I’ve expended much of my life in oceans. It’s what most underwater photographers do, the serious ones at the least. It’s my favorite part of the job. The ocean has always felt like home to me. When I was a kid, I used to splash around at the English seaside and feign I was Jacques Cousteau. I wanted to explore hidden places and detect fantastic new species. Submarines seemed far more magical than spaceships.
As a teenager, I started scuba diving. Now this was a real eye-opener. Suddenly, all those stunning corals and exotic fishes from my favorite volumes were there in front of me. I was in their world. I still recollect the sensation of taking my first breath underwater. My entire body was tingling with this intense pleasure, an nearly giddy feeling of sheer wonder — I had seen paradise.
Today, paradise is dying.
More specifically, our coral reefs are succumbing. In 2016 alone, we lost almost 30% of the Great Barrier Reef, the place I dreamed of in my childhood. The problem isn’t limited to one country, region, or even continent. Over the past thirty years, roughly half of the world’s coral has died.
I saw this first-hand while making Chasing Coral , a Netflix Original Documentary that has just been released. It was the most ambitious thing I’ve ever done. For more than three years, our team of divers, scientists, and photographers dedicated ourselves to a single chore: documenting the life and death of our world’s coral reef.
We spent over 650 hours underwater. Sometimes we’d spend months at a single location, watching in somber stillnes as the seascape changed day by day. Lush coral gardens, rich with colour and life, seemed to vanish overnight. The fossilized boneyards they left behind still haunt those of us who swam through them.
But what was killing the reefs? Scientists were baffled for years, until they discovered a devilishly simple answer: the oceans were becoming too hot. Corals are resilient creatures, precisely adapted to their environment. But their environment has changed and it’s killing them.
Some people remain skeptical. Climate change is a tense political issue, and even if one accepts the fact that Earth’s temperatures referred to by human activity, the fluctuations thus far seem quite small. How much of an impact does an increase of a few degrees truly stimulate?
Imagine you have a fever. Your normal body temperature is approximately 98.6 deg F/ 36.1 deg C, but it rises to 100.6 deg F/ 37.1 deg C. You feel fairly miserable, so you go to the doctor. They give you the usual advice,” Drink plenty of fluids, take an aspirin, get some rest. Let me know if anything changes .” You go home, expecting to feel better soon.
A week subsequently, you’re still feverish. A month later, and there’s still no relief. Your temperature just keeps rising.
How long would you wait to call the doctor?
You wouldn’t wait very long, of course, because you’d be dead if you did. The warning signals would be too obvious to ignore. Your life is precious and so you would do whatever was necessary to save it. We need to be equally protective of our oceans, and our corals in particular–a small rise in temperature can be fatal.
The Paris climate agreement was a huge step in the right direction. Its objective is clear: to restriction the rise of global temperatures to a maximum of 3.6 degF/ 2deg C above pre-industrial levels, and an objective of 2.7 degF/ 1.5 deg C.
It’s black and white for coral reef: Paris or bust. If we satisfy the Paris target, we can save enough coral reefs to enable them to bounce back, if we don’t, we will lose them altogether. It’s that simple. We will lose an ecosystem that offer food, chores, and protection for about a billion people around the world and supports a one-quarter of all ocean life.
There is hope for coral reefs. We are leading an initiative called 50 Reefs that has received an outpouring of support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, Paul G. Allen Philanthropies, and the Tiffany& Co. Foundation. Its objective is to catalyze efforts to protect coral reef globally – rapidly bolstering conservation efforts in key locatings that are less vulnerable to climate change. But hope relies on us satisfying the Paris target.
I am still haunted by what I ensure during the produce of Chasing Coral . The beautiful underwater gardens that I recollect from my childhood are vanishing. My paradise is dying. The people who have lived off their bounty for centuries are losing their subsistences and their futures. This is real, this is happening right now, and yet in today’s political climate there are many who refuse to acknowledge this. I challenge any skeptic to watch this film and to remain unconvinced and unmoved.
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