Learning About and Painting Coral at St. Mark’s School

by Frances Hornbostel ‘21 and Charlotte Bertsch ‘21, St. Mark's School


The Project:

This past December, the Studio 1 class at St. Mark’s School participated in a project designed to bring awareness to coral bleaching and to educate people on how this issue is affecting our world. Ms. Putnam, the Studio 1 teacher, chose this project to “...introduce [students] to an issue that will have great consequence well within [their] lifetime. Art students need to realize that observational skills can be applied in communicating and educating a community, and those who develop the skills can use them to reach an audience who perhaps has not read about the issue or heard about it.” Students were able to explore the painting medium while researching a topic with more global significance.


The Research Process:

To learn about coral and what was truly happening in our world, the class began by watching Chasing Coral, a Netflix documentary which shows the complex process of tracking coral bleaching internationally and the response of scientists and coral enthusiasts. Students were required to reflect upon this video, including what coral bleaching meant for the global world as well as for areas closer to home. From there, students individually researched different types of coral, until they found one that interested them. Researching this particular kind of coral and finding reference pictures to paint was the next step. Students were encouraged to make the painting and the coral their own while keeping in mind scientific consistencies and Ms. Putnam’s  requirements for the project itself. These guidelines included experimentation with color while staying scientifically accurate, and a writing piece that accompanies the painting and explains the particular type of coral that was painted.


What We Learned About Coral:

Many people are oblivious to the destruction that is taking place below land. Coral is bleaching in astonishing numbers, causing deaths that can spread miles across reefs. This bleaching is due to many factors, with almost all of them in the control of humans. 20% of reefs all around the world have been ruined. Humans have caused this problem by overfishing and releasing sediments, nutrients, and pollutants into the oceans. Pollution has also largely impacted coral bleaching. From trash entering the ocean to high carbon levels, pollution has only exacerbated the already detrimental coral bleachings. These actions disrupt the environment of the coral, impeding their inability to thrive.

One of the most predominant dangers that coral faces is climate change. Coral requires an increased temperature of only two degrees Celsius to bleach. This temperature change can be fate altering, as coral flourishes in shallow water that ranges from 70-85 degrees Fahrenheit. However, 90% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is being absorbed into the oceans and steadily raising the ocean temperatures.

Another one of the main problems facing coral is the lack of awareness. The misconception that coral will be around forever fools many people. However, at the current rate at which coral is dying, coral will be extinct within the next 40 years. People believe that if coral reefs are lost, nothing will change. However, coral plays a crucial role in fostering marine life. Coral reefs only make up 1% of the ocean floor, but provide resources for 25% of all marine life to survive. This colossal loss of marine life is especially pertinent as the fish that are dying off feed millions of people.

Becoming aware of the threats to corals is necessary. If coral reefs are lost, we will not just be missing a beautiful piece of nature, but we will also be witnessing the beginning of an entire class dying. People are not aware of the depth of the issue, but if coral goes extinct, it will affect everyone. People must be taught about how terrible this problem is, or else coral bleaching will have no hope of being improved.



"Mushroom Coral." Wildscreen Arkive, Wildscreen, www.arkive.org/mushroom-coral/

    fungia-fungites/image-G25742.html. Accessed 7 Nov. 2017.

Orlowski, Jeff, director. Chasing Coral. Produced by Larissa Rhodes, Bioquest, 2017.

"Threats to Coral Reefs." Defenders of Wildlife, defenders.org/coral-reef/

    threats. Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.