Creative Climate runner up – Jenny Barlow – ‘Paradise Lost’

Ko Tao, Thailand

Jumping off the boat into the warm azure ocean water, I was so excited to experience the magic of diving my first ever coral reef. I imagined all the weird and wonderful images from nature books that I’d read over and over as a child, of rainbow coloured tropical forest kingdoms of the sea teaming with every kind of life. It was hard to believe when growing up that places like this really existed in the world and I was finally getting to bring those images of nature’s paradise which were engrained in my mind to life.

As I swam down, what I actually came face to face with through the crystal clear waters was the full scale effect of human destruction, a physical embodiment of the catastrophic consequences that we are having on the planet’s most complex and priceless ecosystems. Spanning as far as the eye could see lay the white ash like embers of past beauty forming a vast underwater desert of bleached dying coral reef, with all of its vibrant colour and ability to support a vast array of life just drained away. A few sparse sponges and molluscs desperately hanging onto existence; lit up this barren sea desert with the odd splash of colour, acting as an isolated refuge for several lonely tropical nemo fish and reef sharks.

When looking upon this inhospitable bleached coral desert, I thought about what this once biodiverse underwater world must have looked like in all its colourful glory. I wondered what had happened to the magnificent shoals of beautiful tropical fishes, molluscs, turtles, crabs, barracudas and reef sharks that used to animate these waters as their coral homes had slowly died. Did they go and find another surviving reef nearby to seek refuge in or did they also slowly cease to exist like just this coral, becoming yet another depressing statistic, yet another victim of climate change and man-made environmental destruction?

As I dived through this coral graveyard, I thought about how something so complex that probably took thousands of years to form and develop can be trashed within a few decades of irresponsible human activity. How could we be so short sighted in our treatment of the environment which we rely on for our very existence?

When it is starkly laid out before your eyes it becomes very real that the scale of human damage on the earth is destroying some of the most beautiful and irreplaceable natural wonders. Do we really want to create a future where children can only learn about these magical places through a history book? I read once that there are some Amazonian tribes that put the environment so centrally to their existence that not only do they think of preserving it for the next generation but they think of how their actions may affect the next 7. I often think that our actions and of our society as a whole has a tendency to barely consider what will be happening tomorrow or next week, nevermind 7 generations time. I wonder what these unknown future people would think of us right now trashing their heritage? That destructive past society that had so much yet knew the true value of so little.

I think the age old saying that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone has never been so true for the human race today. Will it be when all of these precious ecosystems have disappeared from the face of the planet that will mourn their tragic loss and ask why on earth nothing was done sooner when we knew what we had to do? Or will we decide that the time for action and safeguarding the irreplaceable is now …