SANDPOINT — Coral reefs are disappearing around the world, and the film “Chasing Coral” documents a team of divers, photographers and scientists as they set out to discover why.
Sandpoint High School teacher John Hastings has shown the movie in his environmental science classes for the past two year, and said he has tissues ready every time.
“Everybody is crying at the end of this film,” Hastings said. “It is such a powerful film. It’s sad in that we see what is happening to the reef.”
As part of this week’s Earth Week events, the film will be shown Friday evening at the Little Panida Theater. The showing will help Hastings and a group of students fund their trip to the Dominican Republic in June 2020, where they will not only learn more about marine biology and the different species of coral, they will participate in restoration efforts.
The coral reefs are dying, Hastings said, because of the changing temperatures of the ocean. A small percentage of the population, however, is surviving the warmer temperatures. There is a “relatively new, accidentally discovered” technique called microfragmentation, Hastings said, where scientists take some of the surviving species and break them into small pieces. In breaking them up, they grow more rapidly, he said. This is done in a controlled environment, and then the coral is planted on the reef with better adaptation to the changing ocean conditions, Hastings said.
The students will participate in this process, collecting fragments of naturally broken coral and transplanting it back into the reef, among other efforts and educational experiences while in the Dominican Republic.
The film led to the idea of the trip, as students have often asked Hastings afterward what they can do to help. Looking into it, Hastings said he was looking for something that would be more service oriented than tourist oriented. He found EF Educational Tours, which focuses on that service learning aspect he was looking for.
“I talked to some people who had done it before, and they said yes, you will enjoy the culture of the Dominican Republic, but you spend way more time on the reef doing stuff — so that sounded really good to me.”
The trip will take place over the course of eight days, with three full days of service that will include learning about and participating in restoration efforts, data collection, identification of the different fish species and more. They will then spend a day on the southeast coast with a guided walk through a national park. The day before departing, the group will head out to Catalina Island for day of relaxation and snorkeling around a local coral reef that is an example of successful conservation efforts.
Hastings said 14 students have signed up for the trip so far, though he expects to have around 20 when all is said and done.
He has some students, he said, who are seniors this year and will have finished their first year in college by the time the trip comes up. On the other end of that scale, he has eighth-grade students who have signed up as well.
“It is a huge age swing,” Hastings said.
He also has a Clark Fork High School student interested in going, and is working with a Coeur d’Alene teacher to possibly take a couple of students as well. So travelers do not have to be SHS students, he said. Anyone interested in going on the trip can contact Hastings at email@example.com.
After 12 people signed up, Hastings qualified to take training trip to the Dominican Republic this summer through EF Educational Tours. The trip will give him an opportunity to nail down some of the specifics and get a “true feeling” for safety in the country, he said.
“They have a really tight schedule on this training trip,” Hastings said. “I don’t have a lot of free time, but then I am going to stay by myself for a couple more days and do some scuba diving.”
As for Friday’s fundraiser, Hastings said admission to the film screening and discussion is free with donations encouraged.
Some of the student travelers are putting together items for a silent auction and raffle to raise money as well. One of the raffle items, for example, is a cornhole board donated by Big 5 Sporting Goods. It was a blank board, so two of the travelers who also happen to be “fantastic” artists are painting it in coral reef patterns, Hastings said.
The film begins at 7 p.m. in the Little Panida Theater, 300 N. First Ave., Sandpoint.
Mary Malone can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.