Can We Live If Oceans Die?
Smart And Spicy
July 13, 2017
"Everything on our planet is connected and the fear is we're taking out a huge piece."
"Do do we need forests? Do we need trees? Do we need reefs?"
Do you care?
Coral reefs are dying. Everywhere.
Half a billion people - 500 million people - get food and medicine from coral reefs.
I just saw "Chasing Coral." I promise you'll think about this long after you see it; it's an adventure story.
Why you should care:
1. "Coral reefs are part of a huge ecosystem. If they disappear we're losing the life of the ocean. In 25 years the oceans will become too warm for coral reefs to survive. In our lifetime, we'll see the reduction of an entire ecosystem," the film says.
This, in the face of the G-20, where every country in the world agreed to help, except the U.S.
2. "29% of the coral animals on the Great Barrier Reef died in 2016, in a single year. It's the equivalent of losing most of the trees from Washington, D.C. to Maine."
3. What this portends for our future? The film talks about little species disappearing, pointing out that humans are "the big species."
4. "Most people stare up into space, with wonder. Yet we have this almost alien world on our planet, just teeming with life. The ocean controls everything, is the source of everything – it controls the weather, the climate, the oxygen we breathe. Without a healthy ocean we do not have a healthy planet," says Richard Vevers, underwater cameraman.
5. We get bryostatins, and medicines that might cure cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's from corals. It's predicted that in 30 years, all coral will die.
Coral reefs have rings like trees, that tell the story.
Is this climate change?
Global climate change, driven by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. When released, it traps heat; 93% of that heat goes into the ocean.
"If the ocean didn't absorb this heat the average temperature of the planet would be 122 degrees" says one scientist. "However hard we try to get people to listen, it seems to be lost in the wind, you know?"
The beauty in this film overwhelms; even in the divers' air bubbles.
Looking at Airport Reef, American Samoa, the photography's so sharp! The resolution, the clarity; it's clear, clean, gorgeous.
I loved snorkeling the first time I tried it. I loved scuba diving. It wasn't just the physical sensations - it was the beauty!
And it's quiet. You hear that wonderful underwater silence in the film.
The music, too, fascinates: Dan Romer, with co-composer and sound designer Saul Simon MacWilliams, created the score by building a library of samples of musical instruments recorded underwater. “I wanted the music to come from the point of view of the coral – I wanted it to sound like their music,” Romer confides.
Zack Rago, the underwater photographer, says he's a "secret coral nerd."
"The movie's a bridge between science and art," says Rago. "Coral reefs are perpetual machines, You can't have one without the other."
Among the world's leading marine experts you get some characters, including Dr. John "Charlie" Veron, "the godfather of coral reef science."
Charlie: "If humanity continues to produce carbon dioxide at present rates for another decade, the coral reefs will be committed to wholesale destruction.
"Look at the Great Barrier Reef: it's really the Manhattan of the ocean."
I never realized that coral reefs are actually a huge community, made up of thousands of individual organisms called polyps, all inter-dependent.
"Coral bleaching" is what's happening to coral; as the ocean heats up, coral changes, first shedding down to its skeleton, then dying.
I felt sad; but don't think the whole film's a downer.
It's done unemotionally, and with bits of humor, it's entertaining.
Until the end, where scientists actually cry.
“I had never seen any scientists cry on camera,” says Orlowski. “Keep in mind they’ve known about coral bleaching for years, they’ve seen it happening for decades. These are the people who discovered bleaching and who have understood the ramifications for a very long time.
TIP: Don't miss the credits; there's info in them.
"What do you say to skeptics?" asks Jeff Orlowski.
"I spent a lot of time talking with climate skeptics, trying to understand the thinking that would allow someone to be skeptical in face of so much science. This is a huge education for me, how essential the ocean is for life on this planet. Skeptics say it won't change anything."
* * *
I'm getting depressed writing about this, remembering the film, the beauty, the urgency.
What does this portend for our civilization, art, love, life?
Will all disappear? Is this a forecast?
Orlowski, after the film's screening: "For any of you mildly depressed our team is more depressed."
* * *
What to do?
"Take children, show them, teach them," says Orlowski.
You can learn, see http://www.chasingcoral.com
I told a woman what I was writing. Her reaction surprised me:
"I do everything I can think of to do."
Then she told me she's homeless.
She's still trying.
I wish I could end optimistically, like the film. They found a way: they show a little guy, a turtle, struggling to get up the beach. The whole audience applauded when he did it.
Orlowski: "The technology is changing. I couldn't afford solar panels a few years ago; now I own them. We're focusing on the 50 most healthy corals on the planet, of protecting them. Nature can help itself if we just give it a chance."
Charlie Veron: "it's all achievable - it's not like we don't have the money, the resources, the brains."
* * *
It's never been more urgent that we take action.
And every month we wait will only be more expensive.
Carole Bell is a writer interested in everything.
You can write to her at: firstname.lastname@example.org