Beneath the Waning Tide
Hannah L. Bercovici
Copyright 2021 by Hannah L. Bercovici
Photo © 2021 by Hannah Bercovici
Coral reefs are quickly disappearing because of human
interference. In this story, I try to create an emotional landscape
for the reader to experience being underwater with these organisms
and explain why it is so important for humans to act.
ocean felt like a lukewarm bathtub, slightly warm but cold enough to
be uncomfortable. The back of my throat contracted against the salt
water. It tasted as if someone purposely mixed in the perfect amount
of salt to cause my body to go into a hypertrophic state. I was
seventeen, on a SCUBA diving trip with my family in the Cayman
Islands. As soon as my body broke the water’s surface tension,
I began deflating my BCD. I clamped my nose shut with my fingers. I
breathed out and descended. As the ocean floor got closer and closer,
pain through my ear canals. I reveled in the feeling of being
underwater—sometimes the most uncomfortable sensations provide
a sense of calm. My stomach clenched at the thought of descending the
coral wall in front of me. I needed to see it all.
diving gives divers a superpower: the ability to explore a secret
universe, one that has been virtually uncharted. The little pockets
of nature that one can explore underwater are diverse, ranging from
murky lakes to the clear Caribbean waves to the briny waters
underneath Arctic Sea ice. Diving opens an entirely new world for
human beings to explore. However, diving also exposes humans to
worlds they can take advantage of, creating a great responsibility
for divers and others who have the privilege of being in those
spaces. The responsibility to protect the oceanic universe.
movements were thick as I pulled myself through the water, staring at
the colorful world below. I continued to descend, forgetting about
the other divers slowly filing into the water above me. The coral
formed uneven, lumpy towers, dotting the sand with pillars of life.
Coral reefs create highly diverse and efficient ecosystems all over
the world, but there was something wrong with the community below me.
It was too… pale. A sea worm crept out of its brown and white
tube, its white tentacles caressing the current. I reach a finger
towards the feather-like appendages; the alien darted back into its
shell, annoyed at my interference in its hunt. A sense of shame
filled my gut—I did not mean to do harm.
many people do.
human irresponsibility is quickly endangering organisms within our
waters. The ocean is the largest sink for carbon dioxide, having the
ability to sequester human produced
carbon dioxide. In fact, the ocean absorbs approximately
thirty-five percent of
released by people. The ocean has to accommodate the
increasing levels of carbon dioxide
to keep the
ocean’s chemistry stable. It does this by creating
carbonic acid, a reaction between water and carbon dioxide. The
elevated amounts of the greenhouse gas shift the ocean’s
composition to a greater acidity, or lower pH, which is poisonous to
many marine organisms—especially corals.
deflated my BCD, moving away from the disturbed tubeworm. The wall of
coral blinked red, white, yellow, white, purple, orange. Bleached
coral surrounded the painted ones, threatening to leach any color
from its neighbors. I
did not comprehend
what the lack of color meant, though my nerves tingled with anxious
anticipation. A turtle zoomed above, and a shark pressed against the
wall of shelled polyps. Their grace reminded me that these animals
depended on the reef
to survive. I
stared at the white coral in front of me, an ache forming in my gut.
rapid change in acidity from increasing carbon dioxide creates deadly
consequences for marine organisms living in reefs. Coral and other
shelled creatures build their exoskeletons from calcium carbonates,
like calcite and its polymorph aragonite. Carbonic acid in the ocean
decomposes carbonate minerals naturally; however, an increase in
carbonic acid will increase the breakdown of these marine organisms’
shells. However, calcite is more stable than aragonite, so while
mollusks and other creatures are beginning to form thinner calcite
shells, corals are decaying due to their aragonite-based exoskeleton.
only does greater acidity cause exoskeleton disintegration, but it
also creates a stressful environment for the coral. When the polyps
sense that the acidity of the water is damaging their exoskeletons,
they become stressed and expel the algae that are a major source of
sustenance for them. This process, called coral bleaching, is mostly
irreversible. By 2005, fifty percent of the United States’
coral reefs in the Caribbean were bleached; in 2002, sixty percent of
the Great Barrier Reef was bleached. As humans continue to expel
carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the acidity of the ocean will
increase, and coral reefs will be obliterated, along with the
ecosystems they built.
the dive on the wall, an older diver told me solemnly, “The
reefs are not what they used to be.” She explained that she had
been diving here for over fifty years and while the change was
obvious to her, it was less noticeable for new divers like myself.
“Corals used to sweep over the ocean floor, covering all
visible expanses. I thought that the coral would go on forever.”
Her words echoed my own thoughts while diving; they also meant that I
was wrong. Though I had wished for it, I could not see all the beauty
of the reefs. Healthy corals were quickly disappearing into the past.
“It used to be all reds and oranges, purples and pinks. Now
it’s half-bleached. It breaks my heart,” she said. “Much
has changed, and no one even knows.”
must learn the consequences of their actions. As more people SCUBA
dive and learn about what is happening underwater, they can begin to
understand what needs to be saved. Diving gives humans the
opportunity to submerge themselves in an entirely new world; it shows
us what we need to protect. However, not everyone can get underwater
in this way. Humans must take responsibility for our actions and
learn about what we can do to fix what we have broken. If we manage
to stop the damage being done to the coral reefs, we might be able to
save an entire ecosystem that contributes to our lives daily. If we
do not save it, we will miss out on a world that deserves to be
known. To be saved.
and works as a writer and bartender in Phoenix, Arizona. A writer for
as long as she can remember, she has recently begun submitting her
creative work for publication. Her published work includes "I
exist!" in the Slippery Elm Literary Journal, "The
Scientist of Europa" in the Community in a Box Project, and "a
desert reef" in GLITCHWORDS. Her short story, "Casabruja,"
will appear shortly in the Slippery Elm.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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