Exploring the Effect of Climate Change on Oceans

03/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The author of this post, Howard Hall, specializes in making marine wildlife films and is the director of Under the Sea 3D, a new IMAX® 3D adventure.

There are many issues facing the marine environment. Within the context of one film, it's difficult to cover all of them, or even a number of them, so we try to target one topic that we want to emphasize. On the last film, Deep Sea 3D, it was the importance of biodiversity. For Under the Sea 3D, we're discussing the effect of climate change on the oceans.

There are very specific changes that the oceans will undergo because of increased carbon dioxide levels, and some of them are not well-known. One reason for making this film was to show people how important it is to do something about climate change and carbon dioxide excess.

Part of our purpose is to explain what goes on in the coral reef community, and what affects coral reefs. Some of these things are increasing water temperatures, increased carbon dioxide levels dissolved in the seawater, acidification of seawater and the loss of mangroves (fringing jungles that surround many tropical islands). The loss of these mangroves affects the siltation on the reef, increasing the amount of debris that washes off the islands and onto the reef. When you remove the mangroves, the reefs don't have protection. There is a mangrove sequence in the film which is quite beautiful. The roots grow right out into the seawater and produce a habitat for a wide variety of animals that are really wonderful.

Although it's very important that this film introduces our audiences to these environmental issues, explaining the effects of climate change on our oceans is not our primary goal. Our primary goal is to introduce viewers to the wonderful marine life of the Indo Pacific. I think that once people are introduced to these amazing creatures, they will be more inclined to care when they learn that climate change and other human impacts threaten them.

Making a film in IMAX 3D and capturing these images is a challenge. Getting four tons of equipment to the location -- even getting it onto a boat is an ordeal. The camera in the underwater housing alone weighs almost 1,300 pounds, and it only runs for three minutes before it's out of film. Then it goes back to the boat for a film change, which can take 30 minutes to an hour, so usually my team and I just stay underwater and wait. This makes it very difficult to film animal behavior, but that's part of the fun. I love the fact that working in IMAX is so difficult. It really challenges us and our ability to capture animal behavior in this format. And the finished product is well worth the effort. Once people see these strange animals, like the Flamboyant Cuttlefish or Weedy Sea Dragon, they're just going to fall in love because they're remarkably beautiful. They're not only beautiful, but they have really interesting behaviors and personality. Once you see how wonderful these animals are, and you realize they have a real personality, you're going to be sorry to hear that some of them are so threatened.

There are a lot of issues affecting coral reefs, and the animals that call it home. The development of islands, ocean shorelines and industries -- especially in the Third World -- are all having a huge impact. While there is a benefit to that kind of development, there is also a major benefit to having coral reefs around. I think that's part of what we want to bring to people -- how important these reefs are, and how much we need to keep them.

Howard Hall is the director of Under the Sea 3D. The film will be released only in IMAX theatres starting February 13, 2009. You can watch the trailer below.

This post originally appeared on Greenlight, the citizen journalist site from NRDC's award-winning OnEarth magazine.