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Chasing Coral: Saving Reefs and Speaking for the Sea

Chasing Coral

If you’ve heard the story behind Clam & Clasp, you'll know that the film Chasing Coral had a huge impact on me, serving as one of the main sources of inspiration for starting this company.

While watching the documentary shortly after it was released in July of 2017, I found myself shocked and horrified for coral, our oceans, and our planet. As soon as the credits rolled, I wiped my tears and mustered my determination, leapt up from the couch and immediately looked for ways to help. 

I had been living in blissful ignorance to the extent of the dangers that are currently facing our planet, and this film was just the wake up call I needed. Poignantly for me, it follows Richard Vevers, a former advertising executive (just like I was) who started learning more about this issue and thought, “I’m sure there’s something better I could be doing with my life” rather than just trying to sell “4 ply toilet tissue instead of 3 ply.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, as this was exactly how I was feeling in my career at the time.

I am likely an extreme case, as I’m sure not everyone felt compelled to quit their job and start their own company after learning about these issues – nor should we expect them to. It is, however, incredibly important that awareness is raised, which is one of the main goals of the film. With their incredible footage, the team behind Chasing Coral make it very clear how serious the impact of climate change is on our ocean. You can probably see the connection between their mission and my mission for Clam & Clasp – to Speak for the Sea.

In honor of Chasing Coral’s one year anniversary, below I've shared some of the most impactful quotes and figures from the film, along with an explanation of what coral bleaching and climate change is, and what is being done to help heal the damage and prevent further damage.

On the importance of coral reefs and the ocean:

“Without a healthy ocean we do not have a healthy planet.”
"Reefs are a source of food and income for over 500 million people.”
"25% of all marine life relies on coral reefs.”

Chasing Coral goes in depth explaining how coral reefs are the basis for so much life in the ocean. They talk about the hundreds of creatures that live on the reef, from fish and eels to micro algae, and liken coral reefs to cities, explaining, “You can’t have a city without buildings. You can’t have a coral reef without the corals.” Beyond the importance for creatures under the sea, millions of humans rely on reefs for both food and jobs. Several new cancer-fighting drugs have even been developed from materials found on coral reefs.

On coral bleaching and climate change:

“Coral bleaching itself is a stress response, much like a fever…If the temperature spikes just a little bit above their normal range corals will start to bleach.”

The film explains that corals have microscopic plants that live inside their tissues, which photosynthesize and serve as the main source of food for the coral. As ocean temperatures rise as little as 1-3 degrees Celsius, the plants lose their ability to photosynthesize. The coral then realizes they are no longer functional and starts to expel them. Once they get rid of all of those plants, their primary food source, what is left is transparent naked tissues. The flesh becomes clear and what you see is the skeleton underneath. This creates a pure white coral, and while exceptionally beautiful, is the first stage of death. At this point the coral will generally not be able to grow or reproduce and will starve to death. When it becomes “fuzzy” with algae covering the surface, it is an indication that the coral has died.

Why are ocean temperatures rising? As humans increase the emission of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal, that carbon dioxide goes up into the atmosphere and since it has the property of trapping heat, continues to hold in more and more, causing temperatures to rise.

“You think 1-2 degrees Celsius, what does that matter? But for the Ocean, it’s like your body temperature changing, and imagine your body temperature rises 1 degree centigrade or 2 degrees centigrade, over a period of time that would be fatal. And that’s the seriousness of the issue when you look at in in terms of the ocean.”

Healthy versus bleached coral.

On the severity of the issue:

“In the last 30 years we have lost 50% of the world’s corals.”
“29% of the corals on the great barrier reef alone died in 2016.”
“In about 25 years (average projection) all across the planet oceans become too warm for coral reefs to survive.”

Bleached coral

On raising public awareness:

“A lot of people don’t realize climate change is happening because most of the heat trapped by greenhouse gases has been transferred to the oceans. 93% of the heat that is trapped (from burning fossil fuels) is going into the ocean. If the oceans weren’t doing this job of absorbing the heat, the average surface temperature of the planet would be 122 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Coral bleaching is difficult to communicate, people see a beautiful white reef and don’t realize the negative indication that it holds.”

Healthy coral reef

On what can and is being done to help:

“There’s been a big shift. You look at every piece of climate change action, and it’s about improving people’s lives. Creation of jobs, reducing pollution, greenifying cities. It’s essentially a great transformation that is already beginning.”

The film lists the countries and American cities that have committed to be powered by clean energy. We can all do our part and get involved by reducing our personal ecological footprint, and by voting and pushing our politicians to pass more climate change laws (not repeal them)!

Richard and his team founded the Ocean Agency, dedicated to one client: the ocean. They’ve launched an initiative called “50 Reefs” to find and protect the coral reefs that can be the seed banks for the future. You can learn more about their work and how to get involved here.

If you haven’t seen this film (it’s on Netflix), I promise it is worth watching. Chasing Coral is far from a boring documentary. It follows the story and struggles of the people who captured the footage of the corals bleaching, spending months diving everyday with cameras to get the shots. Not to mention the footage is absolutely incredible. Plus you’ll get some insight into what inspired me to start this journey to speak for the sea, and maybe you’ll be inspired to start your own as well.

-Janell, Founder of Clam & Clasp

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