Death Underwater

By: Shohini Ghosh

Pictures speak a thousand words. Jeff Orlowski directed the 2017 documentary Chasing Coral is a testament to this statement. By eliminating the use of jargon and through the sheer use of impactful pictures and videos, Orlowski and team managed to build a case about the disappearance of coral reefs. The documentary really is like a picture book, except that at the end, the audience is moved to the core.

Why You Should Be Interested

Can you imagine a tropical forest with no tress?

Now imagine a sea without corals. Not possible. There will be no sea left!

Coral reefs are home to marine species like fishes, they contribute to fishing and tourism, they aid in the development of several medications like drugs that treat cancer, and people depend on them for food. They form an imperative ecosystem that not only supports life underwater but is also essential for our existence.

Regrettably, overfishing, acidification, runoff and seeps, coral mining, marine pollution, use of harmful chemicals (like the one used in sunscreens) and rising temperatures due to global warming have rendered coral reefs defenceless and in the past 30 years, 50% of the coral reefs have been lost.  

It is the last cause, i.e., rise in temperature that the documentary mostly orbits around. It elaborates how even a 1 °C increase in temperature leads to coral bleaching- the process when corals become white due to various stressors, such as changes in temperature, light, or nutrients. 

The infamous coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef in 2016 was an alarm which somehow went unheard. Chasing Coral is a reminder that the alarm is still ringing and detrimental actions must come to a halt while there is still time.

The documentary is for everyone who lives on this planet because disruption to this ecosystem puts all the other species in danger too.


What To Expect?

‘Chasing Coral’ opens with beautiful shots of marine life – fishes, turtles and corals and goes on to narrate the importance of corals. Time lapse has been used judiciously to show the growth of corals, their structure, how they intake food and the like. The documentary paints a flourishing picture of life underwater.

But soon it is made to realize that the picture is actually pretty dissimilar in real life. Pictures and videos of corals dating 50 years back are frequently contrasted with pictures of corals today. It’s frightening and impactful at the same time.

The documentary has an interesting segment where the camera technician and his team struggle to capture the process of coral bleaching. They go from being hopeful about the development of creative techniques to capture the same to being disheartened when the cameras got flooded. This segment makes the audience feel like they are at the sea themselves, grappling with all the obstacles.

Nonetheless, they do manage to capture coral bleaching which showcases a beautiful but tragic death. The documentary closes by explaining the impression of this disturbance on other ecosystems and urges others to raise awareness regarding the same.

What Makes it a Good Documentary?

Unlike most documentaries, ‘Chasing Coral’ refrains from just presenting arguments to bring about a change. In fact, it makes use of something even more powerful – visual proof! Through the use of time lapse, the technicians managed to capture the changes noticed in coral reefs over a period of four months that they spent in Australia. The dead corals are sharply juxtaposed against the healthy ones that supported life.

The tenacity of the camera technician and team is worth mentioning as they manually conducted time lapses in 60 sites every day. The result? Precise and thorough understanding of coral bleaching. The concise explanations offered by marine and coral reef biologists help in fully gauging the situation and its effect.


Final Thoughts

‘Chasing Coral’ is an impactful documentary that highlights the woeful condition of coral reefs. It is like an effective advertisement that showcases the healthy and unhealthy coral reefs and urges people to do something about the same.

While the documentary fails to package solutions in its running time, it sure gives a lot to people to think about.

It is a must-see documentary not just for those who are absorbed by life underwater but for all those who care about the planet. It’s only by educating oneself that one can help bring about a positive change in the environment.

If you want to help save coral reefs in some way, visit  

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