#SteveReviews: Chasing Coral
Before getting into the emotional rollercoaster that is Chasing Coral, I just want to commend it for having the rarest of accolades. A 100% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes, that tells you all you need to know! In case you’re not aware about coral, they form reefs in the oceans which then act as a nursery for fish and other marine creatures. They used to be far more common and diverse but large amount of that diversity was lost during the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event that also saw the end of the trilobites and other truly amazing marine life. Despite fossil evidence of corals dating back to before the Cambrian Explosion, they are now under increasing threat from the actions of humankind.
With the copious amounts of carbon emissions we release each year, we’re creating a very hostile environment for corals. The first of these is the warming the oceans which leads to a phenomenon called coral bleaching, where the zooxanthellae (an algae that lives inside the coral polyps) is expelled. This usually leaves the coral to starve and it loses it’s colour, giving rise to the term. As the oceans also uptake large quantities of carbon dioxide as a form of atmosphere regulation, this makes the water more acidic. This can be a big problem especially if you’re body is made of calcium carbonate. Just like amphibians, corals are being hit by the perfect storm causing mass death pushing them closer to extinction.
Chasing Coral brings a whole host of people together in an attempt to raise awareness of the plight of our oceans. As they are out of sight, they are usually out of mind. One of the true achievements of this documentary is the creation of the first time-lapse camera with the ability to record coral bleaching events as they happen. It took some time, but they finally got the footage which they hope will help marine biologists better understand these events. It wasn’t a simple task, the team battles against the elements, technical failures and often arrived at coral sites when it was already too late. There is a huge emotional element to Chasing Coral, I’d definitely get some tissues ready.
The camera rigs were set up off the coasts of Caribbean islands, Hawaii and Australia. Chasing Coral highlights perfectly the transformation of these once-mega diverse habitats to what resembles a post-apocalyptic wasteland. How does it achieve this I hear you ask? The team of researchers manually carry out dives on the Great Barrier Reed to document the changes each day, using specialist camera equipment. By comparing the before and after videos/stills it is clear to see the difference. This of course if happening on reefs all across the globe.
It’s clear that a 2°C increase is fatal to coral, current climate change projections don’t provide much hope to corals. There is a particularly emotional end to the film. After following Zack Rago, who’s hard work to document the changes to corals take a huge toll on his spirits. As a someone that works in conservation it does often seem like we’re all fighting a war we’ve already lost. It’s bad enough with amphibians, I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to work with coral. Despite this, Chasing Coral ends on an optimistic note and I know since it’s release (in 2017) things have started to look up for coral in terms of new methods of propagation etc. I imagine story highlighted in Chasing Coral is playing out all across the globe, with most taxa. It’s just coral are such a visually striking example of extinction occurring in real time.
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