Scientists, divers, and underwater photographers teamed up to document the disappearance of coral reefs in the Netflix film Chasing Coral. The shocking images captured by the team give viewers an unparalleled look at the rapid decline of corals across the globe.
Richard Vevers, founder and CEO of The Ocean Agency, developed the project in an effort to expose the magnitude of the coral crisis. He assembled a team to capture footage of a massive coral bleaching event, enlisting the help of Director Jeff Orlowski after viewing his 2012 documentary Chasing Ice.
In Chasing Coral, coral bleaching is described as a “phenomenon directly attributed to climate change” that has only been seen in recent years. Beginning in the 1980’s, large portions of coral began to turn white. The scientists explain this was not due to disease but to rising ocean temperatures. During the bleaching process, the corals attempt to get rid of algae that are not functioning properly and basically starve themselves by eliminating their main food source.
Dr. Ruth Gates is a coral reef biologist that expresses “the utmost respect for corals.” She describes the fascinating composition of the animals and compares their complexity to that of human beings, saying that corals choose to be “really sophisticated in a quiet way.” Dr. Gates explains that coral bleaching is a stress response much like fever is a stress response in humans.
Corals have many other species that depend on them in a type of “neighborhood” setting. According to the film, corals are essentially the nursery for 25 percent of life in the ocean.
For the project, the team managed to quickly develop cameras that could survive the stressors of being underwater and transmit images wirelessly to the researchers. Two months after the cameras were deployed, however, the experts discovered they were out of focus.
The team then travelled to the Great Barrier Reef, where they resorted to manually capturing underwater time-lapses. They ultimately selected two of the hottest locations where coral bleaching was certain to be taking place. At a site called Lizard Island, most of the reef turned to barren rock face in a matter of two months.
Underwater camera technician Zack Rago says his infatuation with corals dates back to childhood. While he realized the heat wave they were documenting was going to be “nothing short of catastrophic for the coral,” he was still not prepared for the devastation he witnessed firsthand in his emotionally grueling dives on the Great Barrier Reef.
The footage is an alarming testament to the strain placed on marine ecosystems by rising ocean temperatures. The researchers point out that the majority of the impact of global climate change is occurring within Earth’s oceans. 93 percent of the heat trapped from greenhouse gases is absorbed by the ocean, and this film provides irrefutable evidence of the destruction that results.
50 percent of the world’s corals died in the last 30 years. In 2016, 29 percent of the corals of the Great Barrier Reef were lost in a single year. According to Dr. Gates, global warming at the current rate will result in the “eradication of an entire ecosystem in our lifetime.”
Despite the fact that over half a billion people rely on coral reefs for their main source of food and income, the experts explain that it is difficult to make people realize the gravity of this issue. Vevers says that one of the biggest problems is that the ocean “is completely out of sight, out of mind.” He reminds us, “Without a healthy ocean, we do not have a healthy planet.”
Source: Chasing Coral