You might know that corals are animals, but sitting there on the sea floor like rocks, they certainly don’t seem like it. To see corals changing, you have to watch them for longer than most SCUBA air supplies (and human patience) allow. Which is why researcher Pim Bongaerts is employing time lapse photography to keep an eye on the corals while we do other things.
In this video, Rongaerts explains how he sets up the camera and the challenges of time lapse photography. If you’re impatient, you can jump to 1:25 to see what corals look like if you look for long enough. And what you'll find is that, even though the corals look like happy little rocks, they can be vicious. Rongaerts' footage shows two corals attacking one another. Just very, very slowly.
Other footage shows the tiny little units that make up coral moving along and flipping themselves over. There are shots of the polyps opening up like flowers, of nudibranchs speeding over the coral faces and, at the end of the video, footage shot over several months, watching corals creep around and change shapes.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef - the world's largest living organism - has been entrancing divers with its vivid colours and curious lifeforms for centuries. But for one man, the glimpses he caught under water were not enough - he wanted to see more of the life hidden from most people. Using time-lapse photography, Dr Pim Bongaerts of University of Queensland's Global Change Institute has spent the past five years documenting the movement, communication and even violent interactions that living corals engage in. It is all behaviour that is part of the life cycle of a coral reef, but happens too slowly for us to see. Dr Bongaerts shared some of his remarkable time-lapse footage exclusively with the BBC, and revealed some of the underwater mysteries that it has brought to life.
The world of corals may move slowly, but it’s still full of danger and war. We’re just moving too quickly to see it happen.