VFFOnline 2021: How to Give Life Back to Coral Ghosts

2 Feb

By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)

Streaming Online
at the Victoria Film Festival
Get your pass here to view beginning Feb 5th, 2021

Note: Available to view for residents in British Columbia

Coral Ghosts mixes up two ideas, the need to reverse the damaging effects of climate change and preserve the past with still photography, into a rallying cry to reverse the damage done to the reefs around the world. This uphill challenge is tough. Marine biologist Dr. Thomas J. Goreau wants to save the life of more than one ocean. It’s not about Bikini Atoll, where this documentary begins. In an article on The Guardian, Eleanor Ainge Roy wrote, “Steve Palumbi, a professor in marine sciences at the university, said the effects of radiation poisoning on ocean life have never been studied in-depth, and his team’s initial research suggests it is ‘remarkably resilient’.”

Spongebob Squarepants would cry if he saw this work by Andrew Nisker. Not everyone recognizes the tie in of the fictional cartoon ocean world to real life. As for why some marine creatures survived the devastation (and didn’t mutate) while others haven’t is a mystery when the island was recently researched. I personally think it’s because some species returned many decades later after the amount of radiation in the bottom of the sea near these Marshall Islands levelled, even though it’ll still harm human life.

As for how other areas of ocean can survive requires more than preserving the past with still images, as the film suggests, but also with relocation and people making their voices heard. The importance of photographs is, however, muddled. The breathtaking underwater cinematography is one of contrasts. In ecosystems harmed by radiation, it’s a ghost town as this title suggests. At those unharmed, it’s a kaleidoscope of beauty!

Even if these worlds are long gone, I don’t think preservation of the past with photographs is enough. Maybe collecting a few samples to fully decontaminate and regrow elsewhere can bring the dead back to life. Other areas of the sea from this region can benefit. Without these polyps, the delicate ecosystem that supports the larger food chain and environment in a global scale will all be gone.

Goreau is the focus in this feature length look. He’s the hero facing tough odds, and is racing against time to save what he can from a world he grew up in, his parents studied (they were also marine biologists) and his grandfather, Fritz–who witnessed those early nuclear tests–photographed. This elder chronicled the immediate fallout to Bikini Atoll in 1946.

The presentation is very informative. However, more can be said within this work to rally environmentalists world-wide to do what they can at a local level. It doesn’t have to be about specific coral reefs, BC’s own glass reefs included!

Also, as this work shows, Goreau can’t get the funding he needs to truly promote what needs to be done. As for whether this documentary can get people to recognize why more people are needed, the idiom of there’s plenty of fish in the sea comes to mind. The issue is how many peeps will take the bite, and help save the world?

3½ Stars out of 5

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