Hidden from view, under the ocean waves, an alarm is going off in glowing color. It’s a warning as devastating as it is beautiful — one that my team and I experienced firsthand during the filming of the Netflix Original Documentary Chasing Coral — and one we can’t afford to ignore.
Starting in late 2014, I led a team racing around the world with custom-built cameras to capture and reveal the devastation being caused by the Third Global Coral Bleaching Event. We’d seen more than our fair share of iconic coral graveyards — bone-white swaths of dying reef — from vast stretches of the Great Barrier Reef to locations such as Hawaii, the Maldives and Japan. But in early March 2016, when we traveled to New Caledonia, located in the Coral Sea about 800 miles east of Australia, we were shocked to see something completely different — corals “glowing” in vibrant color.
In a desperate attempt to survive the increasing underwater heat waves caused by the 93% of climate-change heat that is absorbed by the ocean, corals sometimes produce vibrantly colored chemicals that act as sunscreens to protect themselves from the heat. We photographed what was probably the most extreme coral fluorescence event ever recorded. It was as if the corals were screaming in color — we’d witnessed the ultimate warning that the ocean is in trouble.
We often forget that the ocean sustains all life on Earth. And few people understand that it is as complex and vulnerable as the human body — even a small change in temperature or chemistry causes vital systems to start shutting down. This is why we should be alarmed when corals start “glowing;” this is the indicator of system failure for planet Earth. For the first time in human history, we’re witnessing the collapse of a global-scale ecosystem — coral reefs.
If everyone could have seen what we witnessed during the Third Global Bleaching Event, there probably wouldn’t be a single person who wouldn’t rally around the survival of this ecosystem that supports a quarter of all ocean life and half a billion people for food and income. But, unfortunately, reefs are out of sight and out of mind for most people on Earth.
Since 2012, The Ocean Agency has been striving to bring what’s happening to reefs into homes worldwide through Google Underwater Street View and Chasing Coral, but it’s time we take communication to the next level. We’re getting creative with how we can share the Ocean’s Warning through the glowing colors of corals, and we’ll soon be inviting everyone to get involved. #GlowingGone