In Post-Production 2020, PBS
Scientists once thought that corals grew to be “immortal giants,” and nothing short of another ice age could destroy them. Today, ten-thousand-year-old stands of Elkhorn coral in the eastern Caribbean have been reduced to skeletons by disease and environmental pressures. In four decades of underwater field research, renowned marine ecologist Bob Steneck has observed the assumption of stable marine ecosystems crumble. Applying an iconoclastic, “DIY” ethos inherited from his mentor, groundbreaking scientist Walter Adey, Steneck now leads Doug Rasher and a new generation of marine ecologists. From the Gulf of Maine, to St. Croix, to the most remote Aleutian Islands, they seek to understand the interrelated processes that drive ecosystem change. In the Labrador Sea and the Aleutians, the team uncovers a remarkable environmental time-machine: coralline algae. With “growth rings” similar to trees, coralline algae records ecological data over millennia. What do their discoveries reveal about the changing marine environment and the impact of human activity? What can their hope, curiosity, and immersion in the underwater world tell us about what it is to be a scientist? To be human? Three generations of ecologists and the millennial timescales of coral and algae intertwine in this scientific and personal exploration.
*Working title, with a grateful and admiring nod to maritime historian Jeff Bolster's excellent book of the same title, on the changing Atlantic fisheries