If global warming can be slowed from its current trajectory, there is a chance that corals will be able to adapt, according to a marine biologist whose research is focused on the organism’s resilience to climate change.
Dr Anya Salih, a bioimaging specialist who studies the fluorescence of corals, told a Melbourne audience last month the organisms’ sensitivity to temperature increases makes them like “canaries in a coalmine”, but that their fluorescent pigments protect them to some extent.
Dr Salih was speaking at the Environmental Film Festival screening of the art film Coral: Rekindling Venus, on which she collaborated with artist Lynette Wallworth for a decade.
The 45-minute film, designed to be shown only on ‘full dome’ planetarium screens, features spectacular cinematography of reef creatures and environments captured on the Great Barrier Reef, in Papua New Guinea and in laboratory aquariums.
The film has no narration but a soundtrack incorporating music and songs by Gurrumul Yunupingu, Antony and the Johnsons and English composer Max Richter.
Dr Salih said it was “a call to everyone to notice how complex and beautiful these systems are and to know they are under threat”.
If global temperatures are not brought under control, Dr Salih said, it’s “an open question” whether any coral reefs will survive by the middle of the century.
Audience members at the Melbourne Planetarium screening described the work as “stunning”, “extraordinary” and a demonstration of what a tragic loss the death of coral reefs would be.
The title Coral: Rekindling Venus references the 18th century mission to record the Transit of Venus, one of the first examples of international cooperation in the name of science, and serves as “a reminder”, Dr Salih said, that such global collaboration is possible.
In the lead-up to the climate talks in Paris this year pressuring politicians at all levels for increased emissions reduction targets is the most important thing people can do to try to protect the world’s reefs, Dr Salih said.
She also advised the audience to avoid investing in fossil fuels.
Coral: Rekindling Venus has screened in planetariums around the world since it premiered in 2012.