MIAMI — People don’t know what they’re missing beneath the surface of a busy shipping channel in the “cruise capital of the world.” Just below the keels of giant ships, an underwater camera provides a live, otherworldly feed of marine life doing its best to resist global warming.
This camera in Miami’s Government Cut is just one of the many endeavors by a marine biologist and musician who have been on a 15-year mission to raise awareness of dying coral reefs by combining science and art to bring underwater life into pop culture.
Her company – Coral Morphologic – brings stunning imagery to the surface, posts beautiful close-ups of underwater life on social media, sets time-lapse videos of swaying, glowing corals to music and projects them onto buildings, and even sells a line of coral-themed beachwear.
“We are not all art. We are not all science. We are not all technicians. We’re an alchemy,” said Colin Foord, who defies the looks of a typical scientist, with blue hair so spiky it appears to be electrically charged. He and business partner JD McKay sat down with The Associated Press to feature 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 given time every day.
“We will actually be able to document a year of coral growth, which has never been done in situ on a coral reef before, and that’s only possible because we have this technological connection right here in Port of Miami that allows us to do that.” to have power and internet,” Foord said.
The live stream has already shown 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, Foord said.
“We have these very resilient corals growing here. The main goal for us to bring it under water was to show people that there is so much marine life here in our city,” said Foord.
McKay, on the other hand, sounds like a Broadway producer as he describes how he also films the creatures in their Miami lab, growing corals in tanks to prepare them for closeups in glorious color.
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“We essentially create a set with one of these aquariums, and then of course there are actors — coral or shrimp or whatever — and then we film it, and then I get a vibe of whatever’s going on in the scene, and then I set it to some ambient noise, something very oceanic,” McKay explained.
Their latest production, Coral City Flourotour, will be featured on the New World Center Wallscape this week when the Aspen Institute hosts a major climate conference in Miami Beach. Foord speaks on a panel about how the ocean’s natural systems can help humans combat the effects of climate change. The title of the lecture? “The ocean is a superhero.”
“I think if we can recognize that we are all this one family of life and everything is connected, then hopefully we can make meaningful changes now so that future generations don’t have to live in a world of wildfires and melted ice caps and dead oceans,” he said Foord of the AP.
Their mission is urgent: After 500 million years on Earth, these species are threatened by climate change. Warming oceans are causing coral bleaching and increasing the risk of infectious diseases that can lead to mass coral die-offs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Stronger storms and changes in water chemistry can destroy reef structures, while altered currents wash away food and larvae.
“Climate change is the single greatest global threat to coral reef ecosystems,” NOAA said in a recent report.
This completes the second part of Coral Morphologic’s name. “What does it mean to be morphological? It really means having to adapt because the environment is always changing,” said Foord.
The staghorn, elkhorn and brain corals inhabiting Government Cut are a real-world example of how coral communities can adapt to things like rising heat and polluted runoff, even in an unlikely environment like the Port of Miami. Their video has documented fluorescence in some of the corals, an unusual response in offshore waters that Foord said could protect them from the sun’s rays.
“The port is an invaluable place for coral research,” Foord said. “We have to be realistic. They won’t be able to make ecosystems the way they were 200 years ago. The options we are left with are more radical.”
Beyond science there is clothing. Coral Morphologic sells a line of surf and swimwear that takes designs from flower anemones and brain coral and uses eco-friendly materials like a type of nylon recycled from discarded fishing nets.
“We see the power of technology connecting people to nature. We’re lucky as artists, and corals benefit,” Foord said.
By CURT ANDERSON and CODY JACKSON, Associated Press. Jackson reported from Miami and Anderson from St. Petersburg, Florida.