Chasing Coral (2017) Script

I've always been drawn to the magic of the ocean.

It feels like time slows down.

Most people stare up into space with wonder.

Yet, we have this almost-alien world on our own planet... just teeming with life.

But it's a world most people never explore.

Richard Vevers is documenting the oceans' reefs the same way Google maps out streets.

...snapping a 360-degree picture every three seconds.

This is the 21st country that we've done as part of a global survey of coral reefs.

Hidden below the surface of the world's oceans, spectacular gardens of coral.

Reefs are where much of the seafood we eat begins life.

Reefs are a source of food and income for over 500 million people.

It's really about trying to communicate with science, as much as doing the science itself.

To take people on a journey.

...that incredible journey under the sea, which could be the closest many of us come to seeing an exotic underwater site.

Giving anyone with Internet access the chance to go on a virtual dive in many of the survey sites.


I used to be an ad man.

I spent ten years in advertising, working at some of the top London agencies.

Over time, you realize you're having these conversations about... toilet rolls, and it's heated debate.

And it's about selling four-ply toilet tissue rather than three-ply.

And you go...

"I'm sure there's something better I can be doing with my life."

I've been diving since the age of 16.

I used to go looking for these weedy seadragons, which are these incredible animals.

It's like a seahorse, but it's a dragon about a foot long... that most people don't even know exists.

But then, one year, they were all disappearing from all my favorite sites.

You know, this was one of my favorite creatures in the world.

And you go, "Well, if it's happening to one of my favorite creatures, what else is it happening to?"

And that's when I realized one of the biggest issues with the ocean is it is completely out of sight and out of mind, and that, essentially, is an advertising issue.

You know, when you look at our planet, it's unique in the known universe because we've got an ocean that is the source of life.

And it controls everything.

It controls the weather.

It controls the climate.

It controls the oxygen we breathe.

Without a healthy ocean, we do not have a healthy planet.

How do you communicate these issues?

The project was called the XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

What we wanted to do was reveal the oceans to the world.

People were engaging with the imagery, they were going for virtual dives, but they weren't understanding there's a problem.

So, we had to really go back to the drawing board... and I think that was a shocking realization that we're only at the start of a journey.

Okay, this one is gonna be behind, in the back-reef.

-So, what year was this? -This is 1975.

-Right. -Okay?

-Yep. -This whole area back here

-was just thick with Acropora palmata. -Right.

-The elkhorn coral. -And how much is there left?

.01%.

Whoa.

Something like that. You'll see.

-Yeah. -We'll go see.


So, you wanna know what we're looking at.

This flat-- This is all dead reef flat.

This is all dead elkhorn coral.

You can see all the skeletons in place, but there's nothing alive.

So, this is what the reef looked like in 1971.

This is all covered with living corals.

This is very typical.

Very, very typical of the Florida Keys.

And 50 years ago, that wasn't the case, 30 years ago, that wasn't the case.

All of it, gone.

Phil told me that we've lost 80 to 90% of corals in Florida.

I had no idea that these issues were so advanced.

-I think it might be this one. -Yep.

-Morning. I'm Richard. -Jim Porter. Pleased to meet you.

Very nice to meet you.

Thanks so much for coming down.

So, all of this stuff that I'm showing in here... um, is from 1976.

-This is Discovery Bay, Jamaica. -Yep.

And that's what it looked like then.

-And this is a what it looks like now. -Right.

This survey sat unanalyzed.

Just little bits and pieces, but not the whole story.

His imagery was designed for scientific purpose.

It doesn't capture you instantly without explanation.

This is what we have lost.

-This is the way it was. -Yep.

I started my career in love with a place... and those places have diminished.

To see that lost is very devastating.

A lot of scientists I've met have got really depressed about this issue.

Whereas I've had the experience to do ten years in advertising, where you believe any problem can be solved in a ridiculously short period of time.

You just gotta do a bit of creative thinking.

-That's great. Lovely. Thank you. -Thank you.

Excuse me. Do you know where Ruth is? Ruth Gates?

Um, and the classroom's right here. All those screens go up.

We'll go in and have a look.

Oh, wow.

-Wow. -Is it cool?

Unbelievable.

Wow.

-Okay, um...

It's the fact that it's moving.

-Isn't it amazing that after all-- -Yeah.

Twenty-five years I've been working on corals, I can look down a microscope and go, "Bloody hell"?

-I know, that...

My understanding was this was an animal, this was an animal.

-Yeah. -Are they the same animal?

-They are. -But, um...

I know they're identical animals...

-Yeah. -...but are they the same?

-They are. -So, they...

-They are one animal. I-- -Yep.

It's one animal.

Okay, but they're not considered...

I thought polyp was an animal... not a coral was an animal with lots of polyps.

-That make sense? -A coral is an animal with lots of polyps.

But the polyp isn't an animal?

Well... it's part of the animal.

Right. 'Cause this is a-- No one's ever explained...

-what a coral is. -Your amazement is, why did you not know that?

-Why didn't I know that? -I'm stunned.

-And it's the-- -You're a smart guy.

What's wrong with you?

I get completely overwhelmed sometimes, underwater, on a reef.

Because I can't believe that these structures are sort of created by these simple organisms, or "seemingly" simple organisms.

I have the utmost respect for corals, 'cause I think they've got us all fooled.

Simplicity on the outside doesn't mean simplicity on the inside.

We think we're really evolved 'cause we're highly complex beings.

We can do lots of things. We have opposing thumbs.

But corals... they've decided, "Forget the external complexity.

Let's just be really sophisticated in a quiet way."

A coral individual is really made up of thousands of small structures called polyps.

Each polyp is a circular mouth... surrounded by tentacles... and they can combine to be millions of them across a single animal.

They have, inside their tissues, small plants, these microalgae... a million per centimeter squared.

The plants that live inside them photosynthesize, and the animal uses that for their food.

They essentially have food factories living inside of themselves.

So, as the animal grows, what you see is the animal is growing over the skeleton and depositing the skeleton underneath it.

They photosynthesize during the day.

At night... the plant's really essentially asleep and the animal comes active.

They expand their polyps.

The tentacles come out.

And now anything that swims by is caught by these stinging cells that are on the tips of the tentacles.

There are many different species of corals, and the different species of corals are different shapes.

Some are very boring to look at. They look like big rocks on the bottom.

Some are incredibly beautiful to look at.

They have huge, huge branching patterns, or massive plates.

Some of them look like petals of a flower.

These are foundation species.

They have all these other organisms that depend on them.

They are the reason we have reefs.

A consortium of organisms that cooperate together... that now manifests in this massive structure that can be seen from space.

There's a famous reef in American Samoa called Airport Reef.

We heard that there was an area where the corals were turning white.

Because we'd been there previously to do a survey... we wanted to go back and take the same images again.

I was truly shocked by what I saw.

The reef was white as far as the eye could see.

To be honest, I didn't have the knowledge to know how to process it.

Was this dead?

Was it alive?

This is... Airport Reef.

Before. So, this is in December.

And that's it now.

When Richard saw that white coral, it was a turning point for him.

I think I admitted to him that I thought this was far more deadly than some of the other things that are facing reefs.

And so, what we've seen since the early 1980s when this first occurs, we've actually lost an enormous amount of coral, just due to this phenomenon alone.

I think that was the first time that he saw the enormity of the issue.

That this was a threat across the planet to coral reefs, which would happen very quickly and cause a lot of damage.

Back in the '80s, we started looking at this weird phenomenon.

Large sections of-- of reefs were turning white, literally over a couple of weeks.

And no one really knew why this was.

As we did more and more experiments, it turned out that it wasn't a disease, it wasn't too much light.

And the only thing you could do in an experiment that would cause corals to go white was to raise the temperature by two degrees Celsius.

By the end of my PhD, we were putting cautious words in the literature saying:

"Well, you know, maybe this is global warming, and this is one of the early impacts on reefs."

We look at climate change as if it's an issue in the air.

And you go, "One or two degrees Celsius?

Does that really matter?"

But when you talk about the ocean... it's like your body temperature changing.

And imagine your body temperature rises one degree centigrade or two degrees centigrade.

Over a period of time, that would be fatal.

And that's the seriousness of the issue when you look at it in terms of the ocean.

Coral bleaching itself is a stress response, much like a fever in humans is a stress response.

If the temperature spikes just a little bit above their normal range... corals will start to bleach.

The small plants that live inside their tissues, their ability to photosynthesize and feed the animal host is impaired.

The animal essentially senses that:

"I've got something inside of me that is not doing what I expect it to do," and as happens with us, with--

When we get a bacteria, we try to get rid of it as quickly as possible.

That's exactly what these animals do.

They try to get rid of those plants that are no longer functional... and leave behind the transparent, naked tissue.

They've lost the very most important food source that they have.

So, it's starting to starve.

When the coral bleaches, the flesh becomes clear.

And what you're seeing is its skeleton underneath.

So, the bright whites that you see in the pictures... is just the skeletons everywhere.

If it's a very clean white look about the coral... it will still be alive.

It's not allowing anything else to grow on it.

It will generally not grow. It will generally not reproduce.

It is likely to die.

You'll see these fuzzy microalgae.

The whole surface suddenly become much, much fuzzier to look at.

That's an indication that that coral has died.

Oh. Can you, uh, mark that one?

Coral bleaching is very difficult to communicate.

You see a picture of a beautiful white reef.

Is that a good or a bad thing?

So, we need to communicate it in a different way.

I was flying on a plane, and I watched a film, Chasing Ice.

That film was about the documentation of the disappearing glaciers.

And it suddenly dawned on me that we had almost identical projects.

So, pretty much as soon as I got off that plane, I contacted the director.

The cameras are shooting every hour, but we're only showing every, you know, week or two...

Richard sent an e-mail, out of the blue, and he attached two photographs, one of a healthy coral reef and one of a dead coral reef.

And when I saw those photos, the light bulb immediately went on.

It's like, if you can document that change, you can reveal this to the public in a powerful way.

We knew from the start there was something we wanted to get involved with.

These images were chosen...

We started talking pretty early on about what a time-lapse camera could look like.

But we were missing this one piece.

We needed a wiper system or something that would keep the glass clean.

When Richard and the team wanted to do underwater time-lapse, they approached us to design something.

So, this one is, uh... a little dirty.

We designed a magnetic arm that pulls a windshield wiper around this glass dome and keeps it clean for long periods of time.

When we first met them, their deadline seemed absurd.

Nobody's done anything even close to this.

We had all of the issues associated with just dealing with the time-lapse, the camera, but we also had just so many unknowns.

When you have a camera system that you need to be submerged in saltwater for months on end... that is subject to huge storms and hurricanes... at depth, with all the tremendous pressure of billions of gallons of water pressing down, that is very, very difficult to do.

If we're tethered to a BeagleBoard or Raspberry Pi and SSH in, I need at least 12 volts. Probably get away with 11.

Then we could use a 12-to-5 for the Beagle.

-Let's say 300 milliamps. -Okay.

Twelve minutes a day.

-Seven-point-two watt-hours. -Yeah.

-Okay. -Cool.

Well, I think this is gonna be pretty easy.

They're 3D-printing parts, they're building custom circuit boards, they're building custom wireless hotspots.

It is really, really complicated.

Person in boat wirelessly connects to a computer in a case which is hardwired to an umbilical cable that goes down to a router inside an underwater housing that communicates wirelessly to the camera.

When you're done, you just unplug it.

This is, by far, the most complicated thing I've seen built by View Into the Blue.

At the time, Jeff and Richard had no idea that I was a coral nerd.

Secretly, I'd been sitting in my office, really stoked that I was even in the same room as this project about coral was going on, and we were helping support it.

Because I wanted more than anything to do something for the coral.

These are Lobophyllia.

The chalices are either Oxypora or a kind of phylia.

Montastrea, Favites, Favia, Platygyra.

That might not be Platygyra...

I got involved in the aquarium industry at a pretty young age.

Growing up in the mountains and in Colorado actually made my obsession with the ocean a little bit worse.

See, on this coral, there's a lot of life, but then there's a lot of, like, death here, so this is just skeleton.

So, that could very well be because it got too close to this Euphyllia, perhaps, they fought with each other, and this one stung that one to death, right there.

He just loves coral.

Even to the point where he has coral reef tanks at his house with no fish in them.

And nobody has coral reef tanks with no fish in them.

The beauty of coral or why I enjoy coral more than fish is because if a coral dies, it's your fault.

As long as you don't mess up and, like, crash your tank or kill that coral, then they're all gonna continue living.

They're just perpetual machines.

They don't really have a life expectancy, more or less.

They just kind of continue to go on as long as their environment allows them to.

That's the same with jellyfish, too.

Jellyfish technically live forever, but they just get eaten by so many things that it just doesn't happen.

For me, the most interesting thing in nature is symbiosis.

Two separate organisms that have adapted to each other, and are now benefiting each other.

They're working together, and... the first thing that comes to my mind is an anemone and a clownfish.

The anemone provides protection for the clownfish, and the clownfish usually provides food for the anemone.

It's a mutually beneficial relationship.

In the case of a coral, it goes deeper than that.

The symbiont itself is incorporated in the organism.

The coral doesn't exist without these little tiny plant cells.

They are completely reliant on each other, and you don't have one without the other.

That relationship between the two of them is... the most interesting thing in the world to me.


Is the color change fairly uniform, -or does it do this? -Don't know.

-Don't know. -Don't know.

-Pocilloporas could go overnight, right? -It's never been shot in the wild before.

That's what so thrilling to me about what's going on here is that it's gonna be the first time we'll actually be able to ask that

-and answer that question. -Yeah.

But the Pocilloporas could go overnight, couldn't they?

Yeah, a lot of the Pocilloporas have already gone.

-Completely wiped. -Wiped already.

But the Montiporas are the important reef-building corals.

Montipora and Porites compressa, yeah, are the two.

And Lutea, that big one that you saw. So--

And what's the tissue thickness on Porites?

So, they can be down a half a centimeter.

Do the ga--? Do the fertilized gametes carry those...?

Yes, 'cause most of them-- In Hawaii, we have a very high proportion of the coral species that... We knew this was gonna be incredibly hard, predicting where to put a camera down.

We thought, "We just need to do this wherever the bleaching is happening." -Good morning, Mark. -Good afternoon, Richard.

It's, uh... getting a little depressing.

Yes. And I've read your e-mail, which was, you know, about the El Niño starting earlier this year.

Mark Eakin provided us with the tools to be able to understand where we should be going.

What we're looking at is...

I work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

We use satellites to look at the sea surface temperatures that cause coral bleaching.

The one thing the temperatures have shown us, with no question, is the oceans have been warming.

Temperatures in the ocean go through normal cycles.

If the temperature were staying constant, then all those ups and downs would be around that average temperature.

But now we've reached the point that we've changed that average.

Your warm temperatures keep getting warmer and warmer and warmer.

The first widespread bleaching event occurred in the early 1980s.

'97, '98, this was the first global-scale mass-bleaching.

A lot of corals bleached, a lot of corals died.

2010, only 12 years later, we saw the second global-scale mass-bleaching.

Now, only five years later... we've got the potential of the third global-scale mass-bleaching event.

Basically, at this point, about two-thirds of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are seeing a level of warming where you're usually seeing bleaching.

The stress levels are high...

I'm zooming in on Hawaii, and you can see here, it's 4.7 degrees hotter than it should be at this time of year.

And you look at some of the other hotspots around the world, it's 11.3 degrees, five degrees hotter, 8.2 degrees hotter than it normally would be.

There's this big heat wave that's traveling around the planet, and it's killing corals wherever it's going.

This is a small window of opportunity that we've got right now to be able to capture this bleaching event and communicate it in a massive way.

There's no plug in here right now.

Normally, we would have done extensive field-testing with these cameras, given how complicated they were, but they just needed to be put in the water.

Well, we have a lot of bags.

I'm not sure how happy the airport people are gonna be.

One-oh-one.

It's fairly watertight through the exterior.

So, guess what we're up to right now.

We're whittling plastic away from the underwater solar panel.

Otherwise, we can't take it on the plane.

Listen up. Listen.

Ninety-nine-point-five.

-Is that good?

So, based on the data that we got from NOAA, we decided to put cameras down in Hawaii, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

We'll go down, we'll scout, we'll find a bunch of spots, we'll mark the GPS coordinates.

It's right around that corner.

This was completely different from any other scuba diving I've done.

And any other scuba diving that one would normally do.

This was construction underwater.

You're working in an environment that humans weren't built for.

You also can't communicate with your team, other than through sign language, and we are not good at it.

So, the camera gets mounted flush to this. This plate.

We can adjust the height of this and adjust the angle of this.

You're in zero-gravity.

So, if you're trying to get leverage to put something into the ground, you don't have that. You're floating, you're buoyant.

-Is that thunder? -That's a weather alert.

-I hear a crackling sound. -That's-- Yeah.

Is that static?

-I hope that's not lightning-- -Oh, my God. That's lightning.

-Do you hear that? -Yes, I hear it in my microphone.

I think you should probably turn the cameras off. I don't know.

Can we get the metal thing down?

I kind of don't wanna touch it.

Because of this vacuum-sealed glass dome, we couldn't actually change any of the settings inside on the cameras.

So, they attach this wire going to a box on the boat on the surface.

You have a cable attached to a stationary device underwater and it's plugged into a very delicate piece of equipment.

Boom, we're in.

Now let's see if this is gonna behave today.

And you can sit there on the boat with a tablet and you can adjust the settings and you can see what the camera is doing underwater.

Um, watch this cable. Are we...?

Can you move us closer?

I'm just nervous--

The slack is getting too tight!

Hold it.

Hand it down to me.

The wind just took us. The stern anchor didn't hold.

We're just drifting.

Bummer.

It flooded?

That's gonna go down the cable, too.

Something...

All right, so, let's take a look.

So, basically you got a few millimeters of water in there.

Probably splashed on an electrical connection, -blew the 12-volt fuse. You'll be fine. -It did blow the 12-volt.

Here is what that's looking like at the moment.

We've kind of tore her apart to access her and attempt to clean.

Jiminy Cricket, look at that mess. Okay.

We're gonna be just fine.

I basically would like you to take 12 volts directly from the battery...

All right, let's give this one more try.

All right. Here goes everything.

Do we have a new message?

Oh!

We're good. Oh.

Ah! We're connected. That does look killer. Look at that!

That is brilliant, man.

I have a file on my computer.

Whoo!

-All right, we're done. -What?

-We're done. -We're done.

Yeah. Oh, I'm so happy right now.

This is awesome.

After that, there was nothing to do but wait.


As a kid growing up, I always had this sweet spot for taxonomy... which I don't really know how to put my finger on that.

I always wanted to know what things were, and I wanted to know the scientific name.

So, I fell in love with catching all of these little critters and coming back and having a bunch of guides to help me figure out what they were.

And so, when I got into coral, there were only a handful of resources from one guy.

This guy, Charlie Veron.

Every time I was looking something up, there he was.

There are about 340 species of coral on the Great Barrier Reef.

There's one just over there that's about six meters high.

For all intents and purposes, he's the godfather of coral reef science.

He's the first guy to really go down and start cataloging corals, and I wish I could be that guy, but I was born a little too late.

Here we have thousands upon thousands of species all interreacting together in a complex way.

Corals, unlike any other form of life on Earth, except man, have the capacity to build their own environments, to create their own habitats.

Think of a city.

Corals are experts at creating high-rises.

They're basically creating this incredible dimensionality, this three-dimensional framework.

The more complex a structure, the more biodiversity can potentially live there.

In a healthy coral reef system, the entire landscape is covered with coral.

They're competing for space with one another, they grow over and under.

Look at Great Barrier Reef, it's really the Manhattan of the ocean.

This hugely diverse and complex city.

And like in a city, the fish are living in very specific places.

It's a bit like a neighborhood.

You go back to a neighborhood and you see the same people.

The same fish is living in the same piece of coral week after week.

They live there pretty much their entire life.

In the morning and afternoon, you have traffic on the reef.

You've got fish which have, like, spent the night on the reef, and then they go out to feed and all swim together.

So, they're busy places.

When the sun starts coming up, you actually have a morning chorus, similar to what we get when we hear the birds waking up in the forest when the sun comes up.

When you listen closely, you hear things purring.

You hear the grunts and the groans of so many different animals.

It's not a silent world at all.

It's actually pretty noisy.

Each fish, each animal, has its own job, and it does its own thing.

There are fish that farm.

They actually grow little plants or algae.

And they'll go pick a piece of algae and plant it, and look after that area.

There are crabs and lobsters... and little shrimps that will do things like defend corals.

There are strange partnerships, like moray eels, which will hunt with coral trout.

Completely different fish, but they work together to hunt across the reef, and they share the meal.

One of the things you notice is the sort of crunching noise.

And this is the parrotfish.

These are fish that have beaks.

They actually eat the coral. They're crunching away at the coral.

When that coral passes through the parrotfish, it comes out as sand.

So, in fact, every single beach, you're basically walking on parrotfish poo.

Coral reefs are hugely important for the ocean, because they're essentially the nursery.

And they say something like 25% of all marine life relies on coral reefs.

We've got half a billion to a billion people that rely on coral reefs as their main source of food.

Without that protein, they're going to be malnourished.

Their culture, their way of life, their economies are all reliant on healthy coral reefs.

And many of the new drugs that are coming to help humans come from the sea.

There's a drug called prostaglandin that comes from sea fans, and that fights cancer.

There's another one called bryostatin that comes from coral rhizomes, and it fights cancer, too.

There are so many things that we don't know yet that could help society, through the novel chemistries that we find on coral reef organisms.

Coral reefs are producing a breakwater that's protecting us from big waves, from cyclones.

They're better than the ones that we can produce, because they're growing and rebuilding it all the time.

The corals are the real basis of that ecosystem.

You can't have a city without buildings.

And you can't have a coral reef without the corals.


So, we went back to the Bahamas to retrieve Camera Number 1 after its time.


We're gonna keep our fingers crossed and hope we have plenty of footage.

Hoping that there's at least a month and a half.

Bingo.

That's out of focus.

All of these are out of focus.

This is a big bummer.

In focus... and then the first one after that's out of focus.

And it progressively gets worse. You see that?

All this footage is out of focus.

And pretty much useless.

I hope they worked elsewhere.


We're out of focus here.

I thought we were okay.

Damn it.

So, how bad are the images?

Bad.

-Not usable. -Unusable.

-Yeah. -And so, it's really soft.

Yep.

There it gets softer and softer and softer.

I've never heard of manual focus changing over time.

Yeah.

Hawaii bleached.

It had the worst bleaching it's ever had.

It's just that we didn't manage to capture it.

We put a lot of effort getting those cameras down, and we thought we'd... we'd done everything right... and it's a huge knock-back.

More so because we knew the clock was against us.

We didn't know how long the bleaching event was gonna last.

I've been looking at the latest sea temperature values for the Australian region.

Definitely warmer than it's been for quite a while.

That coastal area is probably gonna continue to warm.

Yeah.

If you're into bleaching...

-this is a good sign. -Yeah.

Of course, it means horrible things for the reef.

Beat, 30 seconds.

Zack and Trevor went all-in and just fixed the problems.

-The square that pops up on this... -We changed to a fixed lens, and it allowed us to get rid of all of the focus issues that we had.

We have such a better system going.

I'm much more confident it's gonna work.

Yeah. Yeah.

Awesome! A stingray.

I'm standing on one of the two and a half thousand or so enormous platform reefs that make up Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Very few people can realize that this is the largest structure ever made by life on Earth.

These reefs extend along the tropical coastline of Australia, a distance of over 2,000 kilometers, the length of the entire East Coast of the United States of America.

I always wanted to go to the Great Barrier Reef.

I wanna see it for its beauty, and always wanted to get there.

That's the goal. Always been the goal.

Dude, you're about to see the GBR from the air.

That's actually a very exciting thing.

And it's just amazing to think about how massive it is.

And it's all alive.


So, we're sending two teams to the southern Great Barrier Reef.

We're sending Jeff and Zack to Keppel, and we're sending Andrew and team to Heron.


Camera's in and it's running.

The most smooth that any of these have gone.

It was so much smoother than Hawaii.

And then we waited.

Waited for that warm water to come.

Already biologists say some corals are dying, bleached white, a sign in the first stage of death.

You're talking... an event similar to the rain forests of the world turning white over a very short period of time.

Everyone would be jumping up and taking notice, wondering what the hell is happening.

You may think, "Well, this is just a cycle that we go through."

Good morning. Coral bleaching in Hawaii has gained a lot of attention.

-So much that... -This isn't a natural cycle.

This is a phenomenon directly attributed to climate change, and it's something that we've only seen in recent years.

One of the ways of looking back in time with a reef is to take coral cores, or slices through coral.

You can look at growth rings in corals in the same way as you look at growth rings in trees.

You can see a regular, normal growth pattern.

This coral grows at around a centimeter and a half per year, every year, right up until 1998, where you start to see the signature of a coral bleaching event.

By tracking back in time, by looking at the history of the reef, we're absolutely certain that what we're seeing now is not a natural fluctuation.

The cause is, unequivocally, global climate change, driven by emitting carbon into the atmosphere.

I think a lot of people don't realize climate change is happening because most of the extra heat trapped by greenhouse gases has been transferred to the oceans.

When you burn fossil fuel... that's burning oil, gas or coal... carbon dioxide goes up into the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide has the property that it's able to trap heat.

So, the more you have in the atmosphere, the greater the amount of heat trapped by the Earth.

It's a bit like putting extra wool into your sweater.

What people don't know is that 93% of the heat that's trapped is going into the ocean.

That's a lot of energy.

If the oceans weren't doing this job of absorbing the heat, the average surface temperature of the planet would be 122 Fahrenheit.

There are rates of change going on in tropical oceans, which, if projected forward... it means that coral reefs are a likely casualty of any global climate change.

I published that in the peer-reviewed literature.

At that point in time, people weren't quite ready for that, and I had a lot of colleagues that were confronting me, challenging me, attacking me.

He was ridiculed for this, for being an alarmist.

But over time he's been proved right, time and time again.

I just love the reef. That's why I did this.

That's why I came here when I was 18 to this island and started to study the reef.

It wasn't because I thought it was gonna disappear or I was trying to battle a problem called global climate change.

It's unfortunate that I can't look at this thing and still see the beauty. I see the problems.

This wonderful thing, this thing that's been around for a very long time... is threatened, in our lifetime and on our watch.

And however hard we try to... to get people to listen, um... it seems to be lost in the wind, you know?


Storms and the weather is really the controlling factor right now.

The wind and the storms continue rolling through, and we get cloud coverage, we might not see a whole lot happen here at Keppel.

746 00:52:04,204 --> 00:52:05,873 Tropical cyclone Winston,

the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

-The big threat going forward... -For the first time... we felt we were in the right place at the right time.

And when Hurricane Winston happened, all of that changed.

It caused a lot of cold water and a lot of rain to come to the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Part of me is happy that the corals aren't gonna bleach here.

Actually makes me ecstatic to think that they're gonna make it through this event.

But at the same time, we've tried so hard to capture this.

We essentially had to make a difficult decision to stick to our original plan, with less-than-ideal odds, or we go check out some of these other portions of the Great Barrier Reef that were getting really warm.

It's all of this to the north of New Caledonia and below and even these splotch areas are at Level 2.

It's just... nothing short of catastrophic for the coral.

We know now New Caledonia is bleaching.

Lizard Island is bleaching.

I guess it is a simple decision in some ways.

We should just pick up and move over, and reset up at those new locations.

The problem is the time-lapse cameras.

It'll take weeks to move those systems, and we'll have missed the bleaching.

We're gonna have to figure something else out.

I went to turn my computer off, and there was this message from Jeff, saying, "How soon can you pack?"

We were gonna abandon these camera systems... and do manual underwater time-lapses every single day.

I think we, as a team, realized that there was no going back.

We headed up to Lizard Island, and the other portion of our team went out to New Caledonia.


It's the most amazing reef.

And it's just demolished.

It's just so hot.

Like, it literally feels like a bathtub.

Anybody order a large Coke?

Here we are talking about coral reef bleaching and global climate change... and here's our other problem.

When we went to Lizard Island, we didn't have our time-lapse cameras anymore.

The idea is to take one tripod and one camera, and get as many shots as we can in as many positions of as many pieces of coral as we can, and to repeat that every single day.

Get on the boat at 9:15, go out to your first site.

You would find your markings for the tripod, put down each leg at the correct heights, and then you would have reference points you could then attach the laser beams to, and then I had a lamination of the first day's shots.

And then you would take two minutes of footage, then you'd pick everything back up, move onto the next site, and do the same again.

And then again and again.

And you do that essentially 25 times a day.

Between Jeff and I, we had 60 sites.

The reason we built the time-lapse systems was it seemed absurd to have people camped on the beach at multiple locations and having to go down and do what a machine is designed to do.

Logistically, it was a nightmare.

Getting it in the right position, and you're fighting the current, so you're getting bounced around a lot, your knees are bleeding everywhere, your body is cut up, you're tired.

It got to the point where you're spending four hours a day underwater.

Weird things start happening.

I don't know if it's funny.

It's, uh...

You do what you have to do.


We were getting reports that the corals in New Caledonia were doing something completely weird.

Richard was there, he said, "It's the craziest thing I've ever seen.

I don't know what it is."

The locals didn't know what it was.

We didn't know what was happening.

I asked Richard to explain.

He's like, "Don't know what to tell you. It's glowing."


This was different.

The corals were... were fluorescing.

They're producing a chemical sunscreen to protect themselves from the heat.

You can't even describe it.

They were the most vivid colors I've ever seen.

This is the most beautiful transformation in nature.

The incredibly beautiful phase of death.

And it feels as if... it's the corals saying:

"Look at me.

Please, notice."


We were diving every day from a floating restaurant.

835 01:00:20,951 --> 01:00:24,079 That was kind of funny, the first day.

Like, that whole thought just became much more depressing.

Bit of a shock.

This is one of the rarest events in nature happening... and everyone's just oblivious to it.

And you can't blame them for it. I mean, it's... It's just... almost typical of all of humanity.

This is going on... and no one is noticing.

We designed something originally to do this project without emotions.

And when we began doing this manually at Lizard Island... you have the emotional ties to it.

You are down there.

And to sit there for a month, and every single day, watch something new around you die that you saw yesterday... it's just difficult.


You forget what it looked like at the beginning.

And some days, when you go back, and you're sitting down there, looking at it now, and it doesn't look real.

And you-- It's not even-- You can't even accept it.

And then you open your eyes, and it's dead as far as you can see.


It's algae and dead coral skeletons.


It's flesh. It's living tissue... that's rotting away.

It's disgusting, really.


I thought we would find bleaching.

I thought we would capture it.

But I don't think I ever prepared myself, or thought we were gonna see this.

See, I'm not even mad that I'm leaving, because it's just so miserable here.

869 01:05:38,977 --> 01:05:40,645 When coral bleaches and dies...


you're losing the coral animal.

And that's a shame, 'cause it's a beautiful thing.

But a coral is... a fundamental part of a huge ecosystem.

It is, in a way, just like the trees in a forest.

If coral reefs are lost, we're affecting the life of a quarter of the ocean.

If the little fish disappear, the big fish disappear, and then you can look at humans as one of the big fish.

It's easy to think about the fate of an individual species.

But what is a little harder to explain... it's the beginning of an ecological collapse of the entire ecosystem.

It's more than the species, the genus, the family, the order.

We're talking about the possibility that entire classes of organisms would go extinct.

When scientists say they're researching climate change and coral reefs, it's not about whether or not climate change is happening or not.

It's really the uncertainty between knowing whether it's going to be bad or really bad.

When we look at ocean temperatures, there are a range of projections of how they're gonna change into the future.

If you take the average, in about 25 years, all across the planet, the oceans become too warm for coral reefs to survive.

That means they'll bleach every year and they won't be healthy enough to recover.

Coral reefs will not be able to keep up, they will not be able to adapt, and we will see the eradication of an entire ecosystem in our lifespan.

That is a very gloomy statement.

But, unfortunately, it is true.

Everything on our planet is connected.

What we're doing is pulling out the card called "coral reefs" from this house of cards.

And the real fear is that we'll take out enough of those cards where the whole thing will just simply collapse.

If we can't save this ecosystem... are we gonna have the courage to save the next ecosystem down the line?

Do we need forests?

Do we need trees?

Do we need reefs?

Or can we just sort of live in the ashes of all of that?

So, tell me where we're going.

We're actually just going to Charlie Veron's house.

Used to literally sit behind a desk for hours a day using Charlie Veron's coral lists to ID things.

Like... he was the boss.

He was the information that I used on a daily basis to learn everything that I know of corals.

And now, I'm about to go sit in his living room and interview him.

So, that's quite a big step.

-Hello. -Hello.

-Charlie. -How are you? I'm Zack.

Pleasure to meet you.

927 01:09:26,120 --> 01:09:28,790 While I was in college studying evolutionary biology,

I actually got a job at an aquarium.

And so, for five years, I grew coral, used all of your work to teach myself as much of coral taxonomy

-as I possibly could. -Oh, okay.

So, I was very nervous about it-- Coming here, so--

I'm not the sort of person to be nervous about.

No, not at all, but--

-Yeah. -I guess I just wanna hear your perspective of the change that you've seen over time.

Then it was... it was a totally different mindset, because the reef was there forever, there was no question about it.

-Yeah. -I even wondered why you would wanna make it a marine park.

It's so big, nothing's gonna touch the Great Barrier Reef.

But it's changed enormously.

And this bleaching and the degrading of the Great Barrier that I've seen in my lifetime... it really upsets me.

Up at Lizard, we essentially have fluorescing or bleached corals going through their transition to death, being covered in algae.

You covered the whole thing. Yeah, way to go.

Yeah, the whole horrible, horrible, ghastly mess.

Yeah. It was actually quite difficult while we were up there.

I got quite frustrated a few times where I just didn't wanna be there anymore.

I didn't wanna watch it anymore.

I was over it. And...

I'm glad I'm not your age.

You know, I'm ready to check out when-- when the Great Barrier Reef gets trashed, 'cause it's been the most... loved thing in the physical world of my life.

You know, I've been diving on it for 45 years.

And I'm damned if I'm ever gonna stop until I go completely senile. I'm gonna keep going, and as long as I can influence people, I will.

-Because we have to. -Absolutely.

We've got no choice. You've got no choice, I'm afraid.

-You've gotta keep at it. You've got to. -Yep, yep.

Otherwise, you're not gonna like yourself when you're an old man.

You'll think... You're gonna like yourself much more... if you can say, "Well, I sure tried to turn that around.

And maybe I did influence people here and there and..."

Don't let a-- Don't let anything stop you.

972 01:11:32,413 --> 01:11:33,956 Just gotta get my glasses.

Losing the Barrier Reef has actually gotta mean something.

You can't let it just die, and it becomes an old textbook.

It's got to... cause the change that it deserves.

Us losing the Great Barrier Reef has got to wake up the world.

We have a really interesting situation.

Over the next 30 years, we're going to be facing shifting ocean temperatures and conditions.

And that's just a matter of fact, because we've got point-five...

I usually get to these things and... and you start kind of almost shaking.

I definitely have a little bit of nervousness going.

How much talking is too much talking?

Is getting personal a bad thing?

Like, "This one was one of the more difficult sites for me to go back to."

Really good to show that it actually affected you.

-Right. -That's really important.

Um, and good. Um...

-As long as you don't start crying. -Yeah.

Yeah.

So, over the last two years, we've been amassing a huge amount of bleaching imagery from all over the world.

Now Zack's gonna show you some of that imagery.

So, if you wanna pop up, Zack.

We spent the last four months in Australia and we documented the ongoing bleaching event.

And so, I wanted to just show you what our team was able to document.


In just two months, we've lost the majority of fish life on this coral colony.


The soft corals disintegrate.

Fields and fields of soft coral that then just turns into a barren rock face.

I didn't even think it was possible.


This has been a mortality event on a massive scale.

29% of the corals on the Great Barrier Reef alone have died.

To lose 29% of the coral animals in a single year, it's just mind-blowing, the scale of this bleaching event.

I think the most shocking part was how widespread it was.

'Cause it affected almost all the reefs from Lizard Island north through Torres Strait.

And it was severe.

It's the equivalent of losing most of the trees between Washington, DC, and Maine.

Well, this isn't just the Great Barrier Reef.

This is a global massive event.

There are a large number of places that are experiencing bleaching right now.

And that's why we need help.

We're looking for people who have access to a local reef to help photograph what's happening in your own backyard.

If you are a diver, please, join our effort and get in touch...

Everybody's come together that saw our call-out.

At this point, we are on the bleaching threshold and under a warning alert for bleaching.

Behind me, you can see we have the Akumal reefs.

Basically, we've seen... that one is almost completely bleached.

Water temperature has been rising, and the coral has been bleaching.

You're talking about the Caribbean, two years in a row, about Hawaii, two years in a row.

This last summer was especially horrific.

25 to 50% of the coral is already long-since dead.

We know the waters here started warming up in May, 2015, to about three degrees Celsius above normal.

Most of the Acropora, the most common branch corals, are dying.

The climate is still changing. The ocean temperature is rising.

The El Niño this year has bleached what's left.

Reefs here have been under major stress, -like other places across the globe. -We're here in the Republic of Palau.

I'm in Cebu City, and...

The corals have been bleached over the past month.

The coral is 75% bleaching, and about half of them is dead already.

We now have a mass coral bleaching event happening here on Christmas Island.

...degrees centigrade.

A lot of the reefs around Sri Lanka were heavily bleached.

Bleaching is happening right now.

The coral are showing massive signs of bleaching, and for that reason, we have massive mortality rates.

We've found the branch--

Branching Arcoporas, Pocilloporas have started to show signs of bleaching.

I've been helping capture images of coral bleaching in the Red Sea.

Bleaching has occurred here, recently.

Uh, there was a bleaching event...

I get cross with myself... because I don't think I did enough.

I didn't make enough noise when I realized what was happening.

I didn't do enough.

Better at it than I am.

Zack has an option of being part of that fight.

Maybe Zack will say, "Charlie... he's just a gloomy old man, and, uh... we can fix these things."

-All good? -Yeah.


How are you guys doing today?

-Good. -Are you guys excited?

Yeah.

Let's go diving.

Diving! I see a fish. -Take a look around. -I see a turtle.

-I see a turtle. -I see a turtle.

In my mind, all kids are born scientists.

They're born adventurers.

They wanna explore.

If we can get the kids to hold on to that curiosity, then our planet would be a much better place.

I could-- I could see a stingray.

-What is that? -Turtles, fish, coral, crabs, starfish. You name it. It's all there, right? We're gonna take you on an expedition to go see the third global bleaching event.

I think having been on the journey that I've been on, I should be the most depressed person on the planet.

I'm seeing the ecosystem that I've fallen in love with... die before my eyes.

Having said that, I'm not actually depressed.

And that's because 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.

It's not too late for coral reefs, indeed, for many other ecosystems that are facing challenges from climate change.

It's still possible to reduce the rate at which the climate is changing.

And that's within our power today.

It's all achievable.

It's not like we don't have the money, not like we don't have the resources.

It's not like we don't have the brains.

This is inevitable, this great transformation, and that's what makes me so optimistic is... all we gotta do is give it a bit of a shove.


I was just born, I was just born

I been crawling Till I learned to walk

When I met you, I was so young

I didn't know that it could fall apart

Tell me what do I do

Now I see what we've done

And I know that it's true

You gave me nothing but love

Tell me how long, tell me how long

♪ Till we see the pieces that'll break ♪

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Tell me how long will it take

Till we wake up

Till we wake up

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Till we wake up

I been trying I been trying to tell you

What's inside my soul

I been dying, I been dying

But the ocean changes slow

And it's hard to see it

But I know that it's true

That I gotta be better

So much better to you

Tell me how long, tell me how long

♪ Till we see the pieces that'll break ♪

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Tell me how long will it take

Till we wake up

Till we wake up

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Till we wake up

Oh, I know we're gonna wake up

I scream in color

Tell me, can you hear me Through the waves

If we keep on waiting

Do we lose the things That we can save

If we hold each other

We don't have to let it slip away

We don't have to let this slip away

Tell me how long, tell me how long

♪ Till we see the pieces that'll break ♪

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Tell me how long will it take

Till we wake up

Till we wake up

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Till we wake up

I know we're gonna wake up

I know we're gonna wake up

♪ Oh, we're gonna wake up ♪

Oh, we're gonna wake up ♪

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Tell me how long will it take

Till we wake up

Till we wake up

Tell me how long, tell me how long

Till we wake up

I know we're gonna wake up

I know we're gonna wake up

Oh, we're gonna wake up

Oh, we're gonna wake up ♪

-♪ Till we wake up ♪ -♪ Tell me how long, tell me how long

-♪ Oh, we're gonna wake up ♪ -♪ Tell me how long, tell me how long ♪

-♪ Tell me how long will it take-♪ Till we wake up ♪