In his book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the poor Rob Nixon’s introduces the concept of slow violence which describes a violence that is not immediate, volatile or erupted but a  gradual and incremental atrophy(Nixon 2011:2). Slow violence is characteristically spread over a period of time and space and widely disseminated. Furthermore Nixon highlights that we live in a world that glorifies and feeds on fast-paced explosive violence such as tsunami’s or genocides. As a society we are desensitized to images of pollution-it is nothing new, not unexpected. We are met with gratuitous images every day; images of decapitated and severed tree corpses,  scarred and lacerated skin of earth caused by soil erosion, the battered and bruised earth suffering at the actively violent fist of humanity confront us. However due to the slow nature of this violence which doesn’t conjure effects we can immediately see, it is largely suppressed and ignored.

Nixon poses the problem in conveying the image and narrative of slow violence in a manner that is impactful (Nixon 2011:3). Nixon asserts that we tend to only be ethical about that which we see (2011:14). The aim of this blog post is to make visible the often unseen and invisible detrimental effects of ocean pollution such as oil spills and biomagnification.

Oil spillage occurs due to the leakage of petroleum from a pipe, vehicle or storage. When humans are involved oil spills usually occur from drilling rigs and offshore platforms (Rinkesh [Sa] ) Pictures of poisoned marine animals often upset viewers because the violence and casualty is immediate. However the effects of oil spills are ongoing and still in the process of affecting marine life and biodiversity .Biomagnification refers to the accumulation of pollutants (for instance mercury) in organisms which increases as one proceeds up the food chain. For example fish containing mercury will be consumed by a predator containing greater mercury levels(Biomagnification [Sa]).

Different images of violence compete with each other and that which is most compelling, hard-hitting and claims the most victims grabs the viewer.  This blog aims to convey the narrative of the extended and gradual violence of ocean pollution by packaging it in a four image photo essay, in order to arouse and sustain attention. I deliberately chose to compare ocean pollution with a violence that is more immediate and situations that are personal and relatable in order to bring the message home.



Figure 1: Rainbow Oil on Water. feedmegrapes. Tumblr.  2013.

rainbow bruising

Figure 2 : Rainbow Bruise. Scoopthegoop. Reddit.2015



Figure 3: Fish and corals. Pretoria Zoo Aquarium. 2012. Photograph by author.


Figure 4: Chemical life and plastic reef. 2016. Photograph by author.

Rainbows generally connote positive feelings.  Biblically it is a sign of hope after the storm; in South Africa it evokes the idea of rainbow nation and diversity. The beautiful iridescence that occurs naturally in the environment is striking, for example in clams, shells and the feathers of the peacock.  However, when oil meets water the rainbow turns ominous and reflects the rainbow of a bruised body. Oil spillage reflects lack of diversity and the mutilation and assault of marine life. The rainbow coloured bruise reflecting of the oil on the ocean’s surface is a symbol of bruised tissue under the surface of the ocean skin. This damaged matter includes the marine life and organisms that comprise the ocean body.

Additionally we see the natural rainbow occurring within the ocean-the beautiful multi-coloured coral reefs and fish. Upon closer look marine life can be replaced with chemicals and coral reefs with colourful plastic.  We consume so many products that ensure that we as humans are a healthy, functioning and advanced society whilst depleting the earth’s resources. We consume from the ocean which acts as both our food resource and waste container. All the chemicals and waste which are by -products of our consumption gets pumped back into the ocean which  is consumed and absorbed by marine life. Thus as organisms at the top of the food chain we consume the very waste that we dump in the ocean.

It is imperative that we invent narratives which raises awareness of the urgency of slow violence. Despite the lack of immediate casualties and visible effects, the earth is riddled with wounds indicating a slow and torturous decay. Before we are surprised by an explosive death, apprehension of this slow violence must be instilled. This can be done with short, fast paced and impactful images, symbols and narratives that provoke the same pressure that accompanies instantaneous violent events.

The ocean and the marine life are involuntary guinea pigs of human activities- we are effectively pumping the ocean full of chemicals and poisoning ourselves in the process. The Rainbow on the ocean does not symbolise diversity and hope, it is a warning of a bruised and poisoned earth body.



Biomagnification – Biomagnification And Food-web Accumulation, Biomagnification Of Some Inorganic Chemicals, Biomagnificaiton Of Some Chlorinated Hydrocarbons. [Sa]. [O]. Available:

Accessed 23 April 2016

Feedmegrapes. 2013. Rainbow oil on water [O]: Available:

Accessed 23 April 2016

Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Rinkesh. Oil Spill. [Sa]. [O]. Available:

Accessed 23 April 2016

 Scoopthegoop.2015.  Rainbow Bruise. [O].  Available:

Accessed 23 April 2016





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