Story Behind The Shot: Brainception

Assisted Evolution - Corals Last Hope



The Honorable Mention for the Underwater Conservation category in the Ocean Art 2023 Competition was taken at the U.S. Virgin Islands. See all Ocean Art 2023 Winners Here


Camera System

The camera that was used to take the photo is the Canon EOS R5 is an excellent mirrorless camera for both topside and underwater shooting. The camera was encased inside the Nauticam Canon R5 Housing. As for the lens, a Canon EF 8-15mm F/4 L Fisheye Lens. For lighting, the Sea & Sea YS-D3 was used.


The Shot

2023 was undoubtedly one of the most dreadful years for coral reefs in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Mass coral bleaching events, which could be referred to as the wildfires of our oceans, forced us to reevaluate our efforts to save coral reefs. Beyond the natural corals on a reef that were suffering, entire coral restoration nurseries died during the prolonged heat wave. Despite many coral species in the Caribbean suffering dramatic declines in their populations, there are survivors: Individuals that don't bleach when sea temperatures soar far beyond the threshold they can tolerate, individuals that don't get sick when coral diseases spread through a reef. These individuals may hold the key to their species' survival. Unfortunately, for several species, many of these survivors on the reef are spaced too far apart, leading to failed natural reproduction events as there is little to no chance of sperm from one coral fertilizing with the eggs of another, thus rendering them reproductively extinct.In the U.S. Virgin Islands, teams of coral biologists are turning to assisted sexual reproduction to give hope to conserving coral reefs. By collecting coral sperm and eggs, biologists can fertilize coral gametes in controlled situations, leading to higher offspring yields. What makes this so impactful is that the survivors that were previously unable to pass on their genes that may have contained traits that allowed them to survive all of their previous trials now have a chance to breed with other surviving corals, thus hopefully leading to offspring with more tolerance to the future environmental conditions of the ocean.


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Further Reading



Dan Mele is an underwater science photographer, filmmaker, and coral biologist based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Dan's mission is to reshape perceptions of science and the scientists themselves, steering away from lab-centric stereotypes. His work amplifies research projects by engaging broader audiences, securing funding, and fostering collaborations with diverse science and conservation bodies.


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