Update on Searching for the Ghosts of the Gulf with Brandon Ballengée

September 2, 2022

Searching for the Ghosts of the Gulf brings artist, biologist and educator Brandon Ballengée to A Studio in the Woods for a community-based residency with Plaquemines Parish coastal communities. Through participatory art and science, this project is exploring missing Gulf of Mexico fish species with youth, fishermen, and community members that are themselves under threat.

Since our last update in February, Brandon has continued hosting workshops in Plaquemines Parish schools with a goal of reaching every child in the parish. In these workshops, Brandon presents on evolutionary adaptation in fishes and how skilled they are at adapting to changes in their environment. He encourages students to consider ways we might adapt to rising seas, sinking land, warming, and other changes to climate and our environment. The students are then able to examine and draw actual Gulf fish specimens. One group of students at Phoenix High School were so inspired that they independently proposed collaborating on a coloring book of Gulf of Mexico species for younger students and an art show at next year’s Orange Festival – a beloved Plaquemines community event.

Even though they are surrounded by water – open Gulf of Mexico marshlands sit on one side and the Mississippi River on the other – many students in Phoenix shared that they haven’t been in the marshes, boated on the water, nor gone fishing. Historically students’ families would have had boats for shrimping, collecting oysters and commercial fishing, but the impacts of repeated hurricanes over time have destroyed almost all these vessels. So, to support these students in reconnecting with their environment and cultural history Brandon took them fishing! Sponsored by Couvillion Group and with the help of Tulane University faculty and four dedicated charter captains, Brandon took the 2022 Phoenix High School graduating class out in search of Ghosts of the Gulf. They caught fish to take home and eat with their families and had a great day out on the water.

Brandon has also continued hosting workshops for both invited groups and the public onsite at the Tulane University Biodiversity Research Institute (TUBRI) Royal D. Suttkus Fish Collection, the largest preserved fish collection on the planet with 9 million + specimens!  These programs include a tour of this unique fish collection with particular attention to endemic Gulf species. Through drawing and discussion, the group then explores the rich ecology of the region and how we can adapt to our changing environment.

Want to get involved? You’ve got options!

  • Join Brandon for a workshop at TUBRI on Saturday, September 24
  • Catch him hosting a workshop at Shake Your Trail Feather in Breaux Bridge on Saturday, October 22
  • Join Brandon and Atelier de la Nature on Saturday, October 29 for their annual Halloween Art and Nature Festival
  • Mark your calendar for FishSTOCK, a festival dedicated to fish species not seen since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, on March 25, 2023