Last month, our film Natural History Redux screened at the Imagine Science Film Festival held at New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is located along the Arabian/ Persian Gulf as one of the coastal Emirates in the United Arab Emirates. Colin was asked to speak on a panel regarding the future of global water resources and the importance that art/ science has to play in bringing these issues into public awareness. However, he also had the opportunity to explore the unique marine habitat in the area.
We are very psyched to share ‘Coral City’, a half-hour documentary accompanying the Coral Morphologic cover story in last August’s VICE Magazine. The movie, directed by John McSwain and shot by Jake Burghart of VICE Media, documents our efforts to highlight the urban corals of Miami as resilient pioneers adapting to a rapidly changing world. Check out the online premiere over at The Creators Project.
For Design Miami/ 2014, we were honored to be asked to create a conceptual room in which we debuted ‘Coral Therapy’, a 360-degree virtual reality film experienced via the Oculus Rift. When viewing ‘Coral Therapy’, the viewer is enveloped by fluorescent corals and sea anemones; much like being inside a virtual planetarium theater. ‘Coral Therapy’ is designed to convey a virtual out-of-body experience in which the viewer is transported to a tranquil tropical reef in outer-space. An original ambient score enhances the cosmic coral perspective while accentuating the peaceful and relaxing experience.
‘Coral Therapy’ in action via Oculus Rift VR
A fluorescence photograph of the hybrid fused staghorn coral.
It was the discovery of a hybrid fused staghorn coral living on a granite boulder beneath the shadows of a luxury condo that initially sparked our interest in the resilient corals that are taking advantage of Miami’s underwater infrastructure. Colin first presented this coral to the public for TEDxMIA in 2011 in a talk titled ‘A Hybrid Future – The Corals of Miami’. But with the Army Corps’ Deep Dredge of Government Cut happening just a stones throw from where this coral lives, we have been particularly concerned about the health of this coral. Not only are Miami’s corals being inundated with excessive dredge silt, they’re also dealing with the same water conditions that have induced an alarming percentage of corals to bleach across South Florida’s reefs.
As we last reported, a combination of hot weather and sunny days in summer 2014 has resulted in very a bad year for coral bleaching in South Florida. In this dispatch, we surveyed the natural reef just offshore Fisher Island here in Miami. To make matters worse, the water is exceptionally silty from the Army Corps’ dredging of Government Cut less than half a mile away. The water is 10-15 feet deep here, and nearly all of the coral heads were bleached. However, the most alarming condition we observed was the prevalence of black band disease infecting many of the brain corals. While healthy corals can usually recover from a bleaching episode, a coral suffering from both bleaching and black band disease will probably die. As evidenced from the video, the dredge silt has settled on the corals, and is likely a culprit in causing this black band disease outbreak. Currently, the dredge ships are operating just outside the mouth of Government Cut jetties, resulting in plumes of silt that smother corals on the natural reefs in every direction.
Fortunately, we have seen the water temperatures steadily decrease since the start of September, so we are hopeful that the bleached corals throughout South Florida will begin to recover soon. However, up here in Miami with the Deep Dredge ongoing, our corals may be too stressed out, diseased, or smothered to survive. We will be monitoring the situation closely, and will continue to update as necessary.
A morphing loop of ‘The Humongous Fungus Among Us Issue’ photographed under daylight, blacklight, and fluorescence filter.
Be sure to pick up a copy of the August, 2014 offering from VICE Magazine, ‘The Humongous Fungus Among Us Issue’, which features a special blacklight-reactive cover depicting Zoanthus polyps cloned and photographed in the Coral Morphologic lab. The issue’s contents are also available online, including the cover story, ‘Miami Is Drowning‘, by John McSwain.
Having been preoccupied with the Miami Coral Rescue Mission this summer, we finally made our first excursion to the Lower Keys this summer on Friday August 22. Sadly, we found that a distressingly high percentage of corals living on the reefs in Hawk Channel are severely bleached. Most of the staghorn corals that we saw were severely bleached or actively dying, though there were a few hardy exceptions. Nearly all of the brain corals were bone white. All over the reef we observed an unhealthy mix of cyanobacteria and algae proliferating on previously dead coral skeletons. Even the normally hardy gorgonians, corallimorphs, and zoanthids showed significant bleaching on all three patch reefs we checked. The water temperature was an uncomfortable 89 degrees on the bottom. Without strong winds or storms to cool off the water, we are concerned that many reefs in the Keys will lose significant coral cover in the next several months.