A marine biologist and a musician have been on a mission for 15 years to save dying coral reefs.
Humans don’t know what they’re missing below the surface of a busy shipping channel in the ‘cruise capital of the world’. Just below the keels of massive ships, an underwater camera provides an otherworldly live feed, showing marine life doing its best to resist global warming.
This Miami Government Cut camera is just one of many ventures by a marine biologist and musician who have led a 15-year mission to raise awareness about the death of coral reefs by combining science and art to bring underwater life into pop culture.
Their company – Coral Morphologic – pops stunning images, puts gorgeous close-ups of underwater creatures on social media, sets up a time-lapse video of coral swaying and glowing to music and projects it onto buildings, selling even a line of coral-themed beachwear.
“We are not all art. We are not all scientists. We are not all technicians. We are alchemy,” said Colin Foord, who defies the appearance of a typical scientist, with blue hair so spiky it looks electrically charged. He and his business partner JD McKay sat down with the Associated Press to show off their work.
One of their most popular projects is the Coral City Camera, which recently surpassed 2 million views and usually has around 100 viewers online at any time every day.
“We’re actually going to be able to document a year of coral growth, which has never been done before in situ on a coral reef, and that’s only possible because we have this technological connection right here at the Port of Miami that allows us to allows you to have electricity and internet,” Foord said.
The livestream has already revealed that staghorn and other corals can adapt and thrive even in a highly urbanized underwater environment, along with 177 species of fish, dolphins, manatees and other marine life, said Ford.
“We have these very resilient corals growing here. The main purpose of having it underwater was to show people that there is so much marine life here in our city,” Foord said.
McKay, meanwhile, sounds like a Broadway producer as he describes how he also films the creatures in their Miami lab, growing coral in tanks to prepare them for beautifully colored close-ups.
“We basically create a set with one of these aquariums and then obviously there are actors – coral or shrimp or whatever – then we shoot it, then I get a mood, whatever might be going on in the stage and then I soundtrack it with ambient sounds, something very oceanic,” McKay explained.
Their latest production, “Coral City Flourotour,” will be featured this week on the New World Center Wallscape as the Aspen Institute hosts a major climate conference in Miami Beach. Foord speaks during a panel on how the ocean’s natural systems can help humans learn to combat the impacts of climate change. The title of the conference? “The ocean is a superhero.”
“I think when we can recognize that we’re all this one family of life and everything is interconnected, hopefully we can make meaningful changes now, so that future generations don’t have to live in a world of wildfires and melting ice caps and dead oceans,” Foord told the AP.
Their mission is urgent: After 500 million years on Earth, these species are under attack from climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, warming oceans are causing coral bleaching and increasing the risk of infectious diseases that can lead to mass coral mortality. Stronger storms and changes in water chemistry can destroy reef structures, while altered currents wash away food and larvae.
“Climate change is the greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems,” NOAA said in a recent report.
This joins the second part of the name Coral Morphologic. “What does it mean to be morphological? It really means having to adapt because the environment is constantly changing,” Foord said.
The living staghorn, elkhorn, and brain coral at Government Cut provides a concrete example of how coral communities can adapt to phenomena such as rising heat and polluted runoff, even in a setting as unlikely as the Port of Miami. Their video documented some corals fluorescing, an unusual response in offshore waters that Foord says could shield them from sunlight.
“The harbor is an invaluable location for coral research,” Foord said. “We have to be realistic. You won’t be able to return ecosystems to the way they were 200 years ago. The options we have are more drastic.”
Beyond science, there are clothes. Coral Morphologic sells a line of surfwear and swimwear that is inspired by flower anemones and brain coral and uses eco-friendly materials such as a type of nylon recycled from old fishing nets. .
“We see the power of technology connecting people to nature. We are lucky as artists and the corals benefit from it,” Foord said.
Jackson reported from Miami and Anderson from St. Petersburg, Florida.