Jeff Orlowski’s powerful and arresting documentary Chasing Coral educates, moves and inspires its viewers into action. That action first and foremost being to simply share the documentary. Seeing that for many people the issue is largely out of sight and out of mind, there are many among us who understandably aren’t aware of coral bleaching. To comprehend the scale of this crisis is to imagine rainforests all around the world turning white and dying off in the space of just a few years, but never growing back.
Unlike other animals, coral doesn’t have a life expectancy and can go on living for an eternity given the right conditions, namely the correct water temperature. Our oceans cop a whopping 93 percent of the heat created by trapped Co2 in our atmosphere. A prolonged period of just a two degree temperature increase is as fatal to our corals as it would be for a human to have chronic fever.
The purpose of Chasing Coral is to put a spotlight on this largely concealed product of global warming and share it through an easily accessible platform like Netflix* to raise awareness of the state of our ocean’s nurseries, and essentially mobilise the global movement towards using renewable energy.**
The first protagonist is Richard, an ex-advertising executive and lifelong underwater photography hobbyist who was motivated to action after noticing that sea dragons had disappeared from his regular dives. “If this was happening to one of my favourite creatures, what else was it happening to?” He asks. We follow Richard’s quest to learn more in interviews with scientists from around the world. He is relatable in his humble knowledge, admitting to being uncertain whether luminous white coral is actually a good or a bad thing. He discovers that what we’re seeing with white coral is in fact its skeleton.
Given that almost one third of the Great Barrier Reef died in 2016 alone, Richard decides that the only way to get the public to pay attention is by using time lapse cameras to document the affected sites all around the world. On one of his flights to a coral site, Richard watches the documentary Chasing Ice and upon landing contacts the director, Jeff Orlowski to help share his idea. With Orlowski committed, as well as technicians, photographers and divers on board the project, the team take on the mammoth challenge of creating remote underwater time-lapse photo technology able to withstand storms, hurricanes and millions of gallons of pressure for a month in the ocean.
This original plan proves unsuccessful so the team commit to 500+ under water hours capturing the individual sites manually every day for a month. With high-definition 360 degree footage the viewer virtually dives into the world’s most resplendent coral reefs, abundant with colour and teeming with life. It is impossible to not be moved by this beautiful imagery presented with Romer and MacWilliams’ rousing musical score. The resulting time lapse images from all around the world drive the documentary and succeed in communicating the message Richard sets out to share. Yet it is not simply the aesthetic of the coral reefs that we risk losing. The science of the documentary delivers compact facts about just how much the world depends on coral environmentally, socially and economically, even including the little known truth that coral’s valuable constituents are currently being used to combat cancer.
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We are also introduced to (and can’t help falling in love with) Zack from Colorado, a young underwater camera technician and ‘coral nerd’ who becomes the second protagonist in the documentary. “He keeps coral reef tanks at his house with no fish in them,” a colleague laughs. His passion is infectious and inspiring to the viewers, especially after his interview with his childhood idol, Australian coral guru Dr. John ‘Charlie’ Veron, who tells Zack that he has no choice but to fight.
“You have to keep at it. Otherwise you’re not going to like yourself when you’re an old man. Don’t let anything stop you. I get cross at myself that I didn’t make enough noise,” Veron says.
This inspires Zack and his colleague Trevor to use their 360 degree footage from the healthiest coral sites in the world. With it they create interactive eyewear for a travelling school program to educate the next generation about the importance of coral reefs for all life. This is where the documentary draws to a close, and with Zack’s exemplary actions we are lead to the question, what can I do?
- Watch the documentary and share it on social media. Attend or hold a public screening of Chasing Coral. Visit chasingcoral.com for more information.
- If you’re in Sydney, Australia on Saturday 7 October, attend a ‘Stop Adani’ human sign event at Bondi beach at 9am or Camperdown Memorial Park in Newtown at 2pm. Visit stopadani.com for more information on human sign locations.
- Find out what ways you can volunteer at events to support our seas at
- marineconservation.org.au Make noise, especially right up until election time – hassle your local government to work towards ‘greenifying’ your town with renewable energy. Find out what your town, state and country is doing to improve.
As Richard says, it’s still possible to reduce the rate that climate change is happening:
It’s not like we don’t have the money or resources or brains. This change is inevitable.”
*Netflix is free for one month.
**At the time of filming, 42 countries committed to be powered by clean energy. Fifty cities in America have also made commitments, including New York. Here in Australia, South Australia is leading the the renewables race with the most renewable energy capacity per capita.