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  • Writer's pictureAnastassia Roberts

Coral Reefs: Media’s Negligence in Covering (some) Major Environmental Issues

Nemo lived in a beautiful home, didn’t he? Anemone was considered shelter, neighboring fish were deemed friends, and reefs were used as schools. Would it surprise you to hear that it was all a façade?

Finding Nemo was released in 2003, but the ocean’s coral reefs haven’t looked like they did in the movie since before 1998.

If coral reefs house marine life and marine life make up the ocean’s ecosystem, wouldn’t that mean the existence of the ocean’s ecosystem is nearly entirely dependent on the condition of its coral reefs? The issue with the ocean’s existence relying on the condition of coral reefs is that over a fourth of them have already been destroyed.

To begin looking closely at what is happening inside the ocean, it is vital to address that coral reefs are not “big chunks of rock” but are instead animals. Because coral reefs are living, they, just as marine mammals, have essential needs that must be fulfilled in order to survive.

Although coral are very resilient and are even able to reproduce through regenerating themselves, they are still sensitive to temperature fluctuation.

As the climate warms and temperatures increase in the ocean, coral reefs have trouble adapting to such rapid changes in their environment. In water that reaches even 1-degree Celsius over their desired temperature, coral can “expel symbiotic algae living in their tissues” which is what gives them their outwardly white appearance. When symbiotic algae removes itself from an organism, the organism loses its ability to photosynthesize, therefore losing its access to food. If coral reefs cannot feed themselves as all living things must, they will decay and myriads of marine life will lose their homes.

So then: why does the media willingly give us the perception that the oceans are the colorful living sanctuaries that they used to be?

It is not as if the media is completely devoid of speaking on environmental issues— because it most certainly is not. Documentaries in particular are a wonderful resource people can use to become more informed on issues circulating the globe. Movies that are created for the sole purpose of entertainment, however, often brush over topics they would rather not discuss, which sometimes (un)intentionally manipulates their audience into believing that whatever topic is not addressed is simply not an issue at all.

For instance, although Finding Nemo was created specifically to entertain an audience, it does focus on human intervention in nature and why it is problematic. In relation to coral reefs, it even teaches us that many organisms live symbiotically together, reliant on the reef to provide them shelter. It is almost ironic how the film expresses the importance of coral reefs but does little to address the urgency to resolve the current climate issue or that it even exists at all.

The primary goal of large corporations, such as Pixar (which released Finding Nemo), is to make a profit. The more an audience enjoys a film, the more profit it makes, which is a contributing factor to why controversial topics like climate change often don’t find their way into media. Climate change is often an uncomfortable topic to discuss for some, such as these popular corporations, because arguably one of the only ways to make a difference is to abolish the system our economy depends on: capitalism.

Social media also influences what information is shared with the public because of how it “currently acts as a driver of polarization, as algorithms encourage the creation of echo chambers that in turn affect environmental journalism.” Popular platforms and media production companies will and have brushed the issue of climate change under the rug for years and will continue to do so unless it becomes a topic more people are comfortable addressing and discussing.

Because as a society we are the reason climate change is negatively impacting coral reefs, we must be the ones to resolve it. The first step in any effort to resolve an environmental issue is to increase awareness. Ideally, corporations would begin to release productions that focus more on climate change and are less concerned about profit-making. This prospect, however, sounds difficult to achieve as corporations will continue to function out of greed; in the meantime, we can spread the word on what is currently happening in our oceans and invest support in non-profit media companies that attempt to capture attention on how climate change is affecting marine life.

We can make an effort to be a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem by encouraging corporations to shed light on why climate change is an issue, not just that it is one. We can do this by highlighting how, through a string of reactions, climate change affects marine ecosystems which then inevitably negatively impacts human life as we know it.

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