Richard Vevers was an advertising executive in London with a passion for diving. Then, he witnessed the dramatic effects of coral bleaching at Bali’s Airport Reef. Shocked by what he saw, Vevers became an advocate for ocean conservation. You can see him in the new Netflix documentary, Chasing Coral. Nexus Media spoke with Richard about what climate change is doing to coral reefs and what we can do to stop it. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You are from the ad world. How did you end up underwater?
I have always been passionate about the ocean and always wanted to make a career out of it. I kind of fell into conservation. I actually started off initially just wanting to be an underwater photographer and have fun underwater. It’s just been through a learning curve of understanding what’s going on in the ocean that I decided to dedicate my life to it.
What were some of the most moving things you saw underwater?
I just love jumping in the water. It’s like being in a safari park, but with more animals and more alien life. And so, for me, it was the most magical place in the planet, and to go and experience those places die is really quite traumatic.
As a longtime diver, what was it like to experience the coral bleaching at Airport Reef?
When you see the bleaching, you just can’t comprehend it, because it is truly beautiful. This is one of the most beautiful transformations in nature. Imagine if trees suddenly turned glowing white, or were glowing different colors. It’s incredible to see. So, it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact that this is animals dying. When we went to see the aftereffects, especially in the Great Barrier Reef, we jumped in the water, and it looked like the reef had been dead for years. And then we came out of the water, and we realized we smelled of rotting animals. And that’s when it hits you, that this is really just animals dying on an incredible scale.
You say in the film that saving the ocean is a public relations problem. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Most people don’t dive, so they don’t get to see these issues. And, when it comes to climate change, we often stare up at the sky and talk about one or 2 degrees. And who really cares? If it was 1 or 2 degrees hotter today, would you even notice? The problem is 93 percent of the heat is being absorbed by the ocean, and the ocean controls everything — our water supply, the weather, the climate, the oxygen we breathe, whether or not we can grow food, and that’s where the heat is going.
People don’t realize how important coral reefs are. About one-quarter of all marine life relies on coral reefs, and about a billion people rely on coral reefs for food and income. So they’re hugely important, and people haven’t wrapped their heads around the consequences of potentially losing coral reefs entirely.
Can you talk about any specific solutions to help corals?
With the 50 Reefs project, we’re looking for the reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change. We will lose the majority of the remaining coral reefs now. That’s a given. There’s probably about 10 percent of reefs that we can actually save. So, what we need to do is identify the reefs that are least vulnerable to climate change, protect them from the local impacts, and bolster conservation efforts in those key regions to act as a catalyst for all coral reef conservation.
What do you hope that the folks who see this film on Netflix take away from it?
I don’t like to watch climate change movies because they’re generally quite miserable. But this one makes you laugh. And it takes you through this emotional journey. But what we’re really hoping is that people come out with a sense of optimism, because a lot of the solutions to climate change are actually very positive. It just hasn’t been communicated that way. So, for example, we tend to talk about the problems of climate change as if it’s about cleaning up after a giant party, and everyone’s got to do their bit, but no one really wants to. But what it’s really about is jobs, making people healthier, green-ifying cities, improving housing, getting faster cars. It’s all positive and achievable. We just need to do it.
This interview was conducted by Molly Taft and edited by Monika Sharma. Nexus Media is a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture.