Marine enthusiasts and lovers of coral packed the Reef Bay conference room of the Westin Resort on July 14. A DPNR sponsored screening of the critically acclaimed documentary Chasing Coral, presented attendees with a story of investigation, adventure, heartbreak and triumph.
The screening was made possible by Kristina K. Edwards, Education and Outreach Coordinator of the Coastal Zone Management Office of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Edwards came across the film through social media in January, and immediately contacted the filmmakers to inquire about screening events. At the time, the film had not yet been released, so they waited until the theatrical release date to send her a copy.
In regards to hosting the screening, Edwards hoped that “It will attract anybody who loves the ocean to come, and it will teach us all to take care of it. I feel very grateful to the Westin for donating the room for the night, and I hope to work with them on initiatives in the future”. Edwards continued to screen the film at venues on St. Thomas and St. Croix throughout the rest of the weekend.
The documentary is a production from Exposure Labs, the same film team that created a similar film titled Chasing Ice. Over the course of 3 years, a team of marine biologists, scuba divers and underwater photographers set out to record a time-lapse of an ongoing massive coral bleaching event. The film explained that the largest coral bleaching event in history took place in 2016. This has been determined to be a direct result of a climate change, which has changed the temperature of the oceans across the world.
Self proclaimed coral nerd Zack Rago explained in the film that, “Coral live as long as their environment allows them to.” Extensive coral bleaching can lead to large swaths of coral dying. The death of coral will irreparably damage ecosystems. They provide shelter to many different aquatic organisms, and a hunting ground for undersea predators. Coral reefs are also utilized by many different cultures and pharmaceutical labs. To illuminate the harsh effect that the loss of coral reefs will have on the world, the film posits, “Could we live without forests?”
The initial project took place in Hawaii, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. A project of this magnitude had never been attempted before, so the team had to retrofit their equipment to withstand long periods of time underwater, and to function through the use of tablets and laptops onboard a boat. Unfortunately, the footage taken from the first attempt were out of focus and unusable. The second attempt took place at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Though unexpected weather conditions forced the crew to stray from their original plan, the footage they produced there was striking. They captured the death of over 29% of the Great Barrier Reef. The images of the once thriving coral now stagnant and draped with algae were heartbreaking for both the filmmakers and the audience.
The documentary also illuminates an epidemic with the same potential of destruction as climate change; a lack of awareness and apathy. Underwater photographer Richard Vevers asserted that “The ocean is a world that most people never explore. For many, it’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’.” Dr. Ruth Gates of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology postulated that if the status quo is upheld and steps are not taken to quell climate change, “We will see the eradication of an ecosystem in our life span.”
More information about the film and methods to join the campaign can be found at http://www.chasingcoral.com.