Just finished watching the 2003 documentary, Coral Reef Adventure, featuring experienced divers Howard and Michele Hall. The film is an enjoyable, if somewhat simple, documentary about the Halls’ 10-month long expedition to study coral reefs, with a particular eye toward determining why some reefs have experienced significant declines in health in recent years.
In an effort to determine why some reefs are doing so poorly, the documentary highlights the Halls’ research into those reefs, as well as contrasting reefs that have enjoyed long-term good health or are quickly bouncing back from challenging circumstances.
The film makes a couple of (semi-anemic) references to increases in ocean temperatures and how they can affect the reefs. However, in the Halls’ actual research into specific reef systems, the culprit is clearly shown to be other environmental factors, primarily land sedimentation flowing into the reef systems as a result of deforestation and a lack of mangrove groves (Louisiana, anyone?) that would otherwise filter out such sedimentation before it reaches the reefs. The other primary culprit that emerges is overfishing of large coral reef dwellers.
Near the end of their expedition, the Halls visit one particular coral reef system that had been devestated by a natural disaster and find encouraging evidence that the reef system is quickly recovering.
The primary take-home message from the evidence the Halls present is that (i) reefs are dynamic systems that are capable of recovering from even significant disasters, as long as those disasters are short-term events, and (ii) land use decisions, such as deforestation and lack of mangrove groves, as well as overfishing, can have a significant negative impact on the health of the reef systems that are so critical to the livelihood of island communities and the overall health of the oceans.
At the very end of the documentary we are admonished to do our part by “electing officials who . . .” I’ll give you three guesses: Officials who support sustainable fishing practices? Nope. Officials who are sensitive to land use issues and deforestation? Naw. Instead we are asked to do our part by electing officials who will combat, you guessed it, global warming. This admonition against the backdrop of all the research Halls did, and the corrolary point that warming oceans were not the primary culprit (and even if warming oceans were a big factor, further setting aside for a moment the very salient point that the link between man’s emission of GHG’s and rising ocean temperatures is tenuous indeed).
It is hard to know why the “global warming” admonition was thrown in at the end of the documentary. Perhaps a marketing touch, trying to capitalize on the buzzword of the day? Certainly not because it was supported by the rest of the documentary. Thus, like myriad environmental stories before them, Coral Reef Adventure’s unholy obeisance to “global warming” comes at the very significant price of distracting from true, substantive matters at hand.
And at the end of the day, that may be the real damage caused by global warming: stealing attention, funding, political will, research and mitigation efforts away from real environmental issues.