Several institutions from across the University of Georgia campus have partnered to engage the public and raise awareness about declining coral health around the world with a free screening of the award-winning documentary "Chasing Coral" on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at the Tate Student Center Theatre.
As part of outreach efforts, environmental science students from Cedar Shoals and Clarke Central high schools will visit campus on Oct. 4 and 5 to view the film and participate in a discussion with its producer and key cast members, including UGA ecologist James W. Porter.
Porter, Meigs Professor Emeritus in UGA's Odum School of Ecology, has studied coral reefs in the Caribbean and Florida Keys since the 1970s. His contributions to the film include underwater photographs of reefs in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, that he took beginning in 1976.
"Over my professional lifetime, coral reefs worldwide have lost 30 percent of their living coral," he said. "Our own work in Florida has documented a 50 percent loss of Keys coral since 1996."
"Chasing Coral," a Netflix original documentary, won the Audience Choice Award in the U.S. documentary competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. The film follows scientists and divers as they chart the dramatic loss of coral reefs in oceans around the world.
Porter has observed the damage firsthand, explaining that rising ocean temperatures cause the symbiotic algae that inhabit corals-providing them with sustenance and distinctive color-to die off, revealing the bone-white limestone of coral skeletons. This phenomenon, known as coral bleaching, often kills the corals it affects.
"Pictures tell the story in a way that quoting facts and figures can't," Porter said.
A panel discussion with the filmmaker and cast members will follow the screening, with Jeffrey P. Jones, executive director of the Peabody Awards and Peabody Media Center, moderating.
"Documentary films have an important role in highlighting the effects of global warming on fragile ecosystems. The Peabody Media Center is invested in fostering social conversation around unique challenges such as this," he said.
When coral reefs disappear, the effects are widespread, according to Porter. While they make up only 1 percent of the world's oceans, they are home to 25 percent of marine species, supporting more biodiversity than tropical rainforests.
Coral reefs also serve as important economic engines for coastal communities. Porter estimates that 500 million people depend on them as a source of protein and income, and they generate $30 billion per year for tropical economies. They also serve as important buffers against shoreline erosion from storms.
"The situation is critical, and we need to get the message out and prompt people to take action," said Porter. "That's why we wanted to bring the film and the filmmakers to Athens and especially to engage students."
The project is presented by EcoFocus Film Festival in partnership with the Clarke County School District. Financial and logistical support was provided by Kirbo Charitable Foundation, Reef Ball Foundation, ECOGIG research consortium at the department of marine sciences, Peabody Media Center, Katherine and Bertis Downs, Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology, and Willson Center for Humanities and Arts. Additional promotional support was provided by UGA's Speak Out for Species club, Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant.
To learn more about "Chasing Coral" and to view the trailer, visit http://www.chasingcoral.com/. The film is also available for streaming on Netflix.
For more information about the Athens screenings, see http://ecofocusfilmfest.org/.
Writer: Beth Gavrilles