Week 9 Blog: Update on Final Paper

Group update: we will divide the topics into two groups, one that focuses on how humans depend on the environment and the second group will focus on how the environment depends on humans.I am part of the climate change group because my project discusses how climate change has affected coral degeneration and how we can use sustainable architecture to reduce industrial contribution to climate change. We will also incorporate topics that embrace themes of small and large actions that affect our environment. My topic will serve as a transition between the small and the large.  


Essay update: I edited my last draft and decided to elaborate on three new subtopics: 1) why we need sustainable architecture to reduce the industrial carbon footprint, 2) how we can use ecomaterials for sustainable engineering, 3) how we can use ecomaterials for coral habitat reconstruction. I also made a new design for my coral center. The image I attached is a very rough draft of the image I intend to submit. I had to draw it by hand because I couldn't find a program that would allow me to use organic curves in buildings. 

Abstract: Climate change has made significant contributions to the deterioration of many ecosystems. Growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, increasing oceanic temperatures and acidification of bodies of water have been detrimental to the survival of coral reefs. Coral reefs are some of the most precious and valuable ecosystems we have on planet Earth. They promote rich biodiversity by providing structure, habitat, and food for a myriad of aquatic organisms. They also have fundamental roles in our economy and biomedical research. It is necessary to design and implement innovative approaches to reduce the effect of climate change on coral degeneration. This study embraces the intersection between education, art activism and scientific experiments to promote awareness about coral death by educating and inspiring people. I designed a Coral Conservation Center which aims to educate people about the biology of coral reefs through interactive exhibits that allow users to use virtual reality (VR) technology to supplement learning. The second aim of this proposal describes ecological research projects that focus on the role of sound pollution, viruses, pH, and temperature on coral health. Lastly, this proposal explores how art and film can be used to advocate for coral protection. Through these specific aims, I aim to inspire people about the value of corals and explore scientific experiments that might help reverse or prevent coral death. As global warming continues to harm our ecosystems, collaboration among scholars from different disciplines will be required to develop effective solutions to protect our environment.



Coral Conservation Through Education, Art & Science

By Sonia Bustos Barocio

Looking Through an Underwater Lens
Coral reefs are some of the most precious and valuable ecosystems we have on planet Earth. They promote rich biodiversity by providing structure, habitat, and food for a myriad of aquatic organisms. According to the article "Shape of Life- The Story of the Animal Kingdom", "coral reefs support more species per unit area than any other marine environment, including about 4,000 species of fish, 800 species of hard corals and hundreds of other species".  These beautiful creatures have been around for centuries and play many important roles in our environment, the economy, nutrition, and biomedical research.

Small Creatures with a Big Impact
Coral reefs promote the survival of many types of fish. Many pacific islanders depend on fish that live on corals as a reliable source of food. Corals also protect coasts from high impact water and contribute to the economy of tropical islands since many people travel around the world to see these magnificent creatures. People often overlook the fact that coral reefs have made substantial contributions to biomedical research. Scientists have made incredible discoveries about the function of specific genes or proteins by generating fluorescent tags to their genes of interest to characterize gene function in mammalian cells. Most fluorescent proteins were discovered and derived from vibrant and beautiful corals and jellyfish.

Corals have also made contributions to advancements in medical research. According to the article by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) , Corals are the medicine cabinets of the 21st century "coral reef plants are important sources of new medicines being developed to treat cancer, arthritis, human bacterial infections, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses, and other diseases.". Corals are fascinating creatures because they have evolved critical chemical defenses to protect themselves against predators and perhaps, we can use these type of defense mechanisms to develop treatments for human disease. Interestingly, several research publications have investigated the role of viruses in coral bleaching and have discovered several strains that have affected the ability of corals to proliferate. Could studying coral viruses help us understand or combat viruses that affect humans? 

Climate Change- small changes lead to large consequences

Scientific studies have demonstrated global warming has led to an increase in oceanic temperatures. This is highly problematic since many corals demonstrate temperature-specific phenotypes that are necessary for survival. Furthermore, the ocean has been absorbing increasing amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which has led to dangerous irreversible biochemical reactions and significant changes in pH levels that are toxic for coral reefs.  ​According to the article Catastrophic Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef, coral bleaching happens when the temperature of the oceans increases beyond normal ranges, this triggers corals to dispose photosynthetic algae that live inside of them and share a symbiotic relationship. The algae provide the corals essential nutrients and the corals provide the algae shelter and protection, but when these algae are ejected, corals are left without a source of food. As these corals die, the entire structure of the ecosystem collapses, and many other organisms die as a result. According to the article discussed earlier, "the Great Barrier Reef is about 500,000 years old and scientists estimate that in 2016 about 90% of the GBR suffered damage from bleaching". We have a moral obligation to save coral reefs around the world because many species, including ourselves depend on them and because they are incredibly beautiful organisms that deserve protection.

Infinite combinations & permutations of action
What can we do about this? There are many courses of action that could help protect coral reefs. Artists have been advocating for the protection of aquatic animals through ceramic sculptures, paintings, and documentaries. Jason deCaires Taylor created an underwater museum where people can dive along the coasts of Mexico and (other global tropical regions) and interact with underwater sculptures. This was fascinating to me because it successfully attracted people to interact with art through a natural environment, which could inspire them to think more critically about issues such as ocean acidification and coral bleaching. The Nextlix documentary “Planet Earth” recently demonstrated how rising water levels have allowed small fish to swim through pools of water, which means polar bears no longer have food to eat. Seals no longer have ice to lay on to dry their skin, as a result they are landing on beaches, climbing cliffs, and literally falling off since they have no sense of perception. In 2017, over a thousand seals died by falling off cliffs- this is the latest demonstration that climate change is driving evolutionary changes as animals are struggling to survive. Another example of how artists are using art to promote awareness about climate change can be demonstrate by a group of photographers known as “Del Sol Photography” conducted a project in which they designed mermaid costumes that highlight the Mexican tradition of “Day of the Dead” and conducted a series of underwater videos with human mermaid models to demonstrate how corals are dying in tropical coasts of Mexico.  

Scientists are also important players in this fight against global coral death. Many scientists have devoted their lives to understand mechanisms involved in coral death and potential avenues for structural regeneration. Educators have also contributed to promoting awareness about corals by teaching people about the biology, life cycle and other important aspects of coral reefs. Despite progress made by individual groups of people, I believe the best way to promote awareness about coral protection is by creating a multidisciplinary project that combines different approaches to educate people about the importance of coral reefs. I designed a project proposal which describes how we can design an educational center to use education, research, and art to promote coral conservation. My project was inspired after visiting the aquarium and rainforest room at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

Education is necessary to increase awareness about global deterioration of coral reefs. When designing a large Coral Center, I would assign the first-floor level as a learning center for visitors. I imagine there would be large walls covered in screens that would show videos about basic biology of corals, their history and their contributions to our society and economy. I would allocate several rooms where people can use virtual reality headsets to virtually dive under water and see what coral reefs looked 50 years ago and then have them move into another VR room where they can see how coral reefs around the world look today. I would like to have another section of the learning center that is dedicated for people who are visually impaired so children and adults can use their tactile senses to feel corals underwater and hear sounds of the ocean through a surround-sound equipped room. I would like to have exhibits where people talk to children about coral reefs and art spaces where they can color diagrams and pictures of coral reefs.

The second level of the Coral Center would be dedicated to a coral research. I would like this space to be highly equipped with state-of-the-art technology and world researchers. I would incorporate open spaces where visitors can see research in live action and speakers could have weekly seminars where the public can learn about projects conducted at the center. The research space would have large transparent tanks of water with corals to test whether different environmental parameters have potential to enhance coral survival. Scientists would specifically address the role of sound pollution, coral reef viruses, pH and temperature on coral health. Through this experimental exhibition, people will be able to see progress and experimental results in real time after multiple visits to our Coral Center. This is important because science communication is a growing problem and by allowing people to see and understand research that takes place in the center, people might restore faith in the scientific community. [will describe in detail specific research projects that address how things such as sound pollution affect the coral communities]

The Coral Center would have an underwater level with an exhibit hall where artists can showcase competitive art pieces related to aquatic life. Every month, artists would participate in a fundraising competition where art is sold in order to raise funding for non-profit organizations that focus on coral conservation. [Will talk about specific art pieces which have influenced movements in the protection of acquatic organisms]

Through this interactive Coral Center, it would be possible to educate and inspire people about the value of corals and to provide scientific data that might help reverse or prevent coral death.


Figure 1. Proposed Structure for Coral Center



The Needs for Sustainable Architecture

  • Describe why sustainable architecture is important for reducing carbon footprint & contributions to climate change
  • Provide examples of buildings that are eco-friendly and emphasize how we would all benefit from this approach (economy + environment+ public health)
    • ​​Singapore Changi Airport​
    • Cal Academy of Sciences
    • Biosphere project


Figure 2. Alternative Model for Coral Conservation Center Using Sustainable Architecture Methods



EcoMaterials in Architecture

  • Elaborate on current approaches and where the field is in terms of making progress and obstacles

EcoMaterials for Coral Conservation

  •  Can we use ecomaterials to reconstruct coral habitats? Artifical coral reefs might bring back fish populations, which in turn will positively impact expansion of normal coral reefs (they are dependent on fish for survival)


What’s Next?
Coral reefs symbolize the dynamic symbiotic relationship between the small and the large. There is a delicate cycle of life that maintains aquatic ecosystems at homeostasis. Big corals depend on tiny algae for survival just as big fish depend on the tiny corals for habitat. Small changes in temperatures has significant implications for many ecosystems, not just coral reefs.  There are many ways people can make a difference. They can advocate for policies that fight climate change, donate to non-profit organizations, or simply spread awareness about the effects of climate change through social media.


“About Cnidarians.” The Shape of Life | The Story of the Animal Kingdom, 19 Mar. 2019, www.shapeoflife.org/resource/about-cnidarians.

“Catastrophic Bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.” The Shape of Life | The Story of the Animal Kingdom, 20 June 2017, www.shapeoflife.org/blog/catastrophic-bleaching-great-barrier-reef.

Matt. “Day of the Dead Mermaid Catrina - Fine Art Underwater Photography.” Del Sol Photography, Matt Https://Delsolphotography.com/Wp-Content/Uploads/2012/11/logo2.Png, 4 Sept. 2019, delsolphotography.com/day-of-the-dead-mermaid-fine-art-underwater-photography/.

Salih, Anya, et al. “Fluorescent Pigments in Corals Are Photoprotective.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, www.nature.com/articles/35048564.

US Department of Commerce, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “What Does Coral Have to Do with Medicine?” NOAA's National Ocean Service, 1 Mar. 2014, oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_medicine.html.