Dark Ocean – a call for submissions for Dark Mountain: Issue 26

Submissions are now open for Dark Mountain's 26th issue, a special issue that dives deep into the seven seas of the world and explores all dimensions of the salty biome in an era of industrial plunder, from microscopic plankton to the vast oceanic currents.
There are nine of us below deck, drawing up a map on a large piece of brown parcel paper. We are a crew of writers and artists on a boat called Merlin, anchored in a sea loch, on a voyage through the Outer Hebrides to explore the heart and imagination of the sea.

On one half of the map, we list what we love about the sea and on the other the facts about what is happening to it and all its creatures. There is a ring of chalk circles in the centre, marked self, kin, dreaming, that sits as an interface between them. We pick up coloured crayons and cover the paper at each end of the table with words. Then change places.

awe, wonder, metaphor, strength, transformation, space, presence, breath, immersion, dive, swim, nourishment, selkie, liminal, wild, life, horizon, salt, rhythm, sound, movement, connection, mystery, regeneration, home

acidification, microplastics, polar ice melt, deep sea mining, bottom trawling, dredging, naval warfare, sonic pollution, salmon farming, shark finning, oil spills, coral reef bleaching, migration drownings, tourism, cruise ships, container ships, culling, warming, SeaWorld, dead zones

Outside, the waves rock the basalt shore. The seals are singing as night falls. They sing to themselves, to us, to the soul of the world.


ATLANTIC Our Dark Ocean voyage made its way from Stornaway to Mallaig, hauling the mainsail in rain and wind and shine, dolphins leaping beside us, shearwaters flying past. We were exploring what our culture would be like if we bore the consequences of this devouring civilisation in mind. The vast and mysterious spaces of the sea have inspired storytellers throughout time, but what kind of regenerative work could be created now when the oceans of the world are so imperilled? What is our function as writer, artist, filmmaker; as witness, kin-maker, dreamer?

Crossing the Minch, Outer Hebrides by Mike Hembury
Pages from logbook for the Dark Ocean voyage by Geraldine van Heemstra

This issue of Dark Mountain will be following in the wake of the Merlin, past the rocky inlets and out into the deep blue. Seeking to find, in this time of increasing marine disruption, where best to place our attention in the briny vastness most of us only encounter at its fraying edges.

Looking to the horizon, chart in hand, it is hard not to feel powerless as the tsunami of facts on one side threatens the creaturehood and imagination on the other. Climate breakdown and ocean acidification have resulted in the bleaching of 90% of the world’s coral reefs, our voracious human appetite in the disappearance of 90% of large fish, the poisoning of mangroves by shrimp farms, the destruction of sea beds for shellfish; these planetary mutations have led to jellyfish blooms, algae blooms, seabird populations crashing in the Hebrides, whales washing up in their hundreds in New Zealand, mutilated sharks, diseased wild salmon, the last vaquita caught in an illegal net in the Bay of Cortez, bycatch of Chinese medicine makers in search of the swimbladder of the endangered totoaba.

We peer beneath the waves through camera goggles, watch starfish unfurling on Arctic seafloors and octopi switching form and colour as they merge into rocks. We gasp in astonishment. The watery world is ancient, beautiful, savage and remote. The presence of plastic in every sea, in our own bodies, shocks us – but our terrestrial lives are covered in it. Every machine we use, each product we buy, pours more toxins, more rubbish, more sewage into living waters. We are caught in this predatory civilisation, like turtles in a dragnet.

Mass stranding of merfolk, tangled in discarded trawler nets, washed up on a beach near the gathering of the G7 , Cornwall, 2021 by Ocean Rebellion


PACIFIC On another ocean far from land, a fishing trawler moves through the gut-wrenching swell. Unknown to its operations a camera is below deck, gathering images of its Hadean hold: greys and browns, blues and silvers, shining living bodies, blinking eyes; a blue tub full of flaccid pale pink livers destined for cosmetics, a pile of purple-grey bodies on the factory floor to be ground into fertiliser, as a small crew of filmmakers attempts to collect the soul-tearing scenes and stories of industrial fisheries in the southern ocean.

Grebe Victim of San Francisco Oil Spill, 1971 by Ilka Hartman (from Dark Mountain: Issue 20 –ABYSS) © Ilka Hartmann 2019

In many ways it is the responses of activists at sea that perhaps best define the modern ecological pushback against industrial extractivism. Since Greenpeace first intervened in the relentless whaling of the 1970’s, plucky small vessels have defied the goliath trawlers, oil rigs and nuclear testing sites, from the Aleutian Islands to Antarctica. Some of the interventions are physically daunting and dramatic, garnering attention across the world, other actions smaller, more local. It is hard to forget the shocking images of oil-slicked seabirds – victims of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and the volunteers who spent days trying, often in vain, to clean these birds.

Running parallel to the narrative of destruction however is another story. Initiatives spanning the restored coral reefs of Tutuila in American Samoa to the replanting of seagrass meadows along UK coastlines, to federally protected marine sanctuaries in the San Francisco estuary and eelgrass meadows in Virginia to the Windara Reef in South Australia have shown us that the act of imagining what a healthy ocean and shoreline could look like is as important as documenting its depredation.

In many cases what is being striven for is space and time for the life of the ocean to restore itself, a process that can happen more quickly in the sea than on land. To allow this in ourselves requires a letting go of control and an imaginal encounter with the wild unknown. To see in our mind’s eye the seagrass meadows connected with the kelp forests, next to the mussel beds and oyster reefs and be able to envision the myriad lifeforms growing and thriving in these habitats. It is not enough to witness the destruction; we need also to be alive to the stories of regeneration.

  Maybe what the world needs is not more facts, but people with their salty bodies and souls intact, their eyes and imaginations wide open.

What if our stories began again here, by and in the sea? What if they took us out into the unknown and also returned us to the always-known? To a state of being, where we can hold the dark ocean as well as the light that plays on its surface, where we can weather the tsunami and still love the elements that give us life. Maybe what the world needs is not more facts, but people with their salty bodies and souls intact, their eyes and imaginations wide open.

How might we regain an elemental kinship with the salty biome that sustains life on Earth? How might we create with and for the sea, in dialogue and exchange? What can we give in return?

On our Dark Ocean voyage we kept a log of our encounters with the fish, birds, winds, rocks and tides of the Western Isles, our exploration of the myths and narratives of the ancestral sea . Ceremony for the Blue Men of the Minch,’ returning a 2500 year old limpet shell to the sea by Cally Yeatman


For this issue, we open out this Dark Ocean inquiry to welcome testimonies from across the ‘seven seas’ of the ancient and modern world, from the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, Antarctic, from the Mediterranean to the Caribbean, from the North to the South China seas, the Black and the Red Seas. The oceans of deep time and the imagination.

Our book will be an uncivilised anchorage for the songs and soundings, stories and artwork that come in on the rising tides; from the rock pool to the abyssal zone; made of shell and driftwood and luminescence, wind and storm and bladderwrack; tales of estuaries and lighthouses; of surfers and seafarers, slave ships and trade routes, underwater cities, myths and ceremonies, the lives of all sea creatures from plankton and the seahorse to the great whales and ocean-roving birds.

We are interested in submissions of non-fiction, fiction, artwork, poetry, photo essays, portraits, interviews, recipes, testimonies – as well as contributions that might not fit any of those categories – all pieces that document and celebrate the ocean and human cultures that have arisen from the deep and the liminal places. As with all our anthologies, do read the Manifesto  for an idea of the uncivilised writing and art we might be seeking.

We look forward to seeing what you send us between now and May.


Dark Mountain: Issue 26 will be published on 15th October 2024. The deadline for submissions is Monday 13th May. For details on what and how to submit, please read our submissions guidelines and fill in the online form. Thanks! We cannot read or respond to work that does not fit within these guidelines.


MAIN IMAGE: Effie Paleologou
Horizon 2022
Archival pigment print, Hahnemühle photo rag
Is the sight of a steel forest on the horizon as seen here from the choppy waters of the North Sea a good or a bad omen? To send out the dove or not to send out the dove? Is harnessing the energy from wind proof of human ingenuity and a reason for hope or another example of the empty promises of progress? (from Dark Mountain: Issue 22 – ARK)

Effie Paleologou is a London-based visual artist, whose work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is held in collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens. Her new book Tales of Estrangement was published in August 2022 by Mack Publishing, London.


Our Dark Ocean expedition on Merlin ran from 8th-15th July 2023, organised by Sail Britain: the crew were: Oliver Beardon (skipper), Alexander McMaster (first mate), Charlotte Du Cann (Dark Mountain navigator), Hannah Close, Mike Henbury, Maralena Murphy, Mirja Timm, Geraldine van Heemstra, Cally Yeatman.


Dark Mountain: Issue 24 – Eight Fires

Our Autumn 2023 full colour edition is an ensemble exploration of the eight ceremonial fires of the year, celebrated in practices, stories, poetry and artwork.

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