The ocean is a magical space where time slows down. This almost alien world that draws many in, is teeming with life but is hardly ever explored. Way below the surface of the ocean there are spectacular gardens of corals. However, the ocean is mostly ignored because the beauty found in its depths is hardly ever advertised.
Our planet is unique because it has an ocean that is the source of life and controls the weather, climate, and oxygen levels. We cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.
An idea was born to allow people to interact virtually with the ocean. They could go on virtual dives and see the majestic beauty hidden underwater, but they did not understand that there was a problem: in the last 30 years, about 50% of the world’s corals have been lost.
Most people don’t know that corals are animals. They seem simple and uncomplicated on the outside but are actually sophisticated beings.
An individual coral is made up of thousands of structures called polyps. Each polyp is a circular mouth surrounded by tentacles. Inside their tissues they have microalgae plants that photosynthesize during the day and feed the coral. At night the plants sleep and the animals expand their polyps, and tentacles come out.
There are many different species of corals and they come in different shapes and colors. Corals are foundation species, which means that many other organisms depend on them. Corals are the reason we have massive reefs that can be observed from space.
Climate change is affecting the ocean and it can be seen in a phenomenon called coral bleaching. This is a stress response much like a fever. When the temperature in the ocean spikes slightly above its normal range, corals begin to turn white. Their ability to photosynthesize and feed the animal host is impaired.
When the coral bleaches, the flesh becomes clear and the skeleton is exposed. As soon as fuzzy microalgae begin to grow on its surface, it’s an indication that the coral has died. This process is very difficult to communicate because people just see the picture of a “beautiful’ white reef and do not understand that the coral is responding to a stressful situation.
Communicating the danger these creatures face called for more creativity. Scientists used time-lapse photography to show their changes.