Chasing Coral

‘Simplicity on the outside doesn’t mean simplicity on the inside’ – Dr. Ruth Gates. Learn more about corals!


at Atlanta City Hall, October 6th 2017

What are corals?

Fig. 1 NOAA

The majority of corals are colonial organisms, which means that they are composed by hundreds of thousands of individual animals (called polyps). Each of these individual animals (polyps) has a stomach that opens at one end to feed itself (it also throws its waste though this same hole).  Tentacles surround the mouth in order to protect the animal and catch food (NOAA). Inside of their tissues, polyps have small plants (microalgae) that photosynthesize (like every other plant) feeding the animal. This means that corals have food factories living inside of themselves! (Chasing Coral).

Most corals eat at night; this is why we can see such a transformation in these organisms with and without sunlight (Smithsonian).


What is a coral reef?

Coral reefs are the “forests of the ocean”. They begin to form when free-swimming coral larvae attach to rocks underwater. They need specific conditions to grow, so the are found in specific areas of the oceans. Coral reefs grow in clear salty water with temperatures between 23° and 29° C (NOAA).



Why are coral reefs important? 

Coral reefs are very diverse and valuable for the following reasons:

They support more species per unit area than any other marine environment: coral reefs are the forests of the oceans.

Also, coral reefs are the source for many medicine treatments: possible cures for cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, viruses.

Coral reefs provide economic and environmental resources to millions of people (NOAA).


What is coral bleaching?

Coral reefs face numerous threats, including coral bleaching. The increase of the world’s temperatures is warming the oceans as well. When temperatures are too hot for a coral, it will expel the algae living in its tissues, therefore turning the coral white. When a coral is bleaching it is not yet dead, but very delicate instead. Corals have also bleached when water get colder, and so scientists are still looking for a more detailed answer (NOAA).

Fig. 2 NOAA


Chasing Coral

Chasing Coral is a Netflix documentary where a group of divers (in love with coral reefs) decides to report the change happening to corals, mainly attributed to global warming. The Office of Resilience of the City of Atlanta decided to show the movie in the City’s chamber room, followed by a Q&A session.

The movie is broadly divided in three main parts: the assemblage of the cameras to document corals’ change, a shift of the original plan and the conclusions.

“Loosing the Barrier Reef has actually gotta mean something. You can’t let it just die, and it becomes an old textbook. It’s got to cause the change that it deserves. Us losing the Great Barrier Reef has got to wake up the world” – Richard Vevers in Chasing Coral

Overall, the movie started pretty well, with clear explanations of basic concepts, entertaining participation of scientists, and a clear plan. The divers were going to set up cameras underwater in particular locations to record the change in corals. However, once thy had accomplished this task, the divers saw that the oceans temperatures in other locations were very high, and since there was no time to reset all the cameras in the new locations, they decided to “do it by hand”, taking pictures every single day from different locations for several months. The findings were so shocking, that the divers were devastated. The movie turned into a very emotional story, which is understandable judging the passion that the divers have for coral reefs, but I founded it too personal. The movie concluded with expositions of the divers showing the literally death process of the coral reefs they were following.

At the end of the movie, the Office of Resilience of the City of Atlanta introduced Zack Rago, one of the divers involved in this project. He commented, within other subjects, on the terrible smell he would have due to swimming in water stuffed by dead corals, and by his lack of fear to sharks: “I am more terrified of dolphins than sharks”, he said, “a shark doesn’t care if you are there. A dolphin, however, will come around you and figure out what you are doing; that’s intimidating”.

I left the event with a better understanding of coral reefs and an envelope of bee flower mix to be soon planted!


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