Coral is one of the best things about the Caribbean. When I come upon a patch, I get the goosebumps. How did we manage to get here again? We are in the tropics, baby! Underwater Hangover moment.
Coral too ranks high up as one of the most evolutionary-primitive organisms. The Cnidarians. Unfortunate phylum name, no? For me, Cnidarian better describes something you’d find on the bottom of your shoe. Or in a warm, dank passage. Not an organism that can literally build a mountain.
All the while. those dodgy-named polyps trap tiny passing zooplankton for food. The algae living within the coral photosynthesises its sugars. Whether a person believes in God or not, this is surely a living miracle. Such a clever and efficient example of teamwork. And coral is an organism without any functioning neural systems. Without any proven ability to think. Who needs brains anyway? For me, a refreshing concept.
I kayaked along the side of Prickly Bay today, in the middle of a seagrass bed. I could see coral beds through the water. We’ve got to come back, I thought. And after school, we did. Snorkels and masks in hand.
Now, when I say seeing coral beds, I mean the term loosely. This is because a lot of it isn’t. I mean, yes it was coral. It just isn’t anymore. It’s dead.
It’s sadly true – that we’ve come across a lot of dead coral in the Caribbean. Especially in places like Prickly where the scale of human development has been intense. House building. Sewage build-up.
Unfortunately, this is because coral is likely to be an evolutionary after-thought. An underwater dinosaur. Sure, coral has been growing on our planet for 160 million years. It doesn’t stop the march of time though.
Being born in this day gives us birthright tickets. We’ve got front-row seats. How are corals going to exist within a human-dominated world? Under the threat of climate change and its associated effects. It’s painful, but this certainly feels like coral’s biological high noon.
I remembered it today, snorkelling the little Prickly reef. There was a patch of living coral by the way. A patch. Mostly, we were surrounded by coral skeletons as if they were an abandoned city. I tried to imagine when it was all still a thriving coral ecosystem. How long ago? Twenty years?
A journalist recently asked marine biologist and all-round super lady, Dr Sylvia Earle where her favourite place to dive was. In her long career, Sylvia Earle has clocked up literally thousands of dives.
She replied in her famously husky voice, ‘Anywhere – fifty years ago.’
Meanwhile, we swam through the dead branches of coral in Prickly Bay. Some of it was chipped off. Some retained a grey statuesque elegance. A few little reef fish – blennies and miniature damselfish were present. Only now they were defending their brown, algae-covered corners. Not such a pretty site. Is it bad that I still loved it? I know – nicer to see it alive and thriving. But I still did.