The human eye can see an estimated 10 million colors, and the video above seems to include pretty much all of them. Captured by Italian filmmaker Sandro Bocci, it uses time-lapse and high-magnification photography to explore the almost frighteningly colorful world of coral reefs.
The 5-minute video was released this month as a preview to an upcoming film, "Porgrave," that Bocci says will investigate "various scenarios relating to the microworld." The sneak peek is titled "Meanwhile," hinting at the fact that similar beauty is unfolding right now in oceans around the planet. Humans only manage to see a fraction of the oceans' biological artwork, but if more people could behold scenes like these, it might inspire a swell of public interest in preserving marine ecosystems.
"This is an infinitesimal part of the wonderful world in which we live and of which we should take better care," Bocci writes on Vimeo. "A trip through a different perspective that would encourage reflection on the consequences of our actions on each scale of space and time."
The animals featured in "Meanwhile" include red knob sea stars, Scolymia and Euphyllia stony coral, Fungia plate coral, Trachyphyllia and Symphyllia brain coral, maxima clams and a mix of zoanthids, including the aptly named alien-eye zoa. (Videos of this caliber are usually filmed in tanks for logistical reasons, but Bocci notes that he used minimal post-production and left the colors as they naturally appear.) These are just a few of the dazzling creatures that inhabit coral-reef communities, helping create some of the most bountiful — and beautiful — ecosystems on Earth.
Image: Sandro Bocci/Vimeo
Why are corals so colorful? The actual polyps aren't, but they have a symbiotic relationship with certain algae that live in their tissue and use pigment cells to brighten things up. The algae provide up to 90 percent of a polyp's energy via photosynthesis, and their colors also protect coral from ultraviolet light and play a role in sexual selection. When a reef is stressed by pollution or temperature swings, its algae may start producing toxins that force the coral to evict them and turn deathly white, a phenomenon known as coral bleaching. Along with ocean acidification, this is a major risk of climate change.
Losing reefs is bad not just for aesthetics and ecology, but also the economy. Millions of people depend on healthy coral reefs for food, jobs and about $375 billion in annual economic activity. Coral can also inspire scientific breakthroughs, from sunscreen pills and UV-resistant crops to medicines for ailments such as cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer's and heart disease. And if we can protect reefs from climate change, they might return the favor by absorbing the blow of sea-level rise and stronger storm surges. According to a 2014 study, preserving coral reefs is 15 times cheaper than building sea walls.
Thankfully, coral reefs are often more resilient than they seem. They have a long history of adapting to gradual changes in their habitat, and while modern climate change is unusually fast, some corals handle it better than others. Scientists might be able to use those species to selectively breed "super corals," one of many interesting ideas being mulled in hopes of saving reefs. Along with efforts to curb the emissions fueling climate change — and more local threats like mangrove loss, sewage spills and overfishing — this at least offers hope that the future of coral reefs can be as bright as their colors.
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