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‘Chasing Coral’ Review: There’s Still time to save our reefs

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UGA chapter.

Winner of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Awards, Chasing Coral is a visually stunning and emotionally compelling documentary that illustrates the anthropogenic-induced destruction of the world’s coral reefs. Directed by Jeff Orlowski, who championed the similarly fashioned and acclaimed documentary Chasing Ice, Chasing Coral follows two activists: British ad executive turned ocean conservationist Richard Vevers and self-proclaimed “coral nerd” and camera technician Zack Rago, on their expedition to document and raise awareness of the decimation of coral reefs, climate change, consumerism, habit fragmentation, and other pressing environmental matters as well as elicit a sense of responsibility and action from viewers — a message that’s just as pertinent now as it was five years ago. What follows is a captivating yet grimly haunting chronicle of a dying species’ pleading cry for help and society’s desperate attempts at reconciliation. 

Chasing Coral’s gripping depiction of climate change, species extinction, overconsumption of resources, and cataclysmic human influence on the environment is exceedingly potent. Immediately, the film establishes the importance of coral reefs and oceans, asserting that “reefs are a source of food and income for over 500 million people,” as 25% of all marine life and millions of individuals rely on these underwater ecosystems. Dubbed “rainforests of the sea,” coral reefs are crucial for biodiversity, providing essential food, shelter, and spawning grounds for over 1 million aquatic species as well as generating 50% of the earth’s oxygen supply and absorbing 70 to 90 million tons of carbon per year and 48% of fossil fuel emissions.  From protecting coastlines from storms and erosion, sustaining local communities through tourism and fishing — coral reefs contribute $3.4 billion to the US economy, with $36 billion from tourism alone — and serving as a food source and avenue for new medical treatments, coral reefs offer unparalleled benefits that are slowly disappearing alongside the once-thriving colonies. 

Despite the reef’s vital role in the economy, advancement of medicine, food production, etc., corals face numerous threats from pollution, unsustainable fishing practices, and ocean acidification. Society has “lost fifty percent of the world’s corals” within the last three decades due to global warming and fossil fuel emissions — 93% of the heat generated by fossil fuels is directly absorbed into the oceans, detrimentally impacting coral reefs. As such, increased water temperatures induce coral bleaching, a process in which corals expel algae and turn white due to stress caused by warmer waters and ocean acidification, leading to their potential deaths.

Between 2014-2017, the Chasing Coral team captured the most severe bleaching event in history in which “75% of corals suffered or died from heat stress brought on by climate change,” as exhibited by the Great Barrier Reef, which lost 29% of its corals in 2016. The film emphasizes that unless humans mitigate carbon production and combat climate change, “by 2034 there will be severe bleaching events every year and by 2050, 90% of reefs could be lost,” devasting marine life, coastal terrain, and economies that rely on fishing and tourism. This potential loss would not only diminish biodiversity but also lead to a collapse in fishing industries, shorelines, breakthroughs in medical research, and a dwindling oxygen supply. Corals can recover from bleaching events if conditions improve but it takes years to fully heal, leading scientists to implement artificial reefs constructed out of deployed cement and metal structures or preexisting submerged artifacts such as shipwrecks. While these methods aid coral regeneration, they are not permanent solutions, but rather merely steps in tackling these environmental issues. Sustainable practices such as using renewable energy sources, reducing waste and energy consumption, and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions are paramount in alleviating the effects of climate change and protecting these beautiful habitats.

Throughout its duration, Chasing Coral excels at balancing the impending, potential loss of the world’s reefs — its tragic, harrowing time-lapse of human-instigated murder of the reefs is impressively moving — with its inspiring, hopeful attitude for a greener future. Its conclusion is unequivocally stirring, arguing that there is still time to save our beloved reefs and empowering audiences to incite eco-friendly actions such as reducing energy consumption and stormwater runoff, using public transportation, recycling, shopping and eating sustainably, being conscious of one’s carbon and ecological footprints, reaching out to politicians, supporting climate and conservation organizations, and increasing awareness on social media and in one’s community.

Chasing Coral strives to educate audiences about pressing environmental issues such as climate change, habitat fragmentation, pollution, and overexploitation of resources as well as instill a sense of appreciation and concern for these crucial systems, all while presenting captivating visuals, concrete statistics, and a powerful narrative that serves as a chilling warning to Earth’s future and a reminder that unless the world changes its current course of action, climate change and its consequences will annihilate 70-90% of the world’s reefs, resulting in global catastrophe.

For more resources, visit the Chasing Coral production page and check out these marine conservation and climate organizations below:


Chasing Coral is available to stream on YouTube for free.

Anna van Eekeren is a fourth-year student at the University of Georgia majoring in Entertainment and Media Studies, with a minor in Film Studies and certificates in New Media and Interdisciplinary Writing. She is passionate about social justice, culture, media, and the environment. She enjoys reading, writing, playing video games, listening to music, swimming, traveling, and taking personality quizzes.