The Coral City Camera, the new debut project of Coral Morphologic, illuminates Biscayne Bay's resilient biodiversity
"The water is clear, and the herbivore gang's all here — sand hunters on the prowl. Gray angelfish, scrawled filefish, parrotfish, chubs, sergeant majors, hogfish, porkfish, doctor fish, yellow stingray are hanging around coral nursery this fine morning ..."
You don't need dive gear to see the underwater environment of Biscayne Bay. The Coral City Camera, broadcasting live from the thriving urban coral reef community in Downtown Miami, is located at an underwater, collaborative research site staffed by NOAA and the University of Miami's ACCRETE Lab.
The new project by Coral Morphologic made its official debut on February 6, 2020. That night, the public could view the underwater live stream on a giant, floating billboard that cruised the bay in front of the Perez Art Museum.
"After decades of diving in South Florida, I could not believe my eyes when I saw this [urban] coral, which I had never seen before. That was a sort of change of my entire perspective of what might be possible. That encouraged me to explore the city deeper, put on the mask and back to the water," tells Colin Foord, a coral aquaculturist, artist, and filmmaker educated at the University of Miami and James Cook University in Australia.
In 2007, with his best friend and musician J.D. McKay, Colin founded Coral Morphologic, an "art/science hybrid endeavor" that enamors popular culture with the beauty of coral to inspire the next generation to restore the reefs and protect our planet.
Colin and J.D., who have been best friends since middle school, have made regular appearances at Art Basel since their debut in 2010 when they projected videos of coral onto several Miami Beach buildings that were partially constructed of coral.
Three years ago, they made a cameo in Arcade Fire's "Signs of Life" music video, and later teamed up with Animal Collective to produce Tangerine Reef, a psychedelic audiovisual album about corals.
In 2011, Colin and J.D. began what’s now an ongoing project that involves the study of "super corals.” These corals appear to be highly biodiverse and stunningly resistant to the warming temperatures and polluted waters of Biscayne Bay. The new coral populations have been colonizing the human-made infrastructure along with the bay's developed areas.
True to form in the way the duo mix art and science, they responsibly relocated a small portion of the natural coral lying in the path of dredgers and took some specimens into the studio to film, cultivate and study. Fragments were collected (with all necessary permits) from three different urban coral research sites (north side of MacArthur Causeway, south side of MacArthur Causeway, and Star Island). They used blue light and lenses with special filters to allow the coral's fluorescent colors to be seen, as well as speeding up their natural movement with time-lapse photography.
The coral nurse work is now visible to the public. @coralcitycamera reports: "Here is a 45-minute time-lapse of NOAA-ACCRETE coral scientist Graham Kolodziej working with UM / CIMAS intern Isabelle Besden attaching 30 different genotypes of the brain coral Pseudodiploria strigosa to the urban coral nursery frame in view of the Coral City Camera on 1/30/2020."
Colin was the first to discover the urban coral, which shows an ability to thrive in its urban environment much better than its parents. The abundance of human-made detritus in the Biscayne Bay has allowed corals to recycle our trash as substratum. Greco-Roman statues, Santeria cauldrons, and even grocery carts all offer a permanent, sustainable living situation for invertebrates. Living on the sea walls, steep surfaces, rocks, these young and resilient corals could hold the key to helping their offshore neighbors fight bleaching and habitat degradation.
Plans for the Coral City Camera include adding probes to the camera that will provide critical water quality information as open-access data for students and researchers who will use it to monitor and better understand the health of North Biscayne Bay.
In partnership with BFI, Bridge, and the Everglades Foundation, Coral City Camera will also be broadcast into classrooms throughout Florida, providing an opportunity for 150,000 students to work as citizen scientists.