Photofusion Member | Jon Wyatt

The Sixth Extinction

The evolution of life on earth has been disrupted by five ‘mass extinction events’, the worst of which wiped out 95% of all life on earth. Suggested explanations range from massive volcanic activity to global climatic fluctuations and meteorite impacts. Whatever the cause, the outcome is always rising carbon dioxide levels. Present day inflated carbon dioxide levels and species extinction rates have led scientists to conclude that the planet is currently experiencing a sixth mass extinction event.

© Ploughed Field, Marcross, from the series ‘The Sixth Extinction’

In 2011 the world’s leading authorities on mass extinction events converged on the UK’s westcountry. Apparently the latest clues to these events lay in the rocks and fossil record of the cliffs and foreshores of North Somerset. More precisely, in an inch thick layer of buff-coloured limestone that is rarely exposed in the strata of the cliffs. A line below which life teemed, but above which half the planet’s species simply vanished. Darwin’s theory of gradual natural selection has been mitigated by a new and violent random element – scientists call it ‘contingency’. Others might call it pure dumb luck.

The local news reports seemed quaintly incongruous – geologists investigating these cataclysmic extinction events on a local beach – armed only with rock hammers and some plastic bags. Close to my birthplace, the location was one I knew well and I resolved to shadow the scientists as they tried to solve the 200 million year old mystery. Exploring the locations of their research led me first to a meteorite crater in western France, then to the coastlines of North Somerset and South Wales. Echoing the actions of the scientists as they scrape away layers of the local geology, I record traces of the often violent decay of the local ecosystems and habitats. Traces that remain as new layers of evidence for future paleontologists, clues to future mass extinction events.

Huangshan Ltd

Huangshan, (literally ‘Yellow Mountain’), is one of China’s most iconic national monuments. A range of mountains consisting of 72 granite peaks, the ‘Mount Huangshan Scenic Area’ covers an area of nearly 300 and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its scenery and role as a habitat for rare and threatened species. It’s known to the Chinese as ‘the number one mountain under heaven’ and is a potent cultural and spiritual symbol, inspiring centuries of painters, poets and scholars.

© Untitled II, from the series Huangshan Ltd

The Mount Huangshan Scenic Area is privately owned and managed by the ‘Huangshan Tourism & Development Company Ltd’ and is listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. China’s decades of rapid economic reforms and the unwillingness of central government to allocate money and resources to such areas has led to this process of privatization. It’s a model that is being widely replicated for other iconic spiritual and historic sites, from Shaolin temples to sections of the Great Wall.

Below is a selection of images from both of the above projects…

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