynamic of their manifold activities and interactions. The process generates images that are in some sense similar to those of radioactive decay, or atomic particle collisions, as they are seen using cloud chambers.The process reveals another level of reality that is usually withheld from us, and it seems that our world is empowered by and vibrates to these microscopic wavelengths and frequencies.