Interview with Aquatic Sciences Student and Artist Alison Atchia
November 14, 2020. Photos courtesy Alison Atchia.
n my 21 years of writing for Notes from the Road, a fair number of artists have asked to use art and photos from my site as source art for their own art projects.
When Marine Biology student and Minnesota-native Alison Atchia reached out to me for permission to use one of my sketches as source art for an arm tattoo, I thought I should start documenting the lives of the artists who have reached out to me.
Tell me about what it means to you to be a Mauritian-American? How has this influenced your path in life?
My father was born and raised in Mauritius and moved to the US to study electrical engineering. My mother is from Minnesota. My parents got married in college and moved to Mauritius before having me. I lived there until I was about three years old and then we moved to the states.
Every couple years, we visit Mauritius and the family we have there including my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I have so many memories of our time visiting Mauritius and the stories my father has told me about his childhood on the reefs.
My favorite memories are from snorkeling the reefs and seeing the beautiful corals and fish. I remember swimming with dolphins in the bay and seeing whales while we ate snacks on the boat ride home. The time we spent in the biodiverse waters of Mauritius inspired my love for the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and PBS nature documentaries about the ocean.
I was also heavily inspired by the part of my childhood I spent in Minnesota. I used to love laying at the end of my grandparent's dock and peering down at the lake fish and turtles that would swim by. I think that all of these experiences together inspired my love and fascination for aquatic life. I have always been interested in what's beneath the surface.
What does a future that has clean and protected oceans look like? How do we get there?
As a Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences student, I am often trying to imagine a future with clean and protected oceans. I think that the creation of more marine protected areas (MPAs) around the globe could help lead us to a more hopeful future.
Studies show that MPAs conserve biodiversity and help act as an insurance policy to protect fished populations in the area. The creation of MPAs is a proactive strategy to combating the loss of fish populations and the destruction of marine habitats. A synergistic relationship between fisheries management and MPAs is the best hope we have to save species from overfishing. There are many other threats to marine life out there, but as a student studying spatial ecology, using MPAs to prevent the loss of marine life is what I am most concerned with.
Unfortunately, the state of the oceans can only marginally increase until climate change and pollution is addressed by all major countries. Without reducing fossil fuel emissions, temperatures will continue to rise leading to increases in sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification. The pollution of plastics and chemicals into our water is affecting the health of all marine life injuring and poisoning them. These issues must be addressed.
You are also an artist. Tell me about your hoop art and why you pursue images of endangered wildlife and marine scenes?
I love embroidery and have a small Etsy shop where I sell my marine themed hoop art. I donate 15% of all my sales to Oceana. I really enjoy stitching specific species, especially things that I haven't seen done before. I think art can be used to draw people's attention towards threatened or endangered species. I think it can also help show the beauty in unique species. I was shocked that my more unconventional pieces sold, but I am glad to see that I'm not the only one who likes glittery coelacanths and sparkly angler fish.
Why is the angelfish a special symbol for you?
Angelfish are one of my favorite fish to dive and snorkel with. They are beautiful, peaceful, and intelligent. When you initially approach them they are apprehensive, but with time and patience they warm up to you and let you observe them on the reef.
I love the way the angelfish's bodies move with the current, mirroring the movement of the sea fans they live amongst. They are just one of those species that make me smile every time I see them. I am so happy to have one tattooed on me now. Every time I look down at my arm, I see my little angelfish buddy cheering me on.